Morris (aka Lewis) Morrison, "the First Black Jewish Officer" in both C.S.A. and U.S.A.

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
Morris (or Moritz) W. Morrison was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on September 4, 1844, of mixed English, Sephardic Jewish, and African descent. By May of 1861, he was living in New Orleans, when he was elected 2nd Lieutenant in the newly-formed 1st Louisiana Native Guard. The regiment was accepted by Gov. Moore as part of the Louisiana State Militia, and served for nearly some 9 months, before the State Legislature ordered a reorganization of the Militia, permitting only “ white males capable of bearing arms” to serve. The 1st Native Guard was disbanded February 16, 1862. Temporarily reinstated by the Governor on March 24th, they were again ordered disbanded on April 25th.

After the occupation of New Orleans, a number of former officers of the Native Guard, Morrison included, offered their services to Gen. Butler. He authorized them to raise a regiment for U.S. service, mustered on September 2, 1862, as the 1st Louisiana Native Guard (U.S.). Morris W. Morrison was Lieutenant in Co. C. About 10% of the old Native Guard regiment enlisted in the new.

By the time Banks replaced Butler as Commander of the Department of the Gulf, there were three Native Guard regiments, each commanded by white field-grade officers, with colored company officers. Under orders from Washington, Banks began a campaign to purge them of non-white officers. Lt. Morris submitted his resignation.

Because of this history, Morrison has been claimed as “the first black-Jewish officer” in both the Confederate and the U. S. Army.” He was, however, never a practicing Jew, and was so light-complexioned that he could easily, and often did, pass for white. He later claimed his mother was “Spanish”.

I can learn nothing of his activities during the remainder of the war. Shortly after, however, he took to the stage as “Lewis Morrison,” first in New Orleans, later in San Francisco, and then New York. He played supporting roles at first, opposite such stars as Edwin Booth and Charlotte Cushman, and then increasingly important roles.
He was a headliner long before he first played Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust in 1889. That role gained him international fame. He toured the world with his own company, playing across Europe, in India, Australia, and Japan. For the last 15 years of his life, he performed Mephistopheles almost exclusively. A review from shortly before his death speaks of "five thousand performances as Mephisto over the past twenty years have made the name of Morrison and Mephisto synonymous."

Lewis Morrison as Mephistopheles
Morris (aka Lewis) Morrison died in Yonkers, New York, on August 30, 1906, of complications following surgery.

Morrison also founded something of a theatrical dynasty. By his first wife, actress Rose Wood,he was the father of actresses Rosabelle and Adrienne Morrison. His granddaughters, Barbara, Joan, and Constance Bennett reached film and stage stardom. A great-grandson, obnoxious tv talk-show host Morton Downey jr, was known for other things.
Last edited:

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!