The Open Book

By J. L. Starkey

Abraham had his war too, but an honest war. 
Or so it’s taught in school.

– Jerome Stanley Augustyniak & Natalie A. Merchant

If you’re not a part of the genealogy community on Twitter, you’re missing out on a great source of inspiration! This week, a comment from speaker and author Marian Burk Wood would prove prophetic for me. She said that blogging about family history, “…may expose gaps in research or conflicts to be resolved.”

She’s absolutely right, and I’ve uncovered dozens of surprises while fact-checking my writing. Still, it’s odd how her comment resonated with me as I wrote about an ancestor whose life was an open book. If there is one person who has been researched ad nauseam, it is my great-great-grandfather, Morris B. Rowe. Uncle Morris wrote pages and pages about him, and just about every Rowe descendant in the genealogy community knows his story.

When I’m writing about an ancestor, I spend a great deal of time rechecking sources and, in some cases, adding new information to a file. But really, this was Captain Rowe! Open book and all that, right?

Hold on just a minute, though. Because…what in the world?

Oh, Morris B., you were waiting for this, weren’t you?

A Life of Adventure

Morris B. Rowe in 1893 [Family photo collection]

The oldest son of Jesse Bascom and Sarah (Morris) Rowe, Morris Bigelow Rowe was born 5 May 1827 in Fayette County, Ohio [1]. When I was a child, I heard stories about his adventures and assumed those tales were a mix of fact and fiction. As an adult, I researched those stories and found some fact, some fiction, and a pretty cool connection to the Oregon Trail game.

In 1850, Morris joined a group of 72 men from Fayette County on a gold-prospecting mission to California. They traveled on the legendary Oregon Trail for part of their journey, and spent the winter in California prospecting for gold. Their return to Ohio included a steamer trip down the west coast, an overland journey to Panama, and then river travel, “…to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi River to the Ohio River…” to home [2]. The description of the journey confirmed that Morris was indeed a wanderer with a love of adventure!

In 1852, Morris married Sarah Row, and over the next decade they would have five children [3]. Morris knew that Sarah valued time with her family above anything else, and over the years, he settled into a comfortable life with Sarah and his beloved children.

But the Civil War would change everything for the family.

Morris Rowe’s household in the 1860 census

The Adventurer Becomes a Leader

90th OVI Colors, Camp Dennison, June 1865 [4]

On 23 July 1862, Morris enlisted in Company K of the 90th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, or OVI [5]. Eleven days later, he was promoted to the rank of Captain, and became one of only 38 commissioned officers in the 943-member regiment [6].

Morris B. Rowe listed as Captain of Co. K, 90th OVI [FamilySearch image]

That his family was proud of his service was obvious; an 1862 newspaper article described how his father Jesse refused to help a man purchase land in Fayette County [7]. According to the article, the man told Jesse Rowe that he was neutral, and refused to choose a side in the Civil War. Jesse responded that there was no neutrality, and that every man “…must either be shot as a rebel, or take a gun as a Union man and go to shooting.”

Jesse’s statement was an eerie prediction of his son’s future. In January 1863, Captain Rowe was wounded by gunfire at the Battle of Stones River [8]. Losses were heavy for the 90th OVI, with 126 of the regiment’s 300 men killed or injured in the battle [9]. According to the National Park Service, the Battle of Stones River was one of the bloodiest of the Civil War. More than 3,000 soldiers were killed and more than 16,000 were wounded, with some of those men spending as much as a week on the battlefield before they received medical attention [10].

Western Field of Battle, Stones River National Battlefield [By Chris Light – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,]

Morris’s injury was thought to be minor, but it was serious enough that he was sent home for a short time in early 1863. He later rejoined the 90th at Camp Cripple Creek in Tennessee [11]. By then, however, his time in the service was coming to an end, over one year ahead of schedule.

On 19 December 1863, Morris Rowe resigned his commission due to ill health and returned to Ohio [12]. In the years following the war, he was often referred to as “Captain Rowe” in news articles, and the impression given was that he served honorably and bravely.

