William H.

Margaret May

Wilcox Family Biographies


William Wilcox

William H. Wilcox was born 30 June 1843 in western New York state, at a location identified in his pension records as Swergle or Segal County, a place name no longer identifiable. His parents were Harvey Wilcox, a farmer, and Amanda Brown, a weaver; his middle initial is in all likelihood taken from his father.

By 1860 the Wilcox family was living in Waushara County, Wisconsin, where their home was destroyed by fire in 1861. William was 17 when the American Civil War began in the spring of 1861. In the summer of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call to the states for an additional 300,000 volunteers, to serve a nine month enlistment. In response, the 20th Regiment of Wisconsin volunteer infantry was formed on 4 August 1862, with Major Henry A. Starr as commanding officer. A few weeks later, 23 August, William Wilcox was mustered in as a private in Company K of the 20th Wisconsin in Madison, enlisting for a three year period.

After an initial period of training, the 20th Wisconsin, with 19 year old William Wilcox in its ranks, was sent to Springfield, Missouri, where they were assigned to Lieutenant Colonel Henry Bertram's 1st Brigade, Brigadier General Francis J. Herron's 3rd Division, Brigadier General James G. Blunt's Army of the Frontier; of Major General Samuel R. Curtis' Department of the Missouri.

In early December, 1862, General Blunt was in Fayetteville, Arkansas with 8,000 men of the Army of the Frontier. Arkansas was a part of the Confederacy and Blunt feared attack by the larger army of Major General T.C. Hindman and his force of 11,500 Confederate troops. Blunt ordered General Herron's 3rd Division, still in Springfield, to join him in Fayetteville. General Herron left Springfield on 3 December and marched the 3rd Division the 110 miles to Fayetteville in three days.

Hindman attacked Blunt on the morning of 7 December1862, while Herron's reinforcing division was still 12 miles away. Hindman was between the two Union armies, outnumbering either individually. Instead of taking on Herron, and then turning on Blunt, however, Hindman had his Confederate troops dig in, leaving Herron free to join forces with Blunt, thereby losing the numerical advantage once held by the Confederates. At noon, Herron attacked and, though wearied from three days march, the Union troops pressed the Confederates until dark, at which time Hindman and his Confederate forces withdrew and retreated to Van Buren. Blunt lost about 325 men killed and wounded and Herron 918 for a total of 1,243 Union casualties; Hindmanís casualties were 1,371 in what came to be known as the Battle of Prairie Grove. Among the Union casualties were members of the 20th Wisconsin, including 19 year old William Wilcox, who suffered an unspecified wound in the battle.

After the Battle of Prairie Grove, the Army of the Frontier left northwestern Arkansas and marched through southern Missouri to northeast Arkansas. On 13 May 1863 Major General John M. Schofield, who had relieved General Curtis as commander of the Department of the Missouri, sent 12,000 men from his command to join General U.S. Grant in the battle that was in progress at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Upon arrival of General Herron, now Major General Herron, in the Vicksburg area, his division, with Lieutenant Colonel (now full Colonel) Bertram's brigade, was assigned to the 17th Army Corps under Major General James B. McPherson. Herron's division did not arrive in Vicksburg until 11 June by which time the battle had entered the siege stage. McPherson was holding the center of the line and Herron was positioned on the far left of McPherson's line. During this period the 20th was attached to the 2nd Brigade under Brigadier General William W. Orme. The 20th remained on the line at Vicksburg until 4 July 1863 when Lieutenant General John Pemberton, CSA, surrendered the town and 29,491 men. in what came to be seen as the turning point of the war in the West. Vicksburg opened the heart of the Confederacy to the Federal armies and became a major boost to the career of a heretofore unremarkable union general - Ulysses Simpson Grant.

After the surrender of Vicksburg, the movements of the 20th are rather sketchy, though it is known that on 13 July 1863 Herron's 3rd Division fought and won the Battle of Yazoo City, Mississippi, capturing the town and 250 Confederate troops under the command of Lieutenant General Joe Johnston. By August, the 20th Wisconsin was in New Orleans, under Federal control since April. Here it was that William Wilcox, and presumably other Union soldiers, contracted dysentery, an extremely discomforting gastrointestinal disease. In later life, his claim for a disability pension would be based upon claims of lifelong gastrointestinal distress, brought upon by the dysentery, which he contracted through the "exposure to and use of army food." The dysentery may also be credited with providing private Wilcox the 30 day furlough he took, beginning 18 August 1863.

