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A Black, Jewish Officer in the Civil War

Contributed by: Phil Downey

Mr. Downey writes:

My great great grandfather Morris Morris was an officer in the Louisiana Native Guard. Morris' mother's maiden name was Carvalho. It is my understanding through oral family history that Morris Morris was Jewish. I have also come to learn that Morris was also part black *I do not know what percentage. Morris migrated to New Orleans with his mother from Jamaica shortly before the war began. I have confirmed through the Jamaican Jewish Genealogy website, that the Carvalho's of Jamaica were Jewish.* I also believe Morris' father was Jewish, thought I have no firm proof on this matter. There is a website dedicated to the Louisiana Native Guard which contains information and photos of Morris Morris. After the war Morris changed his name to Lewis Morrison and went on to become one of the great stage actors of the latter 19th century. I believe he changed his name for two reasons:

    1). To escape his African heritage. He was probably considered a Creole in New Orleans. In his photos he has predominantly white features, and:

    2). To escape his Jewish heritage. Sadly Jews and Irish Catholics, next to Blacks, were the most despised of White ethnic groups in the late 19th century.

I do not believe that he would have been able to pursue his career in acting had he not changed his identity, FYI, Lewis is the grandfather of Joan and Constance Bennett and the great grandfather of Morton Downey, Jr.

Morris Morris' regiment, "The 1st Louisiana Native Guard," organized as a Confederate Home Guard regiment in June of 1861 and was accepted for service as a Louisiana Militia unit by the Governor of Louisiana shortly thereafter, but was not documented as having seen combat as a Confederate regiment. After the Union occupation of New Orleans in 1861/62, some Black and mulatto officers and enlisted men of the regiment accepted Union service and formed a new USA regiment under the same name. Therefore, although Morris Morris served briefly as a Black Jewish Confederate officer, most of his military service and all of his combat service in the War was as a Union officer. The reorganized "Native Guard" did fight in many battles on behalf of the Union. 
At the battle of Port Hudson the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, USA, was the first Black Regiment to fight in combat for the Union. 

Historically, Morris Morris is more correctly listed listed as a Union officer.

Shalom,
Phil Downey

Lt. Morris Morris on the "Louisiana Native Guards" website

* Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West by Solomon N. Carvalho can be found on this website. Solomon Carvalho was a native a Barbados, and very probably a relative of Morris Morris.