A proper headstone at last: Soldier honored nearly a century after death

Saturday, March 8, 2014
Haisten Willis/Times-Georgian

Moses Morris was a survivor.

One of the few soldiers to fight the entire duration of the Civil War, Morris lived through a long list of battles across the South.

When Morris returned from the war to live on a Villa Rica farm, he overcame a severe rupture at age 62 and lived to the ripe old age of 84. That was during a time when when dying in one’s 40s was the norm.

The good fortune even extended to his children. Each of Morris’ 12 children lived into adulthood, and many are buried next to him at New Hope Primitive Baptist Church.

“I don’t look like anyone in my family, but I look just like him,” said Doug Morris, Moses’ great-great-grandson. “We could be twins.”

But 90 years after his death, Moses Morris was missing one of the most basic markers of the deceased. Dying a poor man, he had only an old field stone marking his grave.

So Doug Morris, using a little-known service of the United States Department of War, secured an engraved headstone at no cost to mark great-great-grandfather’s grave, complete with the signature of President Barack Obama thanking him for his service.

Morris fought for the Confederacy in the war, but the headstone service is for veterans of any American war.

With the headstone secured, Doug Morris was even able to get Moses a graveside service with the help of six local chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Muskets and cannons were fired, bagpipes played and a chaplain prayed over the service and family. The service was held Feb. 16, Moses’ birthday.

“Scripture the Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans seems to sum up why we’re here today,” said Rev. Todd Tibbits at the service. “Romans 13:7 says, ‘render therefore to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. We meet here today, many years later, to honor and pay tribute.”

That service, too, came at no cost. TheSons of Confederate Veterans was more than happy to pay tribute to a soldier.

Moses Morris was able to look over his own service, so to speak, thanks to a rather significant figure he paid to have his picture taken during the war.

Moses Morris paid the equivalent of $1,500 in today’s dollars for a portrait while in Virginia. He had to stand still for two entire minutes while it developed, but the end result is a high-quality shot that lasts to this day. Fitting the custom of the 1860s, Moses cut off a lock of hair and included it with the picture, in case his mother never saw him again. Today, that lock of hair remains.

“His hair is the same color as mine,” Doug Morris said.

The Morris family has ties to west Georgia dating to the late 1700s. They worked in the gold mines and remain here to this day. Moses’ Civil War contingent was called the “Villa Rica Gold Diggers” and pictures of him and his brother can be found in the Pine Mountain Gold Museum and Mill Amphitheater.

Moses had a younger brother named Isham who died in battle. Doug Morris’ grandfather was a World War II veteran and branches all over the family tree bear military service. Doug Morris’ son is a middle-schooler in the family’s recently adopted home of Hiram. But many extended family members still reside in Villa Rica.

Moses Morris was awarded acres of farm land upon his return from war. He remained a poor farmer for the rest of his life, but was and still is a beloved figure in the family. After he was mostly incapacitated by an injury at age 62, six of his 12 children stayed behind to help care for him and the land for another 22 years until his death.

“He was a loved man, a good man,” said Doug Morris.

With that in mind, Doug Morris is so glad to see his ancestor, 90 years later, get the recognition he deserves.

“It was beautiful,” Doug said of the service. “I couldn’t make it a week doing what that man did every single week. Their lives were so hard back then. For him to raise those kids and be so dedicated, that’s unheard of. That tells me everything I need to know about him.”

© 2014 Times-Georgian.

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