John W. Morton Papers

Identifier: MSS.0306

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

This collection contains a handwritten memoir from the Spring of 1861 to November 5, 1864 written by Captain John Watson Morton. The memoir details the story of "Morton's Battery" under General Nathan Bedford Forrest in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. The substance of this manuscript is used in the book The Artillery of Nathan Bedford Forrest's Cavalry (1909) by John W. Morton. It appears that this handwritten document is the original manuscript used as the source for a much enlarged story in the book.


  • 1861 - 1864 November 5

Conditions Governing Access

This collection may be viewed only in the reading room of Special Collections in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Collections should be requested 2-3 days prior to visiting in order to facilitate easier access. For questions or to request a collection, contact

Biographical / Historical

John Watson Morton was born in Williamson Co., Tennessee on September 19, 1842 to Dr. John A. Morton and Sarah Buchanan. He moved with his family to Nashville in 1854 and later attended the Western Military Institute (also called the Nashville Military Institute and today Montgomery Bell Academy) in Nashville.

At the outset of the Civil War, Morton joined the Rock City Guards, a Nashville Militia. Unable to muster into service, Morton returned home and enlisted as a private in Captain Thomas K. Porter's battery. Morton would eventually rise through the ranks to junior first lieutenant, and saw his first command at the Battle of Fort Donelson in February of 1862, after his commanders fell wounded. Morton was captured and later released in a prisoner exchange in Vicksburg. Sometime after his release, Morton joined with General Nathan Bedford Forrest in Columbia, Tennessee. Soon after, he was made captain of a battery. During his service with Gen. Forrest, Morton would rise to become chief of artillery and command 4 battalions under Forrest. He surrendered to Union forces on April 10, 1865 in Gainesville, Alabama.

After the war, attended the medical department of the University of Tennessee, graduating Valedictorian. He briefly practiced medicine for two years before becoming a farmer. He was editor of the Tennessee Farmer from 1881 to 1901 and president of the Tennessee Farmers' Publishing Company. He served as Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture of Tennessee from 1891 to 1896. Morton, a Democrat, was elected Secretary of State of Tennessee on February 13, 1901 and served two terms ending in 1909.

Morton was the author of the 1909 book The Artillery of Nathan Bedford Forrest's Cavalry, "the Wizard of the Saddle".

Morton was also a founder of the Nashville chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and is said in some places to be the one who initiated Nathan Bedford Forrest into the KKK.

John Morton married Annie Humphreys on September 15, 1868 with whom he had 4 children. After Humphreys' death on July 14, 1899, John Morton married Ellen Tynes on August 6, 1901. He died on November 21, 1914 in Memphis, Tennessee.


.01 Linear Feet (1 folder)

Language of Materials



This collection contains a handwritten memoir from 1861-1864 written by Captain John Watson Morton. The memoir details the story of "Morton's Battery" under General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This manuscript was donated by Will Reason Mullins in 1940 to the Joint University Libraries.

Finding Aid for the John W. Morton Papers
Zach Johnson
2018 February
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Library
1101 19th Ave. S.
Nashville TN 37212 United States


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This site contains collection guides, or finding aids, to the archival collections held by Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, the History of Medicine Collection, and the Scarritt Bennett Center. Finding aids describe the context, arrangement, and structure of archival materials, allowing users to identify and request materials relevant to their research.

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