(Union army hospitals treated over 6 million cases during the war. There were twice as many deaths from disease as from hostile bullets. Diarrhea and dysentery alone took the lives of 44,558 Union soldiers.)

Subsequent campaigns of the 20th Wisconsin included the battle of Fort Morgan, (a part of the larger Union effort to capture Mobile, Alabama); as well as battles at Tinkham Creek, Mississippi; and Spanish Fort, Alabama. William Wilcox was mustered out of Company K, 20th Wisconsin, on 14 July 1865 in Galveston, Texas. He was barely 22 years old and had spent nearly three years as a common soldier, tramping throughout the western Confederacy, wounded at Prairie Grove, sickened at New Orleans, a participant in the pivotal battles of Vicksburg and Mobile. In late summer, 1865, William Wilcox returned to his home and family in Green Lake County, Wisconsin.

On the first day of October, 1866, William Wilcox, now 23, married Sarah Jane Luce, also 23, in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. Sarah Jane was born in New York, to Margaret MacGregor, an immigrant from Scotland, and Warren S. Luce, a New England Yankee. William and Sarah would have five children born to them in Green Lake County, Fred in 1867, Walt in 1870, Eugenia in 1873, Edward in 1878, and Margaret May in 1880. In 1887 they moved the family from Wisconsin to Flandreau, Moody County, in eastern South Dakota, just west of the Minnesota line, where William would lease land for farming. Sarah would teach at the Indian School in Flandreau and serve as a midwife.

Williamís ailments continued to plague him, eventually making it impossible for him to engage in physical labor. In April of 1891 he filed for a federal disability pension, which he subsequently received, for his war related "injuries", suffered not at the hands of a Confederate soldier but, rather, a Union army cook.

Billy Wilcox was a generous man. He had a number of horses which he loaned out to townspeople for riding. He bought land in the area for each of his children, excepting only Maggie, whose husband, Tony Nelson, was "not the type to settle down." (As time would bear out, the same could be said for Maggie herself.) William and Sarah also adopted a couple of children, losing them, sadly, to diptheria.

Sarah Jane, his wife of 48 years, died on 22 October 1914 in Flandreau. Ten years later, William would suffer a stroke which would leave him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He would require nearly continuous care, largely given by his daughter Eugenia, for five years until his death on the morning of 31 August 1929, at home on South Wind Street in Flandreau. He was aged 86 years, 2 months, 1 day; the cause of death being ascribed to "the infirmities of age" with "hemiphlegia" of 5 years duration listed as contributory cause.

Commanding Officers

BLUNT, James Gillpatrick

  • Born: 21 July 1826, Trenton, Manie
  • Pre-War: sailor, doctor
  • War Service: July 1861, recruited the "Kansas Brigade" in which he commanded a cavalry regiment; April 1862, appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers; commanded Department of Kansas, Old Fort Wayne; commanded 1st Division/Army of the Frontier, Prairie Grove; November 1862 promoted Major General of Volunteers; dismissed from command after his wagon train was attacked by guerillas; recruiting duty; opposed Sterling Price's Missouri raid; commanded Districts in Arkansas and Kansas.
  • Post War: doctor, claims agent
  • Died 27 July 1881, Washington, DC

CURTIS, Samuel Ryan

  • Born: 3 February 1805, Clinton County, New York
  • Died 26 December 1866, Council Bluffs, Iowa
  • Pre-War: West Point, class of 1831; garrison duty, resigned 1832; civil engineer; Mexican war; lawyer; mayor; US congressman
  • War Service: 1861, Colonel of 2nd Iowa; May 1861, appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers; commanded the federal forces at Pea Ridge; March 1862 ,promoted Major General of Volunteers; commanded Department of the Missouri, removed by Lincoln after an altercation with Governor Gamble; commanded Departments of Kansas and the Northwest
  • Post War: peace commissioner to the Indians, railroad commissioner

GRANT, Ulysses Simpson (Hiram Ulysses)

