Death of a General: The Final Days of Joshua Woodrow Sill

 Joshua Woodrow Sill was born December 6, 1831 in Chillicothe, Ross Co., Ohio to attorney Joseph Sill and his wife Elizabeth. Sill’s mother died before he was three years old and consequently he spent much of his youth with his relatives in nearby Hillsboro. He proved to be an adept scholar, especially at mathematics, and was appointed to West Point in 1849 not “from any predilection for the military profession as a vocation” but because “it offered an inexpensive way to a good education.” Sill proved to be a superb cadet, graduating third in the class of 1853 which included future Civil War generals and fellow Ohioans Philip H. Sheridan and James B. McPherson. His first assignment was to the government arsenal at Watervliet, New York followed by assignment back to West Point as an assistant professor of history, then stints in Vancouver, Washington Territory and Leavenworth, Kansas Territory.
Brigadier General Joshua Woodrow Sill

In January 1861, Sill resigned his commission to accept a professorship of mathematics and civil engineering at the Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York. The outbreak of hostilities in April 1861 led Sill to resign his position, and tender his services to Ohio governor William Dennison. Sill was appointed the state’s assistant adjutant general and later served on the staff of General George B. McClellan during his western Virginia campaign in the summer of 1861. Commissioned as colonel of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Sill embarked on his duties in the western theater by winning distinction with a victory at Ivy Mountain, Kentucky in November. By the beginning of the year, Sill had been promoted to brigade command and performed his duties with such marked efficiency that General Don Carlos Buell promoted him to command of the Second Division, First Army Corps in September 1862. Sill led the division through the Perryville campaign then moved with the army into Nashville where it was reorganized under new commander General William S. Rosecrans.

“In stature, General Sill was rather below the medium height. His figure was well nit and erect, his carriage and movements vigorous and somewhat nervous,” his nephew Albert Douglas remembered. “His hair and beard were brown, and his handsome gentle eyes were of the same color.” [1] Sill’s character was marked by religious fervor wrapped into a shy, retiring modesty; indeed the county historian remembered Sill as a “plain, simple, mild-mannered gentleman, very modest, never assertive, always kind and fair to his men.” But despite Sill’s retiring nature, he proved to be an exceptional military leader. Staff member Edwin M. DeBruin stated that “as a soldier he was mild and pleasant, but firm, decided, resolute, and brave. As a man, he was patriotic, all that was noble and pure, and that pleasant smile peculiar to himself alone that always greeted friend or foe.” [2] Sill’s long serving adjutant general Captain Joseph E. Stearns remarked that “as regards the General’s character, he cannot be too highly spoken of, for a purer minded, nobler, or more patriotic man never lived. No officer in this entire army was so much admired, beloved, and respected by both his inferiors and superiors as was General Sill.” [3]

In early December 1862, Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson reported for duty with Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland at Nashville. As the junior divisional commander in the Army, Johnson’s arrival and assignment to command meant that Sill would be displaced. A staff member recalled that Sill alone among his intimates ascribed nothing negative to this change, stating that Johnson as the senior officer deserved a command appropriate to his rank and time in service. The troops of the Second Division were less understanding. “The regret of the second division at the loss of Gen. Sill is intense and universal,” one aggrieved soldier wrote to a Cincinnati newspaper. “Indeed, there is no individual who stands higher in the opinions of both officers and men than General Sill.” [4] Given his choice of assignments, Sill took command of the First Brigade in the division of his West Point classmate Philip H. Sheridan. “I knew him well and was glad that he came to my division,” Sheridan wrote. “Sill’s modesty and courage were exceeded only by a capacity that had already been demonstrated in many practical ways.” [5]
Sill's close friend and division commander Phil Sheridan

The Army of the Cumberland commenced its march to Murfreesboro on December 26, 1862, Sill’s brigade taking part in the hard marching through incessant rain and mud along the roads leading from Nashville. Sill had concerns that the coming fight would be a hard one. Lieutenant DeBruin recalled meeting Sill along the road during the march and conversing with him on the subject. “Mr. DeBruin, we are going to have a severe struggle at Murfreesboro,” Sill said. “We are going to fight thirteen divisions with eight divisions. I think we will whip them, but many a good officer and soldier of our army will be killed. I do not expect to come out of that fight safe.” [6]

