CIVIL WAR LETTER WRITTEN 110 YEARS AGO TELLS OF SACRIFICE
Submitted by F. K. Brown
Ironton Tribune July 3, 1974
Exactly 110 years ago today, on July 3, 1864, George W. Willis, Jr. of Rankins Creek, Lawrence County, wrote to his family while serving in Company E, Fifth West Virginia Infantry near Charleston WV. Later he was captured and held four months in Libby Prison until Richmond was taken by Federal troops. He died March 21, 1865 in an U.S. Army Hospital while with Company D, First WV Infantry detachment near Cumberland MD.
Willis’ letter, submitted to the Tribune by his great-grandson, Robert M. Willis of Route 1, Ironton, serves as a reminder that, as our nation’s 198th birthday nears, men have fought and died to preserve these United States of America.
The letter reads:
“My dear wife and children:
After my best respects to you all I can inform you that I am not very well at this time. I have got the diarrhea and have had it for 34 days that I am getting a good deal better since we have got back here which was July 2, 1864.
Well Betty, you and Burlina wrote me a letter dated June 2nd I received it on last (illegible) day night and this is Sunday following. I am in hope these few lines may find you all in the best of health. You wrote for me to write to you and tell you who was our officers. General Haunter is our Major General. He is over all of West Virginia troops and General Sullivan is what is called a Major General. He has charge of the First Division and Crook has the charge over the Third Division which is the one we 5th VA is in and we are in the 1st Brigade 2 Div 6 Army Corps. General Haze is our Brigadier General. There is 6 or 8 Regiments in a Brigade. One General over each Brigade. Our regimental officers is not change, yet us veterans still serve our old regiment. Yet the same as before.
Well Betty, we have bin to old Stanton, Lexington, Salem, Liberty, Buckhannon on the James River and from there to Lynchburg. We was gone two months and had to do a good deal of hard fighting. Well, Betty, we had liked to all starved to death on this trip. We had to live on quarter rations for 20 days, 5 days now and then as we could get it at houses by force. We had to rob for our lives or starve and 5 days without anything. Our wagons met us 15 miles the other side of our old Camp Gauley with plenty of provisions so when I saw the wagons I was a good deal like Jacob of old when he saw his sons’ wagons. I could not keep from shedding tears and had like to a fainted and when I got something to eat I lay down thankful to God for his mercies and goodness to me and went to sleep after which I awoke I felt much better and come on until I have got just below the mouth of Elk River in site of Charleston. This is all at this time.”
Willis’ eldest son, William T. Willis, with Co. E. 5th WV Inf, was also a victim of the war, dying Dec. 28, 1862 at Parkersburg, PA in U.S. Army General Hospital. A second son, Oliver (Dink) Willis, served in the Company A, 173rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He died in 1914 at his home in South Point.