  • Born: 27 April 1822, Point Pleasant, Ohio
  • Pre-War: West Point, class of 1843; Mexican war; garrison duty, resigned 1854; firewood pedlar, store clerk
  • War Service: 1861, commanded a camp of instruction; June 1861, Colonel of 21st Illinois; May 1861, appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers; Belmont; Forts Henry and Donelson; February 1862, promoted Major General of Volunteers, commanded Army of the Tennessee, Shiloh, Vicksburg campaign; July 1863, promoted Major General in Regular Army, Chattanooga campaign; March 1864, Lieutenant General and general-in-chief, Overland campaign
  • Post War: Army service, US president, businessman, writer
  • Died: 23 July 1885, Mount McGregor, New York
  • Further reading: Anderson, Nancy Scott, The generals : Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, New York, Wings Books, 1994; Badeau, Adam, Military history of Ulysses S. Grant, from April, 1861 to April, 1865, New York, 1868-1881; Dana, Charles, A The life of Ulysses S. Grant : general of the armies of the United States, Springfield MA, Gurdon Bill & Co., 1868; Grant, Ulysses S, Personal memoirs of U.S. Grant, Blue Ridge Summit PA, Tab Books, 1991; Lewis, Lloyd, Captain Sam Grant, Boston, Little, Brown, 1950

HERRON, Francis Jay

  • Born: 17 February 1837, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Pre-War: Bank clerk, banker, militia officer
  • War Service: May 1861, Captain in 1st Iowa, Wilson's Creek; Lieutenant Colonel of 9th Iowa, Pea Ridge (w,c) - Medal of Honor; July 1862, appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers; Prairie Grove; November 1862, promoted Major General of Volunteers; commanded Herron's Division/XIII Corps in the Vicksburg campaign; commanded Northern District of Louisiana. Youngest Major General of either side in the War when he was appointed.
  • Post War: Lawyer, US marshal, secretary of state for Louisiana
  • Died 8 January 1902, New York, New York

MCPHERSON, James Birdseye

  • Born: 14 November 1828, near Clyde, Ohio
  • Pre-War: West Point class of 1853 (1st in class), engineer duty
  • War Service: August 1861 Lieutenant in engineers, aide to Halleck, chief engineer to Grant at Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth; Superintendent of railways in East Tennessee; May 1862, appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers; October 1862, promoted Major General of Volunteers, commanded XVII Corps in Vicksburg campaign; August 1863, promoted Brigadier General in Regular Army, commanded Army of the Tennessee in Atlanta campaign; Atlanta (killed in action)
  • Died 22 July 1864, near Atlanta, Georgia
  • Further reading :McPherson, Dan, General James B. McPherson, fallen star of the Union, McPherson KS, McPherson Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1991; Whaley, Elizabeth J, Forgotten hero: General James B. McPherson : the biography of a Civil War general, New York, Exposition Press, 1955

ORME, William Ward

  • Born: 17 February 1832, District of Columbia
  • Pre-War: Lawyer
  • War Service: August 1862, Colonel of 94th Illinois; Prairie Grove; November 1862 appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers, commanded 2nd Brigade/Herron's Division in Vicksburg campaign; inspector of prison camps; resigned April 1864
  • Post War: Special agent of US Treasury
  • Died: 13 September 1866, Bloomington , Illinois; of tuberculosis contracted during the Vicksburg campaign

Confederate Opposition

HINDMAN, Thomas Carmichael

  • Born : 28 January 1828, Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Pre-War: Mexican War, lawyer, politician, US congressman
  • War Service: 1861 raised 2nd Arkansas, Colonel; September 1861, Brigadier General, Shiloh; April 1862, Major General, commanded the Department of Trans Mississippi, replaced following public opposition to his imposition of martial law; Prairie Grove, reassigned at his own request to the Army of Tennessee, Chickamauga (wounded); Atlanta campaign (wounded); unfit for further field duty
  • Post War: Moved to Mexico, returned 1868, lawyer
  • Died: 28 September 1868, Helena, Arkansas; assassinated - probably as a result of his opposition to carpetbaggers
  • Further reading: Nash, Charles Edward, Biographical sketches of Gen. Pat Cleburne and Gen. T. C. Hindman, together with humorous anecdotes and reminiscences of the late Civil War, Dayton ,Ohio, Press of Morningside Bookshop, 1977; Neal, Diane, Lion of the South: General Thomas C. Hindman, Macon , Georgia, Mercer University Press, 1993

