Massillon’s William Medill was felled by bullet at the battle of Gettysburg
“The friends and family of the lamented deceased were not entirely unprepared to receive these sad tidings, as the wound was supposed by the surgeons to be a mortal one, but the unwillingness to part these ties of love, which so endeared him to them, and to all with whom he bore acquaintance, and the faint shadows of hope thrown out by his surgeons, imparted a slight possibility that he might recover.”
Such were the words, published initially in the Chicago Tribune on July 17, 1863, that a few days later brought to Ohio Repository readers the news of the Civil War death of 8th Illinois Cavalry Maj. William H. Medill, a Massillon native and the brother of Joseph Medill, who was “one of the proprietors” of the Tribune.
“Death, however, has removed the last hopes,” the dispatch continued in the eloquence afforded to obituaries of the time, “and added another heroic name to the long list of Freedom’s Martyrs, whom after ages will love and cherish.”
The major’s death came from a wound he suffered early in July 1863 at the end of the battle of Gettysburg, the obituary noted, saying his heroic actions in that battle were according to his nature in military actions.
“He knew no danger, was as cool in the battle as in the camp, and fought fearlessly.”
According to “Biographical Sketch of Major William H. Medill,” he was born in Massillon on Nov. 5, 1835.
“In the spring of 1838, the family removed to a farm in Pike Township,” the book said, noting that young Medill lived on his father’s farm in the township until he was 15.
In 1850, Medill went to Coshocton to learn the printing business at the Coshocton Republican. Two years later he began working as a printer at the Cleveland Leader, owned by his brother, Joseph Medill. Later that year, he assisted his brother James Medill in publishing the Prairie Farmer in Chicago.
“In the fall of 1858, he disposed of his interest in the Prairie Farmer, and went to Canton, Ohio, where he established the Stark County Republican,” said the biography. “He worked hard and faithfully to get his new paper on a paying footing; but his means were limited; the receipts at first were small, and the cash outlay was considerable; the promises made to him at the outset, by politicians, were not fulfilled, and after six months’ effort, not realizing the success he anticipated, he sold the paper and returned to Chicago.
“During the short period he owned the Republican, it was a pungent and attractive sheet, handsomely printed, and filled with interesting matter. In politics, like its proprietor, it was radical republican.”
Medill returned to the Tribune and “remained with it until the breaking out of the rebellion.” He enlisted in Barker’s Chicago Dragoons upon the firing on Fort Sumter. A three-month campaign in western Virginia followed.
Page 2 of 3 - Then Medill returned to Chicago and enlisted in the 8th Illinois, a Union cavalry unit that was known for being in the “advance” of the army to which it was attached.
Then a private Medill was “always among the foremost,” according to biographical information at www.8thillinoiscavalryy.org. Quoting an excerpt from “The Story of Chicago” by Joseph Kirkland, the website noted gallant actions by Medill, especially in capturing Confederate prisoners, that helped him quickly advance to the rank of major.
“You’ll see me next with brigadier’s stars, or in my coffin,” Medill once said, according to the website.
The coffin came before he could be promoted to colonel.
According to “The Martyrs and Heroes of Illinois in the Great Rebellion,” Medill’s death came when he was “mortally wounded in pursuing the rebels after the battle of Gettysburg.”
A letter written by a “brother soldier” gave the details of Medill’s final moments in July 1863. He had dismounted with three squadrons of cavalrymen — supported by three other squadrons still on horses — and went to the front of the band of foot soldiers. They marched in “quick step,” said the letter, portions of which were reprinted in the obituary.
“In a few minutes, the sad news came back to us that Major Medill was badly wounded, and soon several of the boys came slowly back bearing the gallant Major from the field,” the letter said. “A ball had entered his stomach, and we believe him mortally wounded.”
The letter writer said he could not describe “the sadness and gloom which this misfortune cast over the entire regiment.”
“Officers and men, all felt we had met with a severe loss,” wrote the soldier. “His genial, kind hearted and generous nature had made him a favorite with the officers of the regiment, while his discipline as an officer had won our respect.”
WORD OF DEATH
Joseph Medill sent the word to his paper by telegram that his brother had passed on July 16, 1863. The sibling had arrived during the 10 days that the major lingered in life, commenting to his end on the continuation of the Civil War.
Reportedly, upon being told that General Robert E. Lee had escaped from Gettysburg, Maj. Medill had lamented, “I’m going to die without knowing that my country is saved.”
Medill’s obituary paid him final respect as a patriot.
“The gallant soldier has gone to his rest. He was an ardent, thorough devotee of Liberty, and his whole goal was in the holy cause of the Union,” the obituary said. “He has fallen in the morn of life, full of promise, a courteous gentleman, a whole souled patriot, and a gallant soldier; and in all these capacities he leaves a large circle of friends to mourn his untimely loss.”
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