McCook’s corps marched into the Murfreesboro area along the Wilkinson Turnpike on the morning of December 30. McCook dispatched both Sheridan’s and Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis’ divisions to the right of the turnpike to establish a position against the Confederates. Artillery fire soon began to fall amongst the troops as they started to push Confederate skirmishers across the cotton fields east of Gresham Lane. Sill called upon Captain Asahel K. Bush and his 4th Indiana Battery to engage them. “About 1 P.M., we moved across the open fields near the woods occupied by the enemy. A rebel battery opened on us from the woods at about 600 yards range, when General Sill ordered us into position in the woods fronting them and ordered me to ‘silence that battery,’ which we did after a sharp contest of about two hours at 450 yards range.” [7]
Captain Asahel K. Bush, 4th Indiana Battery

The battle continued for several hours as Sill’s men slowly pushed the Confederates about a mile east of Gresham Lane. As night brought an end to the contest, Sill arranged his regiments with the 36th Illinois on the right, supported by the green 24th Wisconsin while he placed the 88th Illinois to the left of the 36th Illinois, likewise supported by the 21st Michigan. Bush’s battery was placed on open ground between the two Illinois regiments. It was a strong position, situated upon the crest of a low ridge with corn and cotton fields in front of it. Any attacking force would be caught in the open, exposed to Federal artillery and musketry. Sill’s ongoing concern for the welfare of his men is shown by this comment from Major Elisha Hibbard of the 24th Wisconsin. “I was ordered by General Sill to have a picket posted, the balance to lie down on their arms and allow half of each company to go to the rear to do some cooking. I posted one company as pickets, and allowed the men to boil some coffee, then placed them into line. The night was intensely cold and the men nearly frozen." (8)

General Sill's frock coat which was worn by General Phil Sheridan during the Battle of Stones River. The men accidentally swapped coats during Sill's late night visit and Sheridan returned the coat to the Sill family after the battle. (Ross County Historical Society)

In the course of positioning his front line regiments, Sill and a group of officers came under fire. Sill’s aide-de-camp First Lieutenant James W. Davidson was struck in the thigh by a musket ball and was carried back to the nearby Harding House field hospital. “After dark, General Sill came in to see him,” relayed Chaplain William Haigh of the 36th Illinois. “It was a great comfort to the wounded man to have his general take such an interest in him. Just before leaving, he (Sill) stood for a while, leaning on his sword, wrapped in deep thought, and I imagined a shade of sadness on his fine face. I wondered whether some sad presentiment of his fate was passing through his mind as he stood, gazing silently on his wounded aide.” [9]
Captain Ellsworth, Co. K, 24th Wisconsin

Gloom appeared to impede upon Sill’s generally sunny disposition. “I returned at night and stayed with General Sill on the battlefield for we had considerable fighting on that day, especially in the evening,” Lieutenant DeBruin remembered. “I helped him arrange his bed, but about 10 ½ o’clock I got up and found his bed on fire, and assisted him in putting it out. I do not think that he slept much after that.” [10] Sill wandered to a camp fire nearby and sat with Captain Stearns until after midnight. “The General and myself were sitting by the fire when the General made the remark that ‘perhaps the next night, we will not be together here, Stearns.’ I passed it off as lightly as I could but it seemed to me that from that time on his was more sedate and melancholy than usual.” [11] After sitting a while longer, Sill called for an orderly to bring him his horse which had the effect of waking his dutiful aide Lieutenant DeBruin. “No DeBruin, you lie down and take your rest. You will have plenty of work to do tomorrow.” [12]

Sill set out on a ride along his lines and listened to the steady tramp of Confederate troops moving a few hundred yards to the east. Alarmed that the Confederates might be aiming to strike the exposed right flank of the Union army, Sill galloped back to see his friend Sheridan and apprise him of the situation. “At 2 o’clock in the morning of the 31st, General Sill came back to me to report that on his front a continuous movement had been going on all night within the Confederate lines, and that he was convinced that Bragg was massing on our right with the purpose of making an attack from that direction early in the morning,” Sheridan remembered. “After discussing the probabilities of such a course on the part of the enemy, I thought McCook should be made acquainted with what was going on, so Sill and I went back to see him at his headquarters not far from the Gresham House where we found him sleeping on some straw in the angle of a worm fence.” After waking the burly Ohioan, Sheridan and Sill relayed their concerns but McCook did not think that any changes in disposition were warranted. “He said he thought Johnson’s division (Sill’s old command) would be able to take care of the right and seemed confident that the early assault which was to be made from Rosecrans’ left would anticipate and check the designs we presaged.”
Right wing commander Alexander McDowell McCook sits at center with his staff in an image dating from 1863. Note the 20th Corps headquarters flag in the background. 