JOHNSTON, Joseph Eggleston

  • Born: 3 February 1807, Farmville, Virginia
  • Pre-War: West Point, class of 1829; frontier duty, resigned 1837; civil engineer; commissioned in US Army 1838, Mexican War; June 1860, Brigadier General, resigned 1861
  • War Service: 1861, Major General of Virginia troops; May 1861, Brigadier General in Confederate army; Harper's Ferry; First Manassas; August 1861, General in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, Peninsula campaign, Seven Pines (wounded) - command passed to Robert E. Lee; commanded Department of the West, Vicksburg campaign; commanded the Army of Tennessee, Atlanta campaign; July 1864, relieved of command at Atlanta; February 1865, restored to command; Carolinas campaign; surrendered to Sherman
  • Post War: US congressman, commissioner of railroads, wrote memoirs
  • Died: 21 March 1891, Washington, DC
  • Further reading : Govan, Gilbert E, A Different Valor; the story of General Joseph E. Johnston, C.S.A., Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1973; Hughes, Robert M, General Johnston, New York, D. Appleton, 1897; Johnston, Joseph E, Narrative of military operations during the Civil War, New York, Da Capo Press, 1990; Symonds, Craig L, Joseph E. Johnston : a Civil War biography, New York, Norton, 1992

PEMBERTON, John Clifford

  • Born: 10 August 1814, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Pre-War: West Point, class of 1837; Mexican War; married a Virginian woman; April 1861, resigned US Army
  • War Service: June 1861, Brigadier General, commanded the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; January 1862, Major General; October 1862, Lieutenant General, commanded Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana; besieged in Vicksburg (surrendered); no further duty at his rank was available, resigned commission; appointed Colonel of artillery
  • Post War: Farmer
  • Died: 13 July 1881, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Further reading: Ballard, Michael B, Pemberton : a biography, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1991

Historical Background on the Vicksburg Campaign:

At the time of the Civil War, the Mississippi River was the single most important economic feature of the continent; the very lifeblood of America. Upon the secession of the southern states, the river was closed to unfettered navigation, which threatened to strangle northern commercial interests. President Abraham Lincoln told his civil and military leaders, "See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.... We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg." Lincoln assured his listeners that "I am acquainted with that region and know what I am talking about, and as valuable as New Orleans will be to us, Vicksburg will be more so."

It was imperative for the administration in Washington to regain control of the lower Mississippi River, thereby re-opening that important avenue of commerce, enabling the rich agricultural produce of the Northwest to reach world markets. It would also split the Confederacy in two, sever that vital supply route, achieve a major objective of the Anaconda Plan, and effectively seal the doom of Richmond and the Confederacy. Vicksburg was the connecting link between the eastern and western parts of the Confederate States. The city sat astride a major Confederate supply route, over which the armies of Braxton Bragg and Robert E. Lee received much needed food, clothing, medicine and ammunition, as well as fresh troops.

Yazoo City (Yazoo County, MS)

  • May 20-23, 1863, Federal land and naval expedition to the city, but before the flotilla arrives the Confederates destroy their navy yard, including two steamboats and an unfinished gunboat
  • July 12-21, 1863, Union expedition aboard four gunboats from Vicksburg (the USS Baron De Kalb is sunk when it hits a torpedo)
  • July 13, 1863, occupation of city by expeditionary forces, including 20th Wisconsin
  • Sept. 27 - Oct. 1, 1863, Federal expedition from Messinger's Ford (Big Black River), with skirmishes beyond the city
  • Oct. 31, 1863, skirmish
  • Feb. 9, 1864, city is occupied by Union Major General William Sherman on his way to Meridian
  • Feb. 28, 1864, nearby skirmish
  • March 5, 1864, Confederate attack on city is repulsed by the Meridian Expedition
  • March 6, 1864, city is abandoned by Union forces, ending the Meridian Expedition
  • May 4-13, 1864, Federal expedition from Vicksburg
  • Nov. 23 - Dec. 4, 1864, Federal expedition from Vicksburg under Major Generals Edward R.S. Canby and Napoleon J.T. Dana, cutting off the Confederate Army from large quantities of supplies at Jackson


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Last Updated 5 April, 2005