Death of John W. Williams

NEBRASKA SIGNAL

 GENEVA, FILLMORE COUNTY
Thursday, January 11, 1923
Submitted by Ruby L. Ewart <rake@rmci.net>

John W. Williams was born in Meigs county, Ohio, October 9, 1845. In 1861 he enlisted as a soldier in the civil war and was mustered into service at Marietta, O., as a private of company C, Thirty-sixth regiment, Ohio volunteer infantry. At the end of three years of service he re-enlisted. He bore a faithful part in all the campaigns and battles of his command, and because of his meritorious service and soldierly conduct was chosen for some of the most difficult and dangerous tasks of the war and displayed marked heroism in some of the feats accomplished. He was finally severely wounded in the battle of Opequan, Va, September 19, 1864, which disabled him from any further active service during the war. He received final honorable discharge at Cumberland, Md., May 27, 1865.
Mr. Williams came to Fillmore county, Nebraska, in 1870 and took a homestead six miles from Geneva, thus becoming one of the foremost pioneers in the settlement and development of the county.
February 15, 1872, he was married to Sarah A. Oaks. To them were born six children: Marietta M., Flora J., James H., Samuel M., Mabel V., and John A., all of whom, with the wife, who has been his companion and helper during more than half a century of wedded life, remain to mourn his departure.
He was a member of Wilson Post No. 22, Department of Nebraska, Grand Army of the Republic. He was for several terms commander of the G. A. R. post at Strang. He was also a member of the M. W. A. and W. O. W.
He died at the hour of midnight at his home in Geneva, January 6, 1923, aged 77 years, 2 months and 27 days. The funeral service was held at the home, conducted by Rev. E. H. Pontius, Tuesday, January 9, at 2:30. Interment was in the Geneva cemetery.
W. W. King of Sioux Falls, S. D., and R. F. Hanlin and daughter, Lena of Beatrice attended the funeral.



NEBRASKA SIGNAL, GENEVA, FILLMORE COUNTY, NEBRASKA
Thursday, May 16, 1935

Mrs. J. W. Williams

Sarah Ann Oaks, daughter of Noah Oaks and Elizabeth Carson Oaks, was born in Sullivan, Ind., January 18, 1855. She departed this life at her home in Geneva, Neb., at 7 p. m., May 11, 1935, being aged 80 years, 3 months and 23 days.
She came to Nebraska, traveling in a covered wagon, in 1869 and located in Liberty township near what was later the town of Exeter.
Sarah Ann Oaks was married to John Wesley Williams of Meigs county, Ohio, February 15, 1872, at the home of her parents by Rev. John White of the Baptist church.
In April of that year Mr. and Mrs. Williams homesteaded six miles south of Geneva and Mrs. Williams has lived in and around Geneva from that time to the present, being among the real pioneers of Fillmore county. Mr. Williams passed on January 6, 1923.
To Mr. and Mrs. Williams were born six children, Mrs. W. W. King of Sioux Falls, S. D., Mrs. Flora Lowery of Kansas City, Mo., James H. of Ohiowa, Neb., Samuel M. of Monterey Park, Cal., Mrs. R. F. Hanlin of Beatrice, Neb., and John A. of Los Angeles, all of whom are living. She also leaves nineteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Mrs. Williams was converted to the Christian faith forty-five years ago at Strang, Neb., and she united with the United Brethren church. For the past fifteen years she has belonged to the Christian Science society. She was a member of the W. R. C. and Royal Neighbors, a very patriotic and religious worker, a devoted wife and mother, her family always coming first. She was never too busy to help a neighbor or friend. All who knew her loved her, for she had an interesting, striking personality, a lover of her home and flowers. Her flower gardens were always gorgeous and she gave many baskets of flowers, especially at Decoration time, to friends or anyone who would come for them.
Her health had been failing for the past year but she was able to accompany her daughter, Mrs. King, to California in December to visit her sons Sam and John, spending three months there, returning home two months ago.
During her last severe illness, four of her six children, James, Flora, Myrtle and Mable, were with her.
The funeral service was held at her home in Geneva at 2 p. m., May 14, Rev. David Tudor conducting the service. He also conducted the service for her only sister, Mrs. M. P. Burdge, at Geneva ten years ago.
Six grandsons, Gerald, Lyle, Mervin, Myron, Kenneth and Cecil Williams, sons of James H. Williams, acted as pallbearers.
Mrs. Williams was the last member of the family of four children.
Those from out-of-town attending the services were: Mr. and Mrs. W. W. King and daughter, Mrs. R. J. Eckert of Sioux Falls, S. D., Mr. and Mrs. F. F. Hanlin of Beatrice and daughter, Mrs. Waldo McDowell, and husband of Lincoln, Gerald Williams of Torrington, Wyo., Lyle and Myron Williams of Cottier, Wyo., John Oaks of Seward, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Oaks of Seward, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Oaks of Orleans and A. W. King of Beatrice.
Mrs. J. T. Limback and Mrs. Will Turner sang very beautifully "Beautiful Isle of Somewhere," "Abide With Me," and a request number, "Tell Mother I'll Be There."
The members of the W. R. C. and D. of U. V. conducted a short flower service when each one deposited in the casket a flower emblematic of their orders.
The floral offerings were exceptionally numerous and very beautiful, an expression of esteem that was very appropriate, as Mrs. Williams has been a great lover of flowers all her life.
Interment was in the Geneva cemetery.



