One of only a few Union soldiers in my family tree, William McGee has always been intriguing to me. Not because of which side of the war he fought on, but rather the events of his life that I do know and how his sudden death changed the course of life for his young wife and daughters.
William McGee’s military papers note he was born in Tallassee, AL around 1840. His mother was Mary Sweeden (1819-1883) and his father, FNU as of this writing, is but sources have his death in 1844. The 1840 US Census for Johnson County Arkansas shows Mary as the head of household with 1 boy under 5 years of age and a girl 10-15 years of age. There are still many gaps in the early years of William’s life and childhood.
By 1860 William was married to Martha Kathleen Ferguson (1840-1933) and living in Jasper Township, located in Crawford County Arkansas. They soon have two little girls, Nancy b.1861 and Mary A. b.1862.
William & Martha’s township of Jasper was located in the area that felt the effects of the Battle of Van Buren (28 Dec 1862). It is unknown if this battle impacted them personally or if it was behind the relocation move from Jasper Township to Perry County where we find William & Martha in 1863.
A farmer by trade, William joined the Third Arkansas Calvary Regiment, Co. C for the Union at the age of 23 on 25 Oct 1863. He was described as 5’9″, blue eyes, fair skin and light hair and mustered in as a Private in Little Rock on 3 Nov 1863. His enlistment was noted for 3 years and he brought with him a horse and a Remington revolver.
The military paperwork for William were pretty average up until August 1864. Records show that on 2 Aug 1864 William stole a yellow horse from the Plantation of Dr. Davis, approximately 12 miles from Lewisburg, for his “own use”. Three witnesses from Co. C signed the document. No further information elaborates on the punishment or why William stole the horse.
In September of 1864 William is listed as the Company Cook. I have to laugh to myself and ask “was he a good cook? or was that his punishment for stealing a horse the month before?”.
On 3 Dec 1864, William was part of a small scouting group led by Lt. Robert Wishard to an undisclosed location in Perry County. They encountered the enemy lead by John A. Conly and FNU Franz. This encounter was described as a “skirmish” which left 1 Union solider dead and 1 wounded. The wounded man is believed to be William McGee since it was 2 days later when he died on 5 Dec 1864. The Confederates lost 5 men, including a Lt. in this unnamed skirmish. It was noted in the military journals that Lt. Wishard pursed the enemy 25 miles to the south.
At 24 Martha was widowed and left to care for 2 girls under the age of 5. Census records show she moved to Scott County and in September of 1865 remarried. It could be assumed that Martha may have had family in Scott County as that is where she and William wed 6 years earlier. Their daughter Nancy McGee grew up and married in Scott County. Nancy and her husband Benjamin Franklin Yandell are my 2nd great grandparents.
William McGee’s grave location as of this writing is still unknown by this writer.
While these details paint a picture, it is still only a tiny snapshot of the circumstances that surrounded William’s life. I hope in the future there is more to learn of him and the ancestors that came before him.
If your family tree has crossing branches with the surname McGee, Ferguson or Sweeden feel free to contact me. Check out my Family Tree page that hosts a link to My Heritage website. I look forward to discovering new cousins and collaborating on our shared heritage. Sources provided upon request.
©2016 Sondra Bass Hawkins