WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON ELLIS IN THE CIVIL WAR
Drawn Chiefly from His Military and Pension Records
William H. Ellis enlisted at Nichols, N.Y. (by Capt. William Warwick). The date of enlistment was either June 10, 1862 (one source in the regimental records), or Aug. 11, 1862 (another source in the regimental records). At enlistment he was described as follows – Age: 21 years [sic]; Height: 5 feet, 7 inches; Complexion: dark; Eyes: grey; Hair: dark; Where born: Nichols, N.Y.; Occupation: farmer. (On another occasion, in 1864, he was described differently in almost every particular – Age: 18 years [sic]; Height: 5 feet, 7 ½ inches; Complexion: fair; Eyes: blue; Hair: brown. The description of his physical characteristics in this latter version matches a description that Ellis gave of himself in 1911.) Ellis’s term of enlistment was for three years. He was mustered in as a Private, Company K, 109th Regiment, New York Infantry, at Binghamton, N.Y., on Aug. 27, 1862.
Ellis deserted from Beltsville, Md., on Jan. 19, 1863. His brother John Charles Ellis, who belonged to the same company as William, deserted with him. Under the terms of a presidential amnesty proclamation, William turned himself in at Elmira, N.Y., on Mar. 26, 1863, and was subsequently forwarded to his regiment, but regimental records do not indicate that he ever arrived. John also turned himself in at Elmira on that day, to Capt. Livingston, but he too never made it back to the regiment. William was then arrested as a deserter at Danby, N.Y., and forwarded to Elmira, where he was received on Jan. 28, 1864. Somehow he regained his liberty, because on Apr. 18, 1864, he “Gave himself up voluntarily” at the headquarters of Barracks No. 3 in Elmira, whereupon he was arrested and once again taken into custody. (In the following month Barracks No. 3 became a prison for captured Confederates.) On Apr. 20 he escaped from the Guard House in Elmira where he had been confined.
William H. Ellis told his side of the story (or at least his side of a part of the story) in 1911. He stated then that, while he was stationed at Beltsville, Md., he
Was taken sick and was treated in an old Church, used as a Hospital, for Black Measles. That owing to [his] sickness and enfeebled condition, he obtained permission to return to his home. That [he] returned to his home and owing to his continued illness was unable to return to the Army. That he was sick for upwards of three years and has never fully recovered.
In 1881 John Ellis gave a similar but more detailed account of the circumstances immediately preceding his and his brother’s desertion:
At Annapolis Junction, Md., on or about the 15[th] of October, 1862, I contracted Measles and I had been sick only 3 days when [the] Regt. moved to Beltsville. I was left to come on [the] Train in [the] evening and when I got to Beltsville I had to lay on [the] ground without Tents or any thing, only a blanket, to cover me, and it rained most of the night and measles fell back on me and I also contracted from this Exposure Typhoid Fever... I was treated in [the] Hospital in Beltsville (in a church) in Nov. & Dec. 1862 [for] 4 or 5 weeks.
Military records do show that John was treated in the regimental hospital for “measles” from Oct. 3 to 8, 1862, and for “fever” from Nov. 22 to Dec. 13, 1862. But according to Frederick Riddell – who had grown up near the Ellises, and who was a member of their company during the war – they were no longer ill at the time of their desertion. He testified in 1896 that John Ellis
and his brother William were both in the company and both deserted at the same time and neither one rejoined the company. ... I don’t remember that either of them were sick when they left the company or that they were ailing.
Joshua Washburn, also a member of the Ellis brothers’ company, recalled in 1896 the circumstances of their desertion. He noted that John Ellis
deserted from us while we were at Beltsville, Md. ... I know he went away from us before we drew any pay. ... I know there was quite a lot of them [who] went away at the time. [John] & his brother William deserted at the same time and neither one rejoined the company.
(Another member of the company who “went away” at that time was Hiram Ellis, John and William’s cousin, who deserted on Sept. 23. Hiram returned to his company and regiment on Mar. 31, 1863, under the terms of the presidential amnesty proclamation.)
In 1896, Miranda Houghtalen of Athens, Pa., made the following statement regarding John Ellis, and regarding his and his brother William’s desertion from the army in January 1863:
I remember...that he stopped with us and stayed over night the first time he came home from the war. He and his brother Wm. came home together. ... When John first came home, he complained of being tired and fatigued out. ... I don’t remember that they said how far they had walked. Waverly was our nearest railroad station then and was about six miles distant. It seems as though they had walked farther than that, judging by how tired they seemed to be. They ate a very hearty supper, and it seemed as though they could hardly wait till I got supper for them. ... They did not say that they had deserted from the army. The next day they went on home to their father’s but I do not remember how long [John] stayed at home. His mother was in to see me some time after that and told me that they had all re enlisted in a 9 mos. regiment and I didn’t know anything more about them till the war was over. I don’t know what company and regiment they re enlisted in, and don’t know whether it was in N.Y. state or Pa. I heard some talk after they re enlisted, that [John], his brother William, and his father George Ellis had all deserted. I remember of hearing some talk about the boys deserting but the most talk was about their father. ... John came to see us again some time after he came home the first time and stayed with us two or three days. ... No, he did not wear his uniform when he was here then and did not wear it when he first came home. I don’t remember whether they had new suits when they first came home or not, I don’t remember about that, but do remember that they didn’t wear uniforms. They had no knapsack and did not carry anything with them.