Fillmore County paid tribute to survivors of the Civil War who lived within its borders by erecting a large granite monument in front of the Geneva Cemetery. It has bronze tablets on all four sides containing names of the Veterans. John Wesley Williams was a member of Wilson Post No. 22, Department of Nebraska, Grand Army of the Republic. He served several terms as commander of the post at Strang as well as three years in the Nebraska National Guard. And still his Civil War company was recorded wrong on the cemetery monument although it appears correctly on his grave marker. As if that wasn't enough, a great grandson from Omaha noted during a visit to the cemetery in October 1994 that a new cemetery guide to names and plots is located at the entrance to the Geneva Cemetery and while Sarah Ann Williams' name and plot are correctly identified, John Wesley Williams (right beside her) is not. Shame on Fillmore County.

To set the record straight:


JOHN WESLEY WILLIAMS
1845-1923

Wes was born in the fall of 1845 in Scipio Township, Meigs County, Ohio, not far from the banks of the Ohio River where he received a basic education to his 14th year. As a young man, Wes showed a spirit of independence and a bit of dare-devil. In the summer of 1860, at 14-1/2 years of age, instead of helping on the family farm he worked on steamboats plying the Ohio River between Marietta and Cincinnati, Ohio; boats named Leslie Combs, Viola, Victor and Liberty No. 2. Rumblings of dissatisfaction were being heard from some states which were about to lead the nation into the great Civil war, a war that would forever change the country and its families. An energetic, young Wes Williams was no exception. On July 31, 1861, Wes enlisted at Albany in Athens Co., Ohio, to serve three years - giving his age as 18. He was actually not yet 16 - having two more months to go before his birthday. He mustered in at the Camp Putnam rendezvous in Marietta, Ohio on August 12, 1861, as a private in Capt. John Beckley's Company C, 36th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Colonel George Crook commanding. Wes was described as 5 ft 8-1/2 in. with dark hair, dark complexion and grey eyes.

John Wesley Williams' Civil War pension file No. 47903 and service record, and a personal biography by his cousin Samuel M. Williams who served one year with Co. C, 36th Ohio Infantry color in health and movements of four years of Wes's life. "There is so much to be truthfully said, and that should be recorded in history, of a command that performed so much of worth as did the 36th Ohio Regiment, to comply with a request to give its history in less than half a dozen pages is a task more than difficult. If the 'Boys in Blue' would write history as well as they made it, what a grand record they would bequeath to posterity." (REPORT OF THE OHIO by the Antietam Battlefield Commission.) The 36th Ohio marched before President Lincoln in Washington, D.C., and took part in numerous engagements from Virginia to Tennessee and Georgia, including Antietam, Chickamauga, Kenesaw Mountain, Tullahoma and Murfreesboro and Manassas.