Sill and Sheridan rode back to Sheridan’s headquarters and discussed the matter further, Sill’s anxiety finally prevailing upon Sheridan to dispatch two regiments from the divisional reserve to bolster Sill’s right flank. “He then rejoined his brigade, better satisfied, but still adhering to the belief he had expressed when first making his report.” [13] Upon returning to his brigade, Sill visited Major Hibbard of the 24th Wisconsin. “General Sill came down to the regiment and said we would be supported from the reserve brigade. The men were then awake and ready for action.” [14] In the course of checking his lines before dawn, Sill met Colonel William E. Woodruff who was commanding the neighboring brigade in Davis’ division. Woodruff also had concerns about his position and indicated to Sill that he, too, had no support for his front line. “I pointed out to Brigadier General Sill the weakness of the line at this point and requested him to order up some regiments of his brigade, held in reserve, to strengthen his right and protect my left, feeling certain that the enemy meditated an attack and that it would be made at that place,” Woodruff wrote. “He agreed with me and immediately ordered up two regiments, which remained but a short time.” [15]
Colonel William E. Woodruff

Sheridan’s orders arrived at Colonel Frederick Schaefer’s headquarters just before daybreak, and he dispatched the 15th Missouri and 44th Illinois regiments under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Weber to reinforce Sill’s line. Sill, nervously awaiting the arrival of his reinforcements, called for Lieutenant DeBruin. “Mr. DeBruin, I wish you to report to General Sheridan again today for duty and tell him that the reserve has not arrived.” DeBruin mounted his horse, but met the reserve force marching towards Sill’s line just a few yards away, then continued on his way to Sheridan’s headquarters. Weber met Sill, who “gave me the directions as to which place I had to occupy. We hardly had time to form into battle line before the enemy opened fire and rushed upon us in superior numbers.” Weber formed his troops a few paces in the rear of the 24th Wisconsin, which also allowed the two regiments to keep watch on Sill’s right flank. [16]

 “At early dawn of the 31st from Johnson came the distant rumble of battle. This quickly deepened to thunder along our immediate front,” remembered Sill’s topographical officer Second Lieutenant John Lendrum Mitchell of the 24th Wisconsin. “The enemy, massed in overwhelming numbers, column closed upon column, under cover of their artillery, bore down on us with determined tread. Above the rattle of musketry rose the roar of cannon. The air seemed alive with whistling missiles.” [17] Across an old cotton field, the staunch battle line of Colonel John Q. Loomis’ brigade, comprised of the 1st Louisiana Regulars, along with the 19th, 22nd, 25th, 26th, and 39th Alabama Infantry regiments supported by Yancey’s 17th Battalion, Alabama Sharpshooters, left the cover of trees and steadily marched towards the Union lines, aiming at capturing Bush’s 4th Indiana battery and Captain Stephen Carpenter’s 8th Wisconsin battery which supported Woodruff’s brigade. As the Confederate line approached the Federal position, it split towards the two objectives, the 22nd Alabama (on the right flank of the brigade) and 19th Alabama along with the 1st Louisiana moving in an oblique direction towards Sill’s brigade. [18] 
Second Lieutenant John Lendrum Mitchell of the 24th Wisconsin served on Sill's staff. He became the father of noted aviator General Billy Mitchell. 

Combat in this sector of the field was especially fierce, bloody, and determined. Sergeant Emerson R. Calkins of the 8th Wisconsin Battery remembered the “shot and shell tearing through the trees over our heads and the long lines of rebel gray coming across that bloody field in serried ranks, only to be hurled back, shattered and bleeding, only to try again. At every discharge of our guns, great gaps were opened in their ranks, while we worked our guns until they sizzled like red hot rain as we forced the sponges into the muzzles.” [19] Captain Abner H. Flewellen, leading Co. F of the 39th Alabama, recalled that this was the “tightest place I ever was in. We advanced through the open field, not knowing the enemy was posted in the corn field until we were fired upon. At the same time the battery was cross firing all the time and between the two fires, we suffered heavily.” [20]
Major Silas Miller, 36th Illinois

