Monday, October 11, 2010

William Henry Wills and his service in the American Civil War

GAR stands for Grand Army of the Republic

John Albert Berryman Wills and his wife Anne Reed came to the Adirondack mining town of Moriah for good reasons.  First, he knew the business of miners. Secondly, his older brother William Henry Wills, was already there.  Who was this brother of our ancestor John Albert Berryman Wills?  William Henry Wills was born in March 1840 in St Uny Lelant, Cornwall making him three years John's senior.

The image below is from the 1851 census of England : William Henry is eleven years old and John Albert is 8 years old. Also listed are parents William and Lystra as well as siblings William Francis, Sarah, Lystra and Amy. Josiah is a border in the home:

1851 Census of England: Uny Lelant, village of Bowl

William H Wills probably came to the United States alone or at least without another immediate family member and enlisted in the Union Army - what later was called the Grand Army of the Republic, serving for three years.  We know this because he was not required to "declare his intent" to became an Unites States citizen; he could go directly to naturalization because of his military service.  His naturalization papers state he served three years in the "War of the Suppression".

Here is an image of William H Wills' naturalization papers in county clerk's office (Elizabethtown, Essex County, NY)

Click on image to enlarge

This document states:
"In the matter of William H. Wills on his naturalization, State of New York Essex County.  William H Wills being duly sworn, says that for the continued term of five years, last past, he has resided in the United States, without residing at any other time during the said five years out of the territory of the United States, and that for one year last past he has resided within the state of New York, that he was three years in the service of the United States in the Army for the Suppression of the late rebellion and was honorably discharged & would refer to his discharge herewith exhibited & applies to become a citizen of the United States under the act in such case made & provided that he is a native of England now residing in the town of Moriah in the county and state aforesaid, of the age of 30 years, and now, or lately, owing allegiance to her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, do hereby declare, that it is my bona fide intention to became a naturalized citizen of the United States of North America, and to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any and ever foreign Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty whatsoever; and particularly all allegiance and fidelity to her Majesty, the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.
Subscribed and sworn this 7th day of May A.D. 1872
signed Wm H. Wills
before me
A McD?inney Dep clerk"

When I think of William H. Wills arriving in New York, I remember the Martin Scorsese film "Gangs of New York".  There is a fine scene where young men, arriving from the Old World, are recruited "off the boat" by officers to serve in the Union Army.  William was young and somehow ended up fighting in a war that was not his own. He fought in the New York 16th Infantry Regiment, Company F.  As of this time, I write this, I do not know what battles he fought in but he survived and somehow ended up in Essex County, NY.

The New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs has an online history of the New York 16th Regiment here.   I believed the New York Regiment was "mustered out" in 1863 but men who remained in the service were pulled or converted into a  "national" regiment.   (can't remember where I read it isn't a fact yet!).

In Essex County, sometime between 1865 and 1875, William H. married Mary C.  who was born in 1844 and died in October 22, 1876 (she is buried in the Whitney Street Cemetery, Port Henry).  We find William and Mary  listed together in the 1875 Census of New York State:

New York State 1875 Census, Town of Moriah, Essex County

William H. Wills and Mary C. Wills are numbers 33 and 34

John A. Wills, Annie Wills, Elestra, William, Elizabeth and John A. Wills
start on the fifth line

After the death of his first wife on 22 October 1876, Wm H. Wills remarried to Carrie E. and it is their graves that were located by cousin Carol Ann in around 2001.  Carol Ann shared this knowledge but it wasn't until I made my third trip to the cemetery that I was actually able to find the gravestone.  I was helped by one of the trustees of the cemetery who shared some local history with me and a CD listing with names and a map.  The map isn't exact but it can help if you go to look for the grave of Wm H. Wills and his wife Carrie E. Wills

Click on Image to Enlarge

Moriah Union Cemetery is very beautiful in Autumn

And here are the gravestones as I found them in late September 2010

The stone carver's error: "Wells" instead of "Wills"

Then I remembered a scene from yet another movie! It was Penélope Cruz in Volver. In the opening scene she and other women from the village are performing the annual ritual of cleaning the gravestones of ancestors.  Why not give it a try? Here are the during and after photos:

And after that I left. Perhaps, I will return another day to honor, William Henry Wills, the brother  of my great grandfather who fought and survived battles of the United States Civil War.

1 comment:

  1. Could this William Henry Wills be an ancestor of ours? He was from Burrington Combe, Blagdon, UK and he is said to have written an article about the inspiration of the hymn Rock of Ages. Read this.