Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary

By Charles F. Ritter; Jon L. Wakelyn | Go to book overview

OLIVER PERRY MORTON
(August 4, 1823–November 1, 1877)

Jon L. Wakelyn

As governor of Indiana throughout the Civil War, Oliver Perry Morton served the Union cause loyally and ably, despite having to deal with a recalcitrant state legislature bent on thwarting his policies. It is true that because of his devotion to the nation Morton at times used unusual and often illegal powers, which made him a despised figure among Democrats. Yet for most Republican or Union party leaders, other than Indiana’s radical abolitionist faction, he became a wartime hero. After all, they knew that no state could have posed more of a problem to the Union cause than Indiana, a strong Democratic party bastion filled with recent immigrants from the slaveowning states. Accordingly, his actions received critical praise from his allies until after his death. But today his life largely goes unstudied, except for those historians who have begun to understand the centrality of state actions to the war effort. Perhaps a reconsideration of the life of this most important state leader could contribute to further analysis of the states’ roles in the Civil War.

Oliver Hazard Perry Throckmorton, for that was his full name, began life in a typical migrant midwestern household that had achieved enough middle-class status among its extended family to give him the opportunity to profit from those fluid and affluent times. His hometown, the now-abandoned Saulsbury in Wayne County, Indiana, on August 4, 1823, when Morton was born, had gone from modest success to near-empty population as the state’s wealth had passed it by. How did the family get to that desolate place? Oliver’s father, James Throckmorton, descended from a successful New England colonial family that had removed to New Jersey, had married Sarah Miller, also from a family of substance. But the elder Throckmorton was a proud man who had fallen out with his older brothers over his being shortchanged in their father’s will. In a fit of pique he dropped the “Throck” from his name, and as James Morton he removed to the Ohio frontier. He fought in the War of 1812 and thus probably named his son for his own hero Oliver H. Perry, the victor at the Battle of Lake

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