Near the Harding House, Sheridan observed the advancing Confederates through his field glasses. “The effect of this fire on the advancing column was terrible, but it continued on until it reached the edge of the timber where Sill’s right lay,” Sheridan recalled.[21] Colonel Francis T. Sherman of the 88th Illinois recalled that Loomis’ men advanced “with steady front and firm tread with colors flying as if on parade, their officers leading the advance of the column and cheering their men. For a few moments, everything was still as death as that dark host moved toward our front.” [22] Captain Porter C. Olson of Sill’s front line 36th Illinois also had a close view of the advancing Confederates. “They came diagonally across the field. Upon reaching the foot of the hill, they made a left half-wheel and came up directly in front of us,” he wrote. “When the enemy had advanced up the hill sufficiently to be in sight, Colonel Greusel ordered the regiment to fire, which was promptly obeyed. We engaged the enemy at short range, the lines not being over 10 rods apart.” [23] Both Illinois regiments opened fire, the discharge of more than 1,200 muskets at close range playing havoc on the Confederate line. “Like the grass before the scythe of a mower, the ranks of the enemy went down as that volley went crashing and tearing through their ranks. It brought them to a dead halt for a moment, and then on again they came. That halt was fatal to them; it gave my men time to reload.” [24]

Corporal William McGregor of Co. C, 88th Illinois remembered that the Confederates “commenced firing but without much effect. We gave them the best we had. They made a right face and sought shelter in a piece of timber where they lay down but still in sight. We made it too hot for them there, so they made a second attack which fared no better.” [25] Captain Taylor Beattie of the 1st Louisiana Regulars opposite the 88th Illinois wrote that he heard an order directing the regiment to fall back. “The men commenced to break. Captain Douglas West (Co. I) seized our colors and tried to stop it, but it was no use as the troops on our right and left had already fallen back. The enemy had also rallied and was advancing to attack us. We fell back in some disorder to our original position.” [26]
Colonel Francis T. Sherman, 88th Illinois

With the Rebels wavering, Sill ordered his front line to affix bayonets and charge. He also sent a dispatch (via Lieutenant Mitchell) to Lieutenant Colonel Weber to bring his two regiments forward to provide additional support for the charging 36th and 88th Illinois and to shore up his right flank as Woodruff’s brigade was also reeling under the Confederate assault. [27] The charge broke Loomis’ brigade, which retreated back into its entrenchments 300 yards across the cotton field “in some confusion” [28] having sustained heavy casualties in this engagement. Private William J. McDearman of Co. H, 12th Tennessee Infantry viewed the onrushing carnage from his position in the ranks in Vaughan’s brigade which lay in support behind Loomis, and remembered that Loomis’ troops “were cut to pieces terribly” and that the Federal commenced cheering “like a lot of little schoolboys. Cheatham gave orders for every man to be ready and at the command ‘Attention!’ for each one to rise on his right knee, and shoot under the smoke of the enemy’s guns. Then we were to load and fire as we advanced. The enemy advanced downhill. We fired all at once and rose yelling. Cheatham’s and Cleburne’s men could beat the world on a yell.” The heavy volley halted the impetuous advance of the 36th and 88th Illinois; both regiments fell back towards their original line leaving a trail of dead and wounded. [29]
Officers of the 21st Michigan Infantry in June 1865. 

 In Sill’s second line, Sergeant Charles E. Belknap of Co. H, 21st Michigan Infantry observed the Illinois troops returning to Federal lines “with a confused crowd of prisoners, when General Sill came dashing by the right of our regiment, going to the front. As I looked upon his handsome face, all aglow with fire, a jet of blood spurted from his forehead, his saber dropped from his hand, his form bent forward for an instant, then he fell from his horse. One foot caught in the stirrup and the unguided animal dragged the lifeless form a few rods before the foot became loosened.” [30] The musket ball struck Sill through the upper lip under his left eye, penetrating the brain, and blew out the back of his head. [31]