After the battle of Chickamauga, Wes was one of 20 men selected from various regiments of the 14th Corps to serve as a scout for General Crook, under Lt. Tonlott of the 16th United States Infantry. While on a scouting expedition, this detachment with two companies of the 24th Kentucky (153 men in all) encountered a superior force of the enemy at Kettle Springs, Tennessee, routed them and took 90 prisoners. Wes was awarded a medal for his participation. He re-enlisted as a veteran soldier on February 14, 1864 along with about 360 other men at Chattanooga, Tennessee. He signed his own name to the Veterans Volunteer Enlistment document and was described as 5 ft 10 in., dark hair and complexion and grey eyes.

John Wesley Williams' luck ran out on September 19, 1864, when he fell, gravely wounded, at Opequan Creek near Winchester, West Virginia. The story leading up to that time can best be told in Wes's own words ...

(Handwritten letter in my possession; a draft copy of one sent.)

Strang, Nebraska
Fillmore County,
March 10, 1869

Hon. J. T. Booth Historian 36th Reg. Ohio V.V. Inft.
Station Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sir.

I don't no but I have a few facts that will be of intrest to you in the make of your history of the Regt. So I will give them in my own way. on the 18th of September 1864 a bout 3 o' clock P.M I was at General Sheridan Head quaters and I heard him and General Emory talking of the plan of battle for the next day. Emory did not want to cross of aqnan crick with his corpse at the upper board mill. this mill damm was cut so Crook and Wright would no haft to booth cross at the same place. Emory claimed that Earley thor this whole force on to his corpse and drive him back across the crick before Wright and Crook could get in to position on the other side of the crick to help him. Sheridan said General it will cost me one thousand of my best men to cut that dam the way my scouts report to me. it is guarded. the enemy have one brigade and six pieces of artillery well posted to guard that damm with a picket of thirty men on guard at the damm all the time. and I think that we will lose more men cutting the damm than to force the two upper crossing. I said General i can cut that dam single handed and a lone I will never forget the look of scorn and incredinty that Sheridan flashed up on me it was full one minute before he spoke and I felt like it was thirty minutes. But when he did speak he simply said how. I gave him my plan and he said you may try but be careful if you are caught in the act it will be death. Now to explain the water board over the dam. in a stream a bout four inches thick and breath of about thirty feet. My plan was to get between the dam and the sheet of water and with a short crow bar and wedge out the face of the dam. I crossed the crick below the dam and got under the high bank on the other side and crawled up to the dam and then slipped in between the dam and the sheet of water and commenced to work the face of the dam. Dam was pressed rock a bout one foot square and two and a half to three fee in length. I had a very hard job to break joints to get the first rock out but after that I took them out all most as easy as tearing down a brick wall. The dam was filled in above the stone face with cobble stone dirt and brush as soon as I go the face rocks out enough I began to pick out the cobble stone and brush but the brush was so rotten that it would just break in short pieces but by twelve o'clock I could began to see the water coming through I than slipped out the bank and got me a pole a bout eight fee long and got back under sheet of water with out being seen and by keeping the end under water below dam I succeeded in thrusting it on through the brush and cobble stone I then work it up and down to the right and left until I had a stream of water pouring through there six inches or more diameter. I then wrench my pole out and let the two top face rocks drop and then the whole dam of water began to pore through the space that I had cut a bout eight feet in breath and four to six feet in depth. Now how was I to get out the guards was all up alarmed and on the look out for to see what was rong. But desperate circumstance make men take desperate chances. I lunged in to the rageing torant head first amongst brush stones and dirt so think that it was almost imposiable to stay under the water or to swim. I succeeded in coming to the top of the water under the high bank below them I than floated and swam for about sixty yards farther down the crick when I made the shore and started for General Sheridan eadquaters where I arrived twenty minutes before three o'clock on September 19th and reported to him in person. When I told him what I had done he just made one jump and caught me up in his arms wet mud and all and said one man is worth a thousand he than said sit down I will be back in few minutes. He steped out and spoke to some one and in a few minutes the bugles of the 19th corpse was all sounding reville when he return he gave me an order for a new suit of clothes out and out and gave me the number of the wagon where to present my order. I went and got the clothes and the boys the next day said I had been forgien off of Uncle Sam. But just before sundown I was shot through the lungs and I never done any duty after that and I expect some of the boys think to this day that I forged them clothes.

