Williams Family from Evansville, Indiana

Private William Williams
91st Indiana Volunteer Regiment, Company A Ė Infantry
Hascallís 2nd Division
First Brigade of Schofieldís XXIII Corps Army of the Ohio

This is a true story of a young man who fought for the Union under General Sherman in the U.S. War of the Rebellion, now called the Civil War. He is the grandfather of Walter Williams of Rancho Cordova, California. Pvt. William Williams was born on 10 August 1834. Both grandfather William and grandson Walter were born on a farm in West Franklin town, Marrs Township, Posey County in southern Indiana on the Ohio River. This is just ten miles west of Evansville. Pvt. Williamsís service to his country started in August 10, 1862 at a time when the Union had its back against the wall. Many in the north were becoming tired of the war and many nations were shifting support to the Confederate cause. Some of his family believe he was a hero and that this document makes a good case.

Pvt. Williams was in deep trouble by late February of 1864 but luckily his company narrowly escaped death. In the dark of night at the critical area of Cumberland Pass, a Confederate cavalry surrounded the small group of Union troops as they slept. The cavalry then attacked them at dawn but most, including Williams, escaped by running for their lives. Later Pvt. Williams was in even more dangerous and bloody battles including Pine Mountain, Kolbís Farm and finally the Battle of Peachtree Creek.

After fighting in five states, and traveling thousands of miles, his fighting came abruptly to a bloody and painful end when he was badly wounded in the arm on 20 July 1864, a few miles outside Atlanta. This occurred while he and several hundred men of the 91st Indiana were charging the rifle-pits of the Confederates protecting the city of Atlanta. It was the critical day of the critical battle for the critical city in the critical campaign to save the Union. Those brave heroes overran the pits and took Confederate prisoners as Gen. Sherman personally watched. By this action Gen. Sherman succeeded in splitting the Confederacy in two and the end of the horrible war was in sight. This victory in Atlanta assured Lincolnís second term in 1864 and ultimately the preservation of the Union.

Several miles from where Pvt. Williams was shot, the famous marble Cyclorama Building houses and preserves forever the events of those days on the Worldís Largest Painting. It is of the battle for Atlanta- the battle that sealed the fate of the Confederacy. The painting is 42 feet high and 360 feet circumference (in the round) and shows the battlefield action as seen from a spot near where Pvt. Williams was wounded. There one can listen to the story of Shermanís march to Atlanta and the battles that Pvt. Williams engaged. It is narrated in vivid hair-raising detail by the unique and deep toned bass voice of James Earl Jones.

The story is made possible by the research of Walter Williams, his sons Howard and Harold, Haroldís wife Beryl and Howardís son Kevin. The story was borne out of the pride and the curiosity of a grandson (Walter) regarding the role played by the grandfather (William) during a critical turning point in our nationís life. Many decades ago as a boy, Walter had the unique experience of knowing and talking with uncle "Doc" Darnell who fought in the same Civil War regiment with Pvt. Williams. Walterís grandson Kevin Williams now lives with, and cares for, Walter and Walterís wife Marie. Kevin, in turn, hears the remarkable stories from his grandfather Walter about the bravery and selflessness of Kevinís great, great grandfather Pvt. Williams. In 1938, William Williams had long since passed away and his sister in-law Lucinda had a 50th wedding anniversary which was attended by Walter Williams, now 93, and his infant son Howard Williams, now 63 (then only one).

Although to most the Civil War was a long time ago a man, still working for a living, met Pvt. William Williamsís sister-in-law when he was an infant. So the stories are passed down from generation to generation and brought into focus by diligent searches of the huge volume of documentation in the nationís archives.

Research over two decades included communications with the National Archives and many visits to their files in Washington DC and other genealogical and military record repositories. Separately, the two grandsons traveled to Civil War battlefield sites and areas he guarded. He was in many battles and there are many bronze markers along Tennessee and Georgia roads telling where Hascallís second Division of the 23rd Corps traveled in 1864. A man in the 91st Company B from the Lynnville area of Warrick County wrote a diary of the whole time to the end of the war. He went essentially everywhere Pvt. Williams went. So the diary gives us insight into where they were on most days, if the weather was noticeably good or bad, who they were fighting, when there was fighting, what they were doing, how often letters came from home, how much they were paid, when they got new rifles, etc. Not only does it cover Pvt. Williamsís service up to Atlanta but also our Uncle Doc Darnellís service into the Carolinas. We have that diary thanks to Harold Williamsís son Craig, who now lives in Indianapolis.