General Joshua Sill's sword was presented to him by the students of the New York Polytechnic Institute in April 1861 as he was going off to war. At Stones River, Captain D.M. White of Co. A of the 10th Texas Cavalry picked up the sword from the battlefield and carried it through the rest of the war. "He saw Sill fall early in the battle and when he came upon his body late in the afternoon, he found it clad in only his undergarments with his sword by his side," White reported. "Captain White threw down his own sword to the ground and took that of General Sill. The sword went home with Captain White where it held a special place of honor. As his children grew up, the captain told them of its history, emphasizing that it was not a captured sword. It was always referred to as Sill's sword." In 1891, a notice appeared in a Dallas newspaper that White was willing to return the sword to Sill's family. Consequently, Sill's sister Mrs. Albert Douglas caught wind of this and arrangements were made for Captain White to travel to Ohio in August 1891 where he would present the sword at the annual reunion of the 33rd Ohio, Sill's original regiment. The presentation occurred at Waverly, Ohio and Captain White gave the sword to Joshua C. Douglas, Sill's nephew. 

In the smoke and confusion of battle, Sill’s staff had momentarily lost sight of him. Lieutenant Mitchell, having delivered Sill’s order to Weber, hurried back towards Bush’s battery and came across Captain Stearns, who indicated that he had just seen the General’s rider-less horse bolting for the rear. “In our search for Sill, we almost stumbled over his prostrate body. A bullet had penetrated his brain; he had tumbled from his horse without even a friendly arm to ease his fall. He lay unconscious and alone, bubbling out his last breaths through the blood that thickly flowed over his fair face and silky beard.” [32] Stearns raised Sill’s head and implored his beloved general to speak, “but he closed his eyes, rested back his head, and before we could get a stretcher, he was dead.” Sill died amongst the guns of the 4th Indiana Battery, but the chaos of battle was such that few amongst the gunners noticed his fall.

General Sill was killed while riding along his lines and fell in the rear of the guns of the 4th Indiana Battery. 

Fearing that the Confederates were reforming to attack again, Stearns quickly removed Sill’s sword and handed it to Mitchell, then galloped off to find Colonel Nicholas Greusel to inform him that he had command of the brigade. Mitchell, left alone with the body, acquired a blanket and with the help of two stragglers “who were with difficulty persuaded to aid in taking his body” carried Sill back to the Harding House field hospital. Stearns found them some minutes later, but observing the imminent collapse of their brigade, the four men carried Sill’s body westward towards the perceived safety of the Gresham House field hospital. [33]

News of Sill’s death spread quickly within the division. Lieutenant DeBruin was with Sheridan when an orderly brought the word. “Is that true? Is he dead?” Sheridan asked. Yes was the reply. ‘My God, so good and so pure a man. Well, I suppose it all for the better,’ Sheridan said. He then turned to Captain Hescock’s battery and said ‘now give it to the scoundrels’ and from that time his whole aim seemed to be avenging the death of Gen. Sill.” [34] Word also passed quickly along the front lines. “It shocked me terribly, for if I ever loved any man, that man was General Sill. He was a man to love,” remarked Major Silas Miller of the 36th Illinois. [35]

Major Hibbard of the 24th Wisconsin learned of Sill’s death when his sent his regimental adjutant Arthur McArthur to notify the general that a Confederate brigade of five regiments was on his right flank; in the confusion of the change of command, Hibbard received no orders and soon was under a heavy crossfire from his right and rear. The green troops stood the fire for a short time, then broke in confusion for the rear.  “No orders having been received, and thinking it improper to remain longer in this position, I ordered the regiment to break to the rear by companies. Some of the officers not hearing this order, the left did not move with the right, and the regiment came off in disorder.” [36] Sheridan in the meantime had just met with Colonel Greusel, and directed him to move the brigade back to its original line when they were confronted with the retreating 24th Wisconsin. The collapse of the chain of command caused by Sill’s sudden death contributed to the ultimate collapse of the Federal line in this sector of the field. [37]

A map showing the position of Sheridan's division at the outset of the Battle of Stones River on December 31, 1862. General Sill was killed just behind the guns of Bush's battery at center right, and was carried back to the Gresham House at the left by members of his staff and some stragglers. Confederates discovered the body shortly thereafter along a fence and numerous claims were made for bagging the Federal general. 