John W. Williams Co C
36000225


It is interesting to note that years later, after Wes's heroics and even after he was shot, nearly losing his life, his biggest concern was still that his companions might have thought he was somehow cheating when he got his new suit of clothing and that his honesty and integrity might have been questioned.

Private John Wesley Williams was honorably discharged from war service at 19 years of age on May 27, 1865, after serving four years. A Certificate of Disability For Discharge was issued at the hospital in Cumberland, Maryland, on May 25, 1865, by Battalion Commander Major-General Emory. Wes was last paid on June 30, 1864, so he received $110 of his bounty minus $2 transportation costs. He was still owed $290. Dr. J. B. Lewis in charge of U.S. General Hospital at Cumberland wrote on the discharge certificate "gunshot wound lower margin of chest and epigastrium. Lower portion of left lung probably involved in track of wound. Physically unsuitable to enter or re-enlist in the Vet. Res. Corps. Degree of disability - total." Pension board medical exams show that Wes had sustained bullet wounds to the left chest and just above the left knee.

In 1869, Wes accompanied two Selby uncles (his maternal side) and their families to Saline County, Nebraska. His marriage to Sarah Ann Oaks on January 15, 1872, is the sixth recorded in Fillmore County. The name of J.W. Williams appeared on the published list of registered voters in Precinct No. 1, Fillmore County, Nebraska in September 1872. Wes claimed the northwest quarter of Section 6, Township 5 North, Range 5 West containing 155.99 acres in what was known as Belle Prairie Precinct on September 3, 1873. He made his final homestead payment on May 4, 1877. The final homestead proof said they had plowed and cultivated about 60 acres, built a sod stable, had a hand-dug well 104 feet deep and planted and kept in good growing condition about 1-1/2 acres of forest trees and 1/4-mile of hedge. The office of President Rutherford B. Hayes issued the land patent to John W. Williams on August 15, 1878. Belle Prairie's population was 253.

My favorite description comes from Whitefield Crawford, son of a Belle Prairie Township pioneer, who wrote in 1908: "No people except those of an iron nerve would think of settling in a sea of Prairie where not a tree could be seen to break the view as far as the eye could reach, or arrest the sweeping winds that often approached the dignity of a blizzard." Historically, not many homesteaders remained on their lands for long, sometimes not even long enough to gain final title, so it was with pride that Whitefield Crawford noted that only 13 of the original homesteaders of Belle Prairie Township moved away.

The 1885 Nebraska state census for Belle Prairie Precinct gave details of the Williams farm ... in Section 6 consisted of 104 acres in tilled, fallow and grass; 3 acres of woodlands and forest; 6 acres in permanent meadow and 47 acres listed as "other unimproved". The land was valued at $4,500 and farm implements at $150. Farm production for 1884 was estimated at $400 and $50 had been paid out in wages for farm labor.

Wes was enrolled in Company G, First Regiment of Nebraska National Guard on April 21, 1885, described as a farmer, 42 years old, 5 ft 10 in. with a light complexion, gray eyes and brown hair. He was discharged on April 21, 1888.

Wes's annual medical check-ups for the Nebraska Pension Board showed he was suffering from heart disease and rheumatism and cataracts were causing him to lose his eyesight. Eventually he became totally blind. On September 8, 1920, waiving examination by the full Board, Doctors Chesshir and McKee, Treasurer and Secretary, respectively, of the Nebraska Medical Examination Board, declared that Wes's pension should be increased from $50 and that he was entitled to $72 per month. At age 75, Wes was described as 5 ft 10-1/2 in., 153 pounds, ruddy complexion, gray eyes and gray hair. Dr. McKee wrote that Wes was "an elderly feeble male with noticeable tremor. Evidently practically blind" ... "Wound - There is an entrance and exit wound of bullet - entrance over left 9th rib anteriorly and exit 2 inches to right of midline in right hypochondrium. Tenderness over former scar. This claimant is so totally and permanently helpless from blindness that he requires the regular personal aid and attendance of another person..."

Wes and Ann eventually gave up farming and retired to a house they bought near Geneva. At the stroke of midnight on January 6, 1923, a quiet, hardworking man who had gone to war as a child then helped tame the unsettled Nebraska prairie as a true pioneer, John Wesley Williams died. Death was ruled from prostate cancer. Wes and Ann are buried at the Geneva Cemetery.

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