The story mainly relates how a 28-year-old bachelor farmer served his country over two full years of Civil War, shed his blood, and endured a subsequent year of painful recovery in hospitals in three states. Of being discharged on March 15, 1865 nearly three years after volunteering. It also tells how he died while visiting relatives on the Kentucky side of the frozen Ohio River on Christmas Day of 1870 at the early age of 36. The death was due to the effects of the war, according to relatives who knew him. These relatives also related that Pvt. William Williams (USA, ret.) had a difficult time farming after the war. But he did subsequently marry. He married Feriba Ann Darnell in 1866. Feriba was the daughter of James J. Darnell who was a neighbor and friend of Pvt. Williams. Feriba also died young Ė she was only age 33. Feriba was the sister of William Harry "Doc" Darnell who fought with Pvt. William Williams in Company A of Hascallís Division. There were four Darnell men in the 91st Indiana Regiment. There were only three other groups of brothers - all groups of two. There were no other Williamses out of the 136 total men in the 91st at the start of the war. Doc Darnell was just 19 when he signed up. He was not wounded in the war and he went on from Atlanta in July 1884 to chase and fight General Hood (CSA) up into Tennessee. Doc was later shipped with the rest of the 91st Regiment to Washington DC where they traveled south and fought rebels into the Carolinas. The 91st mustered out in June 26, 1865 after the end of the war. Feriba and Pvt. William Williams had two sons, Andrew and William who were born in the several years just before William died in 1870. The one son, Andrew Jackson Williams of Posey County Indiana, married in 1891 and was the father of Walter Williams.

In physical description, the discharge certificate says he stood five feet eight inches in height, light complexion, hazel eyes and dark hair. From the service photo it is clear he looked quite young, even for his 28 years. He did not have a swarthy complexion of a farmer exposed to the sun. He likely wore a wide brim hat of the day. He was not thin or gaunt like many Civil War soldiers were apt to look, however he may have looked that way by the end of the war. We suspect at the end of the war he looked like he was 40 years rather than his actual 31 years. By his looks he could have fit into any Williams family picnic in the 21st century, either in Indiana, Kentucky, California or wherever. And more handsome than most. But when he would talk there would be a distinct difference. We would probably take him for a southerner for his dialect and a preacher for his choice of words. The idioms of speech would use biblical terms. And many things would be called words we wouldnít recognize. He would seem uneducated to us and children would think of him as a hillbilly because farmers didnít have much time or need for education from books. He had probably worked as a farmer from age 14 to age 28. He must have thought he had many decades of life ahead and like all the soldiers then he thought the war would be over in months not years.

The story unveils many further questions to be answered in the future. Why and how did Pvt. Williams manage to keep his badly wounded arm? It broke the ulna bone in the middle of his forearm. The lead bullet was over Ĺ inch diameter and 1-1/2 inch long and would likely have passed through the arm. Most soldiers of the day with similar conditions lost their arms to amputation right away and were sent home in weeks rather than a year. As a farmer he certainly needed both arms but so did the other roughly 60% of the soldiers on both sides in the Atlanta Campaign who also were farmers. Other questions remain. Did William know Pvt. Lorenzo Holder of Company B (106 men) who kept a diary. His diary covered over four years of his service with the 91st Indiana Regiment. Pvt. Holder mustered out in 1865 as Sergeant? The men of Company B were almost entirely from the area of Lynnville in Warrick County which was only 25 miles or so from West Franklin and New Harmony where most of the Company A men resided. Relatives with surname Barth on the Williams family tree also came from Warrick. Possibly some of the Company B men were related to Walter Williams by marriage. Likely the Company B men didnít associate with the Posey County men as much as their own. But they had to be acquainted in the course of the years. Especially during the guard duty times where boredom would lead to talking about home and possible common friends.

There is a 1 hour Williams family video, made in 1984, which shows the highlights of Pvt. William Williams in the war and views interesting points along the path of his 1864 march into Georgia where William fought his toughest battles. A more recent video highlights the area in which he lived and the site of the near tragedy in the battle at Cumberland Gap.

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Copyright © 2001 Williams Family from Evansville, Indiana