Meanwhile, Sill’s staff carried the body of their general to the Gresham House field hospital where Lieutenant DeBruin met the body of his friend and commander. DeBruin had been injured in falling from his horse and Sheridan gave him permission to escort the body back to safety. “We conveyed the body to a place near a hospital where I attempted to procure an ambulance but could not succeed. His sword, pistol, field glass, and some papers in his pocket were taken possession of by Captain Stearns and some of the general’s escort. Then finding that the Rebel cavalry had attacked the hospital and were close upon us, we were compelled to retire without the body.” [38] Chaplain Hiram H. Ashmore of the 25th Illinois saw Sill's body being brought behind the lines. "We saw some comrades carrying General Sill's dead body. A Rebel cavalry officer left his command 100 yards distant, rode within 20 feet of General Sill's body and with drawn sword yelled, 'Surrender you damned Yankees!' The words were scarcely out of his mouth until until himself and horse were riddled with bullets," Ashmore wrote. But within moments, advancing Confederate troops found Sill, laid alongside the east side of Gresham Lane “near a fence and 75 yards in the rear of the hospital.” [39] Soldiers began to strip the body for souvenirs, a private in Co. D, 2nd Arkansas Infantry making off with the general’s gloves before handing them over to his company commander Captain Elbridge G. Brasher. “He states that General Sill then had his uniform on, which he would have taken, but it was too large for him.” The body was then taken back to the Gresham House.[40] 

General William J. Hardee

Private Charles B. Dennis of the 101st Ohio remembered seeing Confederate General William J. Hardee visiting the Gresham House hospital early in the afternoon of January 1, 1863. "In the afternoon quite a large cavalcade of horsemen rode into the west gate, headed by a man of fine stature and sitting his big, grey horse like the soldier he was: his face a grim but not unkindly one, his hair and full whiskers trimmed short, just touched with gray and the head surmounted by a soft, black felt hat that gave him a very decided resemblance to our own Pap Thomas. He rode to the porch of the house and asked if the body of General Sill was still there. A hospital sergeant pointed it out to him, and riding over, he dismounted, approached the body (which lay on the porch covered with a blanket), took off his hat, lifted the blanket, and looked into the dead face for quite a time. Finally recovering, he said to the sergeant, 'Poor Sill, he was one of God's noblemen." General Hardee had known Sill before the war; Hardee had been commandant at West Point when Sill was serving as assistant professor of history. The body was brought into Murfreesboro that afternoon, perhaps at Hardee's direction, and laid out in a room at the Rutherford County Courthouse. [41]
Surgeon Edward Hale Bowman of the 27th Illinois
buried General Sill and the body of his
regimental commander Fazilo Harrington side by side. 

Sill’s body apparently was moved out of the courthouse as it was discovered outdoors during the evening of January 2, 1863. Surgeon Edward Bowman of the 27th Illinois Infantry, who had been in town attending to his commanding officer Colonel Fazilo A. Harrington now deceased, found Sill’s body and resolved to bury the two men side by side. Bowman struggled to acquire lumber from the undertaker (“nothing but green oak and poplar and but little of that”) then constructed two coffins with the help of a Negro. “We found it (Sill’s body) in the fence corner, unburied, no grave dug, and no detail for that purpose. It was too late in the day to go back to town to make arrangements. So after borrowing some tools, we dug a grave large enough to contain both coffins and with a feeling of sadness to which language cannot do justice, we lowered them to their resting place side by side and heaped earth over them, putting up the headboard I had prepared with my own hands.” [42] Newspaper accounts initially indicated that the Confederates had given Sill a military burial, but Bowman’s account calls that into question, and stands in stark contrast to the statement of General Braxton Bragg. Bragg stated in his official report that Sill was “sent to town and decently interred, though he had forfeited all claim to such consideration by the acts of cruelty, barbarity, and atrocity but a few days before committed under his authority on the women, children, and old men living near the road on which he made a reconnaissance.” [43]
General Sill's grave mate was Colonel Fazilo A. Harrington of the 27th Illinois of the Third Brigade of Sheridan's Division. One of Harrington's men remembered his colonel as being a wicked man but a first-rate colonel. 

Upon the retreat of the Confederate army from Murfreesboro on January 4, 1863, General Sill’s remains were sought out by his staff for re-burial back home in Ohio. “On the 11th of January, First Lieutenant Robert M. Denning, aide on General Sheridan’s staff and myself disinterred the body and to be certain of its identity, opened the coffin and found it to be in almost a perfect state of preservation,” wrote Lieutenant DeBruin. “On the evening of the 11th, we delivered the body to Dr. McNally and others of Chillicothe after having put it in a large box in which we put charcoal and creosote which was the only means of preserving the body.” [44] In a last gesture of respect, the Army escorted the body from town on the “clear, calm, and cool” evening of the 11th with a guard of honor which was led by Second Lieutenant Willis James Nugent of the 78th Pennsylvania Infantry. [45]

Funeral program for General Sill who was buried in Grandview Cemetery in Chillicothe, Ohio. My great-great-great grandfather James Morrow who served in the 1st Ohio Cavalry is buried nearby. 

