The following is taken from a site the Maine Archives maintains for high school students working on AP history projects. Morrill lived to be 95, so saw the rise of cars, the invention and widespread use of telephones, the advent of the light bulb and the near universal electrification of the country, and the invention of powered flight. Note how he got to fly in a plane and his reaction to it.
In 1861, 21 year-old Walter Morrill enlisted as a Sergeant in the 6th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He had been working on his father’s farm and in the slate mines and quarries around Brownville. In 1862, he transferred to the 20th Maine, where he was promoted to Captain of Company B.
On the afternoon of July 3, 1863, the 20th Maine was resisting a series of Confederate assaults on Little Round Top, at the Battle of Gettysburg. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain ordered Morrill and his men to infiltrate themselves into the woods on the regiment’s extreme left to prevent any flanking attempt by the Confederates.
Later, when Chamberlain ordered the rest of the 20th Maine to attach bayonets and advance down Little Round Top against the rebels trying to ascend the hill, Morrill and his men charged from behind the trees, yelling at the top of their lungs. The effort caused the Southerners to panic and flee in confusion.
Months later, at Rappahannock Station in Virginia, the 20th Maine was again holding an extreme flank position. Morrill saw that his former 6th Maine comrades were making an assault against a heavily fortified position. Acting without orders, Morrill led four dozen of his men into the attack to help the 6th Maine. The assault succeeded. For his initiative, Morrill was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
His Citation reads: "Learning that an assault was to be made upon the enemy’s works by other troops, this officer voluntarily joined the storming party with about 50 men of his regiment, and by his dash and gallantry rendered effective service in the field."
In March, 1865, Walter Morrill was promoted as Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine. He would be the unit’s last commander. Although General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, Morrill continued recommending men of the 20th Maine for promotion, explaining to Governor Samuel Cony that, "we are in want of officers at the present time."
It would be June before the Regiment was mustered out of service. Officers may have been needed, but Morrill may have also wanted deserving men to leave the army with the highest rank available to them. Governor Cony approved the promotions.
Morrill returned home after the War and settled in Pittsfield. Among other activities, he became the successful owner of a harness racing track, promoting the sport throughout New England, and often winning with his own horses. He was also the first man in Pittsfield to fly in a two-seater, open-cockpit airplane. Asked how he enjoyed his ride, he declared that he thought it was "purty risky!" Morrill died March 3, 1935.
What a great story and wonderful likesness of Walter Morrill. The photograph is so clear that you can almost count every hair on his head.
It certainly seems that Walter Morrill lived a life of adventure, even during those times when it was "purty risky!"
Awesome story Aj. Thanks for sharing it.
What an amazing time to be alive. I mean, can you imagine living through the ACW and living long enough to see everything that he saw? It would have been an awesome time to live.