Very little is known about the Morgan family’s migration to America or their history prior to the 19th century, but records trace back at least to 17th century Virginia.
John Hamilton Morgan’s parents, Garrard Morgan III and Eliza Ann Hamilton Morgan, were born in or around Nicholas County, Kentucky.
Garrard and Eliza followed a similar path across the wilderness as the Thomas Lincoln family, from Kentucky to Indiana to Coles County, Illinois. The first of their seven children, William Woodson Morgan, was born in Indiana on July 27, 1840.
Eliza gave birth to their second son, John Hamilton Morgan, on August 8, 1842, in Greensburg, Decatur, Indiana.
Subsequent children Sarah, Leonidas, James, Luella, and Garrard IV were also born in Indiana before the family settled outside Mattoon, Coles County, Illinois.
On September 6, 1862, Colonel James Monroe organized the 123rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment at Camp Terry, Mattoon, Coles County, Illinois.
- From Coles County: Companies A, C, D, H, I, and K.
- From Cumberland County: Company B.
- From Clark County, Company E.
- From Clark and Crawford Counties: Company F and G.
The regiment shipped out on freight cars on September 19, 1862, for action under Major General William “Bull” Nelson. Their immediate task was to fortify Louisville, Kentucky, against Confederate General Braxton Bragg.
On October 1, the regiment left Louisville under the command of Union General Don Carlos Buell in pursuit of Bragg. The regiment with its untrained recruits suffered heavily in the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862.
The regiment spent the next three months protecting the railroad bridge in Munfordville, Kentucky.
The Battle of Stones River from December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863, was the regiment’s second introduction to the horrors of warfare.
After a period of inactivity, the regiment saw action at the Battle of Vaught’s Hill (March 20, 1863).
Their next action was at the Battle of Hoover’s Gap (June 24-26, 1863), followed by the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863), Farmington (October 7, 1863), Resaca (May 13-15, 1864), New Hope Church (May 25-26, 1864), Dallas (May 24-June 4, 1864), Marietta (June 9-July 3, 1864), Kennesaw Mountain (June 27, 1864), and Selma (April 2, 1865).
Several of the battles were part of the Atlanta Campaign. The regiment also participated in Garrard’s Raid and Wilson’s Raid.
After the Battle of Selma, Captain Owen Wiley wrote that,
Our loss was one officer killed; six wounded; seven men killed and forty-two wounded. All did their duty, and so deserve the highest praise. Color Serg’t. John Morgan, Company I is deserving the highest credit for his gallantry in action in being the first to plant a flag upon the Rebel works, and for being in the supreme advance until all the Rebel Forts were captured, planting our colors upon each of them successively.In John Morgan's funeral address given by B.H. Roberts, Roberts said that,
After the war, John Morgan attended Eastman’s Commercial College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and graduated in the spring of 1866. He returned to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to join an army acquaintance in the accounting business, but his career as a carpet bagger ended quickly as he and his friend both took a job driving a large herd of cattle from Kansas City to Salt Lake City.
When the Union forces were attacking the rebel breastworks at Selma, Alabama, three men who carried that old flag during the assault were shot down; as it fell from the hand of the third man John Morgan seized it, leaped over the breastworks and planted it triumphantly inside the enemies’ lines where the regiment maintained it....
He was wounded during the war, but in what battle I do not remember; twice he was captured; once exchanged and once he made his escape...
John Morgan and his friend arrived in Salt Lake City on December 23, 1866. The friend left shortly thereafter for California, but John liked Salt Lake City so much that he decided to stay.