It took three weeks to transport General Sill’s remains back to Ohio. He arrived in Chillicothe via rail on the evening of Friday, January 30, 1863 where a committee of citizens met the incoming train, and escorted the body to the First Presbyterian Church in Chillicothe. The funeral services, led by Reverend J.B. Britton “whose address was most eloquent and appropriate,” took place two days later. General Sill was then laid in his final resting place at Grandview Cemetery outside of town. [46] “Over his grave a bereaved sister erected a monument, a fluted column broken below its capital, draped with the flag of his country.” [47]

“Lay your poor chieftain down to rest,
With all the mournful pomp of war,
And sheathe for aye, his patriot sword,
For him life’s battle now is o’er.” [48]
Gravestone detail (

[1] Douglas, Albert. “General Joshua Woodrow Sill.” Ohio History Journal, Vol. 31, No. 2, April 1922
[2] Letter from First Lieutenant Edwin M. DeBruin to Mr. and Mrs. Douglas dated February 16, 1863, Sill Family Papers, Ross County Historical Society
[3] Letter of Captain Joseph Edward Stearns to Angus L. Waddle (33rd Ohio) dated February 27, 1863, Sill Family Papers, Ross County Historical Society
[4] “Gen. J.W. Sill,” Scioto Gazette, December 23, 1862, pg. 2. The transfer of command took place on December 13, 1862. A cloud hung over Johnson’s head with the troops of his division, a cloud which only worsened after Johnson was widely blamed for allowing his division to be surprised in the opening moments of the Battle of Stones River a few weeks later.
[5] Sheridan, Ibid, pgs. 112-113
[6] DeBruin, Ibid. Sill’s estimate of the Confederate forces at Murfreesboro was inaccurate. Five Confederate infantry divisions fought at Stones River. Sill may have thought that Edmund Kirby Smith’s troops (which were deployed in eastern Tennessee) and those of Carter L. Stevenson (recently dispatched to reinforce Vicksburg) were in close proximity to Bragg’s forces at Murfreesboro.
[7] Official report of Captain Asahel K. Bush, 4th Indiana Battery, OR, Series I, Vol. 20.
[8] Official report of Major Elisha C. Hibbard, 24th Wisconsin Infantry, OR, Series I, Vol. 20.
[9] Bennett, L.G. and William H. Haigh. History of the Thirty-Sixth Regiment Illinois Volunteers During the War of the Rebellion. Aurora: Knickerbocker & Hodder, 1876, pg. 332. The ball that hit Lieutenant Davidson was thought to have been aimed at Colonel Nicholas Greusel of the 36th Illinois.
[10] DeBruin, Ibid.
[11] Stearns, Ibid.
[12] DeBruin, Ibid.
[13] Sheridan, Ibid, pgs. 119-120 It was during this meeting that Sill and Sheridan inadvertently switched frock coats. Sheridan wore Sill’s coat through the remainder of the battle but in later years returned it to the Sill family in Chillicothe. The coat is currently on display at the Ross County Historical Museum.
[14] Hibbard, Ibid.
[15] Official report of Colonel William E. Woodruff, commanding Third Brigade, OR, Series I, Vol. 20.
[16] Official report of Lieutenant Colonel John Weber, 15th Missouri Infantry, Daily St. Louis Republican, January 26, 1863, pg. 1
[17] Mitchell, John Lendrum. In Memoriam: John Lendrum Mitchell. Milwaukee: 1906, pg. 29 Mitchell later became a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin and was the father of noted Army General Billy Mitchell, an early proponent of airpower.
[18] Owen, Mark E. A Narrative of the Campaigns of the 39th Alabama Volunteer Infantry, Deas’ Brigade, Army of Tennessee, Confederate States Army, 1862-65.
[19] Calkins, Emerson R. “Recollections of Stones River,” National Tribune Repository, 1907, pg. 53
[20] Letter from Captain Abner H. Flewellen, Co. F, 39th Alabama Infantry, Montgomery Weekly Advertiser, January 14, 1863, pg. 1
[21] Sheridan, Ibid, pg. 121
[22] Aldrich, C. Knight. Quest for a Star: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Colonel Francis T. Sherman of the 88th Illinois. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1999, pgs. 21-22
