WYATT, (Col.) WILLIAM J., retired, veteran of the Mexican and Civil Wars, Franklin, Ill., enjoys the distinction not only of being one of the oldest - if not the oldest - of the living native-born residents of Morgan County, but of having been an active participant in two of the country's wars, besides having participated in the Mormon troubles in Hancock County, Ill., in 1845-46. Colonel Wyatt was born in Morgan County, five miles southeast of Jacksonville, October 28, 1825, a son of John and Rebecca (Wyatt) Wyatt. His father was native of Virginia, descended from Irish ancestry, and his mother (though of the same name, not directly related by ties of consanguinity) was born in Pennsylvania of Dutch ancestry. John Wyatt emigrated from Virginia to Kentucky, thence to Missouri, and finally to Madison County, Ill. He was united in marriage with Rebecca Wyatt and settled in Illinois, the parents probably brining their first-born daughter with them to this State. He was a farmer and stock-raiser. An old-line Democrat, he served in the Illinois State Legislature two terms, when Vandalia was the State capital. During the Black Hawk War he held a commission as Lieutenant, and equipped three young men with horses for that campaign, being, in all respects, a liberal, public spirited man. Late in life he identified himself with the first Christian Church organized at Franklin. He died January 6, 1849, at the age of fifty-three years, eleven months and three days, his wife surviving him until August 29, 1866, when she passed away at the age of sixty-six years, eight months and ten days.
The entire life of Colonel Wyatt has been spent within the confines of Morgan County. His educational advantages were such as were obtainable by a limited attendance upon the subscription schools of his neighborhood. His father was compelled to be away from home much of the time looking after his extensive stock interests, and young Wyatt remained at home managing the farm. In 1845-46 he served in the State Militia, under Governor Ford, detailed to keep the peace between the Mormons and the anti-Mormon element in that part of the State, remaining in quarters that winter at Carthage, Ill. During that period he served as First Lieutenant in a company of mounted infantry. On March 14, 1846, he left his father's home, and on May 30 following, with his father's consent, he enlisted for service in the Mexican War, in Company G of the regiment commanded by Colonel John J. Harden. This was the first regiment of any kind ever organized in Illinois for any national war. Many of Colonel Wyatt's neighbors, who had served with him during the Mormon troubles the preceding winter, enlisted in this organization, and such was their confidence in his ability to command that they elected him to the Captaincy of the company. Early in June the regiment left for Mexico, after having been mustered in at Alton, Ill., its supposed destination being Chihuahua. Instead, they were ordered to Monclovia, whence, five weeks later, they proceeded to Parras, in the province of Durango. There General John B. Wool, who was in command of that division of the army, received from General Taylor orders to proceed by forced march to Buena Vista Pass, and engage the Mexican Army under Santa Ana at that point.
Colonel Wyatt participated in the historic battle of Buena Vista, when the American troops overcame overwhelming odds. His company was in the right wing of the American troops, and consequently received the fiercest shock of the battle, supporting Captain Washington's battery at the pass, the key to the battle-ground. Though during this engagement the American loss was 267 killed, 456 wounded and 23 missing, not a man in Colonel Wyatt's command was lost. At this battle eleven commissioned officers attached to the American army were killed in one and a half hours, four of whom, including John J. Hardin, the commander of the First Illinois Regiment, were Colonels. When the news came that Colonel Hardin had fallen, Colonel Wyatt and five of his men brought the body to the latter's tent, where it lay all night with the bodies of Colonel McKee and Lieutenant-Colonel Clay. All of the bodies were taken to Saltillo the following day and temporarily buried there, but at the close of the service were removed to their respective homes for final interment.
Colonel Wyatt was mustered out at Camargo, Mexico, June 17, 1847, and returned home by way of the gulf of Mexico and New Orleans. Investing what money he had in cattle, he entered into the business with his father, and was thus engaged with success until the outbreak of the Civil War. On September 2, 1862, he was mustered into the service as Lieutenant-Colonel of the One Hundred and First Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry, which was organized at Jacksonville, with Colonel Fox in command. Upon arriving at Cairo, Ill., Colonel Wyatt's health failed, but he remained with his command nevertheless. While ill at Holly Springs, Miss., December 20, 1862, he and a number of others were captured by the Confederate forces. With a number of paroled prisoners he was taken to Benton Barracks, where he was placed in charge of those on parole. In May, 1863, after examination by three army surgeons, he was discharged on account of physical disability.
After returning home, as soon as the state of his health permitted Colonel Wyatt resumed business as a farmer and stock-raiser, and devoted the remainder of his active years to this work. For some time he has been living in practical retirement, though still supervising his interests. He has taken an active interest in public affairs in the county, but has never desired political office. He is a Democrat, and a devoted adherent to the principles which that party espouses. On October 22, 1851, he was initiated in Hicks Lodge, No. 93, of Waverly, and on April 8, 1853, he became a charter member of Franklin Lodge, No. 121, I.O.O.F., at Franklin, and is at this time the only living charter member of said lodge. On July 1, 1859, he entered Ridgely Encampment No. 9 of Jacksonville; in November, 1901, he procured a charter for a Rebekah Lodge, which was instituted on the 20th of December, 1901, at Franklin, of which he and his wife were charter members; and with all of these bodies he has since been actively identified. Religiously, he is an old-line Methodist, of the Peter Akers and Peter Cartwright brand. In 1856 and on several succeeding occasions, he served as representative to the Grand Lodge of the State. During his life he has been actively interested in the promotion of a number of enterprises of public utility, the most important of which was the Jacksonville, Louisville & St. Louis Railroad, which was built principally by the late M. P. Ayers of Jacksonville. Colonel Wyatt rendered Mr. Ayers a vast amount of assistance in the project, not the least important service being the securing of the vote for the issue of bonds along the route for the construction of the road. In various other ways he has shown himself to be a public spirited and generous man of affairs, alive to the advancement of the best interests of the community.
Colonel Wyatt was united in marriage October 29, 1848, with Mrs. Eliza A. (Keller) Williams, who died February 12, 1892, leaving one son and one daughter by her former marriage, namely: John C. Williams, of Jacksonville, and Ellen, widow of Samuel P. McCullough, of Jacksonville. Colonel and Mrs. Wyatt had one daughter and two sons, the daughter and oldest son being deceased. The other son is George H. Wyatt, now a resident of Morgan County. On May 16, 1894, Colonel Wyatt was married to Sallie Dodd, of Waverly, a daughter of Elijah Dodd, a native of Kentucky, who in early manhood located near Pisgah, Morgan County, and in 1849 removed to the southeastern part of the county, where the remainder of his life was spent in agricultural pursuits. His wife was, in maidenhood, Lucinda Deatherage. Mrs. Wyatt is a native of Morgan County, and retains the ownership of the homestead on which she was born.