Stones River National Cemetery, August 2018 [Family photo collection]

An Open Book? Not So Fast!

I loved learning about Morris B’s time in the military, however short it was, and last summer I visited Stones River Battlefield and retraced a few of his steps. It was a powerful and humbling experience to learn more about this adventurous, courageous man.

This week, I decided to take things one step further, because I wanted to see Morris B’s pension record. Oh, sure, it would not have any big surprises. After all, this was an ancestor that had been researched by many other family historians. That’s what made him so easy to find! But I decided to have a look at the NARA website anyway.

I clicked on a link from Fold3 that redirected me to the NARA, and the search results on that page had me staring at my computer screen in disbelief. Have a look for yourself:

Morris B. Rowe, NARA records search page

Court martial? Morris B. was court martialed?!?

Further research indicated that there was only one soldier named Morris B. Rowe that served in the 90th OVI. That soldier faced a court martial in Manchester, Tennessee, in May 1863. No other details were given online.

My mind started racing. Was it true? How was it that no one in the family knew about a court martial? What had he done to warrant such a thing?

I can’t answer any of those questions yet. This is what can result from those last-minute searches and fact checks! Instead of promising a follow-up next week, I’m planning my next research steps. It seems that this week will end with a cliffhanger for me as well as everyone else!

I have a feeling that my “open-book ancestor” was never an open book at all. And it’s just a hunch, but I think that Morris B. has a few more things he wants to tell us.


  1. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records (Provost Marshal General’s Bureau; Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865); Record Group: 110, Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau (Civil War); Collection Name: Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865 (Civil War Union Draft Records); NAI: 4213514; Archive Volume Number: 3 of 3. (See also: U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.)
  2. Rowe, Morris Emery. “The Rowe Saga.” Copy in possession of author.
  3. “Ohio Marriages, 1800-1958,” database, FamilySearch ( 10 February 2018), Morris B. Rowe and Sarah Ellen Row, 27 Mar 1852; citing Fayette, Ohio, reference; FHL Film 0292630 V. A-C. (See also: “United States Census, 1860,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 24 Mar 2017), Ohio>Fayette>Jasper Township>image 6 of 44; from “1860 U.S. Federal Census – Population,” database, ( : n.d.); citing NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: NARA, n.d.)
  4. Harden, Henry O., History of the 90th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Great Rebellion in the United States, 1861-1865, p. 8. Stoutsville, Ohio: Press of Fairfield-Pickaway News, 1902. Retrieved from
  5. United States National Archives. Civil War Service Records [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 1999. (Source: Box: 552; Extraction: 92; Record: 2710.)
  6. “90th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry,” Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 25 May 2019 <; .
  7. “The Right Kind of Talk,” Washington Fayette County Herald, 11 Sept 1862, p. 5, col. 1. Retrieved from
  8. Harden, Henry O. History of the 90th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Great Rebellion in the United States, 1861-1865, p. 298. Stoutsville, Ohio: Press of Fairfield-Pickaway News, 1902. Retrieved from
  9. Ibid.
  10. “A Hard-Earned Victory.” Retrieved from
  11. The Herald, Washington, Ohio, 26 Feb 1863, p. 5, col. 2. Retrieved from
  12. The Herald, 7 Jan 1864, p. 6, col. 1. Retrieved from (See also: The Herald, 14 Jan 1864, p. 6, col. 1. Retrieved from

7 thoughts on “The Open Book

  1. Laura Mattingly May 26, 2019 — 9:20 pm

    Interesting! Shows the value of checking everything for yourself. Though I’m sure you hate to put a dent in his good reputation.


  2. Well, well, well. Seems he’s a man of mystery after all. I noticed the entry you pointed out says “private” not captain. Hmmm.


    1. That’s what I noticed, too! I grew up around military bases and remember hearing about soldiers losing rank after being court-martialed. I wonder if it happened to Morris?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s what occurred to me. It might turn out to be some fairly minor infraction that ended up with demotion.


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