George Ellis, Jr., a younger brother of John and William, stated in 1896 that his older brothers had “come home together,” and that
both came home some little time after they enlisted. I remember their being home some time in the winter or spring of 1863. They did not stay home long. ... I was only a boy at the time. ... John never re-enlisted that I know of, nor did William that I know of. I don’t know that William got any bounty after he deserted, and I never heard him say that he did.
(George, Jr., did eventually enlist in the army himself, as a “substitute,” on Aug. 24, 1864. He was mustered into Company I, 111th N.Y. Infantry, on Aug 26, and was mustered out with his company on June 4, 1865.)
We do, however, note with interest Mrs. Houghtalen’s recollection of the remark by the Ellis brothers’ mother, Freelove (Nichols) Ellis, that “they had all re enlisted in a 9 mos. regiment.” We note with similar interest something that Hiram Ellis said in 1896. According to Hiram,
John did not reenlist as far as I know. His brother William, I have heard, took several bounties after he deserted. I don’t know that he ever served in any other regiment. As I understood, he would get far enough [in the enlistment process] to get the bounty and then would skip out.
In 1896, William Washburn – speaking chiefly of John Ellis – declared:
I don’t know of him taking any bounty after he deserted. I understand that his brother William had taken several bounties after he deserted from the 109 N.Y. Inf., but I think he was never assigned to any regiment again.
Frederick Riddell, referred to above, had also said:
I heard that William had enlisted once or twice after he come home from the first service and had jumped the bounty. I never heard that John had re-enlisted...
William H. Ellis’s military career was remarkable for its colorfulness, if not for its martial virtue. Within a period of less than two years, he deserted or escaped from custody a total of four times. It is also likely that during the last couple years of the war, he pursued a short-lived but daring career as a “bounty jumper.”
Barracks No. 3, Elmira, N.Y. (1861)
(The regiment pictured here is the 64th New York Infantry)
Another view of Barracks No. 3, Elmira, N.Y.
William Henry Harrison Ellis was born in Nichols, N.Y., on Oct. 28, 1844, the son of George and Freelove (Nichols) Ellis. On Oct. 3, 1863, he married (1) Mary Elizabeth Pierce Johnson, born in Athens, Pa., on Aug. 10, 1846, the daughter of George and Elizabeth (Shriver) Pierce, and the adopted daughter of Cyrus and Jane (Ellis) Johnson. William and Mary were the parents of eighteen children: Edith (born 1866; died at birth), Jennie Martha (born Jan. 20, 1867), Mary Elizabeth (“Mattie”) (born Feb. 5, 1868), Ida M. (born Sept. 14, 1869), Carrie Louise (born Dec. 6, 1870), Della M. (born July 9, 1872), Cyrus Johnson (born Dec. 22, 1873), Harriet Van Ness (“Hattie”) (born May 1, 1875), Marion Mathilda (born May 8, 1876; died in infancy), Elizabeth P. (“Lizzie”) (born June 14, 1877), George P. C. (born Mar. 17, 1879), William Hancock (born Oct. 8, 1880), Emma Grace (born Apr. 20, 1882; died in childhood), Lottie Leona (born July 31, 1885), Theressia Irene (“Tress”) (born Mar. 1, 1888), Ransom (born Aug. 26, 1889; died in infancy), and two others (who died unnamed at birth). William’s wife Mary died in South Waverley, N.Y., on Jan. 24, 1892, and he married (2) in Bath, N.Y., on June 27, 1896, Jennie D. Northrup, born about 1854 in Towanda, Pa., the daughter of Abijah and Phebe Northrup. William married (3) about 1899 Emma W. Wheeler, born in New York, by whom he had one child, George B (born Nov. 24, 1899). William married (4) about 1902 Esther E. Wheeler, born in Pennsylvania on July 3, 1883, the daughter of William and Mary M. (Chaffee) Wheeler. Esther died in Elmira, N.Y., on May 15, 1913. William H. Ellis also died there on Apr. 3, 1920, and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, in Elmira.
A short but interesting news item appeared in the Owego Gazette of Aug. 21, 1884, with the headline “Shooting Affray at Hooper’s Valley,” and with the dateline “Smithboro, Aug. 20.” The text of the article reads as follows: “Last Saturday night [Aug. 18], I learn, Mrs. William Ellis shot and wounded her husband, William Ellis. The story, as told by the neighbors, is that William Ellis had been drinking for several days, that in the night some trouble arose between Ellis and his wife, when she, in self-defense, shot him, the ball hitting him upon the side of the face, and passing back near the ear. The wound is not considered a dangerous one.” Mary E. Ellis was tried for the shooting of her husband on May 27, 1885, but was found “not guilty” by reason of self defense. At the time, this proceeding was called “the most important trial held in Nichols in several years” (Owego Gazette, May 28, 1885).
William Henry Harrison Ellis and Lieutenant General Ulysses Simpson Grant were sixth cousins once removed: William Henry Harrison Ellis, son of George Ellis, son of Nancy Halliday, dau. of Solomon Halliday, son of Solomon Halliday, son of Mary Lewis, dau. of Mary Humphrey, dau. of Priscilla Grant, dau. of Matthew Grant. Ulysses Simpson Grant, son of Jesse Root Grant, son of Noah Grant, son of Noah Grant, son of Noah Grant, son of Samuel Grant, son of Samuel Grant, son of Matthew Grant.
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