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James Willson papers, 1856-1882
Willson, James, 1842-1863.
Library Call Number Copy Material Location
Vermont Historical Society Library  MSA 483  Manuscript  Vault-Manuscript 

Personal Author : Willson, James, 1842-1863.
Title : James Willson papers, 1856-1882 (bulk: 1862-1863).
Physical Description : .5 linear feet.
General Note : Each letter has been transcribed. Eighteen pages of commentary on the letters have been provided (Folder 18) as well a chronological inventory of the collection, an index of names mentioned in the letters (both in Folder 1), and a list of what the previous owner calls "visuals" (i.e., items of visual interest) (Folder 17).
Summary :

After leaving training camp in Brattleboro, Willson's unit was sent to Virginia, near Alexandria, and most of his service was south of the Potomac. He was at Union Mills, visited the Bull Run battlefield, and was stationed at Wolfrun Shoals, Camp Carusi, Camp Widow Violet, and others. He wrote of hearing the gunfire during the battle at Fredricksburg. Most of Willson's service involved guarding against Confederate raids towards the Potomac. His letters show that there were long periods of quiet followed by some quite sharp engagements.

In his letters, Willson wrote of camp life, his health, and how others from home were surviving military service. He expressed interest in what was happening at home, mostly writing to his mother, (his father had just died), but some to his sister and brother. He also expressed interest in taking over his grandfather's farm on his return. A letter of November 23, 1862 describes his visit to the Bull Run battlefield, talking of weapons found, skeletons, etc. A letter to Melville Eaton in January, 1863 describes the hardships of army life, as he tries to dissuade Melville from entering the service. A March 11, 1863 letter speaks of General Stoughton being captured, "and the Second Vermont Brigade don't care much." On May 10, 1863 he speaks of General Stannard reviewing the troops. Willson's last correspondence (just the envelope survives), was dated June 29, 1863 from Monocacy, Maryland.

Many of the names that Willson mentions in these letters are family names that still exist in the Mad River Valley. The unit was formed from the towns of Warren, Waitsfield, Moretown, Fayston, and Duxbury, and those towns still contain families with the names Backus, Joslin, Boyce, Thayer, Billings, and others.

Biographical or historical data :

James Willson (sometimes with one"l", sometimes two), was born in East Warren, Vermont, probably in 1842. His father was Henry S. Willson, a farmer, who died February 28, 1862; his mother was Rosaline Hillery Willson, who later married Horace Steele. She died September 28, 1896. His mother's parents were Robert Hillery, born about 1797, died December 23, 1876, and Lepha (or Leaffey) Hillery, born about 1799, died December 17, 1875. The Hillery farm was probably in Warren, though perhaps it was further down the Mad River Valley.

The 1850 census shows father Henry being age 30, son James as age 8, and his sister Lucy age 5. A third child, Henry, who was younger than Lucy, died in 1870 at age 14. Lucy married Melville B. Eaton, a correspondent of her brother James and perhaps a cousin, in March of 1864.

James Willson joined Company B, 13th Regiment Vermont Volunteers, in October 1862, for a nine month enlistment. He hoped to take over his grandfather Hillery's farm when he returned from the war, as he mentions in a number of the letters. Unfortunately Willson's time was extended and he was killed at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. According to the History of the 13th Regiment Vermont Volunteers, he was killed while helping a wounded soldier from the field. The same source indicates that Willson had had a premonition that he would not survive the war.

His body would eventually be returned to the East Warren cemetery. His girlfriend, perhaps fiancé, Delia (Fidelia) Porter, aged 17 per the 1860 census, died February 22, 1864.

Personal Subject : Willson, James, 1842-1863.
Eaton, Melville B.
Corporate Subject : United States. Army. Vermont Infantry Regiment, 13th 1862-1863. Company B.
Subject Term : Soldiers Vermont Correspondence.
Geographic Term : Vermont History Civil War, 1861-1865.
United States History Civil War, 1861-1865.
Warren (Vt.) Archival resources.
Bull Run
Genre/Form : Letters Correspondence
Electronic Resource : Click here for full text of finding aid.
Full text transcription of the letters.