[23] Official report of Captain Porter C. Olson, 36th Illinois Infantry, OR, Series I, Vol. 20. The 36th Illinois opened fire at short range in part due to the fact that the regiment was armed mostly with .69 caliber smoothbore muskets which were most effective at relatively short range.
[24] Aldrich, Ibid., pg. 22
[25] William McGregor Papers, 1863, Pearce Civil War Collection, Navarro College
[26] Diary of Captain Taylor Beattie, Co. A, 1st Louisiana Regular Infantry, Regimental File, Stones River National Battlefield Park. The 1st Louisiana regiment lost very heavily in this battle, losing 102 killed, wounded, and missing out of the 231 that went into action that morning. There are also indications of poor leadership in this regiment as color bearer Sergeant Isaac F. Wark stated in a letter home that he hoped General Bragg would break up the regiment “so that we might get clear of these officers. They are as cowardly a set of men as could be found. They were all drunk during the fight with one or two exceptions and could not be seen during any of the heavy fighting.” Beattie’s account also harshly criticizes the actions of Colonel John A. Jacques who Beattie says “attached himself General Withers’ staff and deserted his regiment and colors.” See also Letters of Sergeant Isaac F. Wark (Strawbridge’s) 1st Louisiana Infantry, Company E, 1840-1864, Regimental File, Stones River National Battlefield Park.
[27] Weber, Ibid.
[28] Official report of Major General Jones M. Withers, OR, Series I, Vol. 20. Reported losses in the brigade totaled 672.
[29] “Private M’Dearman at Murfreesboro,” Confederate Veteran, Vol. 9, 1901, pg. 306
[30] Belknap, Charles E. “My Recollections of Stones River,” National Tribune, March 9, 1893, pg. 2
[31] Chattanooga Daily Rebel, January 6, 1863, pg. 1 “Murfreesboro, Jan. 1- The Yankee General Sill’s remains have been brought in. The top of his head was blown off.” Considerable ink was spilled in the after action reports by Confederate officers wanting to take credit for Sill’s death, but these claims do not appear creditable as the regiments in question were engaged far to the west of where General Sill was killed. It is more likely that Sill was shot down by an unknown soldier in either Yancey’s 17th Alabama Sharpshooters’ Battalion which was covering the retreat of Loomis’ brigade, or a soldier in Vaughan’s brigade. See official reports of Major General John P. McCown, Colonel Robert W. Harper, 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles, Colonel Daniel C. Govan, 2nd Arkansas Infantry, and Lieutenant Colonel Watt Floyd, 17th Tennessee Infantry, OR, Series I, Vol. 20
[32] Mitchell, Ibid.
[33] Stearns and Mitchell, Ibid.
[34] DeBruin, Ibid.
[35] Bennett and Haigh, Ibid., pg. 342
[36] Hibbard, Ibid. Adjutant McArthur would later be awarded the Medal of Honor and become Colonel of the 24th Wisconsin. His son, General Douglas McArthur, was one of most renowned military officers in 20th century American history. Numerous accounts from the other regiments in the brigade cite the retreat of the 24th Wisconsin as the primary cause of the collapse of the Federal line in this sector. The renewed attack by Vaughan’s and Loomis’ brigade certainly played an important role as well.
[37] Sheridan, Ibid., pg. 121
[38] DeBruin, Ibid.
[39] "Stone River," by Chaplain Hiram H. Ashmore, National Tribune, June 16, 1887, and Official report of Lieutenant Colonel Watt Floyd, 17th Tennessee, OR, Series I, Vol. 20
[40] Official report of Colonel Daniel C. Govan, 2nd Arkansas Infantry, OR, Series I, Vol. 20. The private (W.C. Guest) was left behind to attend the Confederate wounded after the battle and was captured by Union forces on January 7, 1863. Captain Brasher later became Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment but was captured in Georgia during the Atlanta campaign and spent the remainder of the war in the Northern prison at Johnson’s Island, Ohio. The gloves and other items taken from Sill’s body have been lost to history.
[41] “Battle of Murfreesboro,” from the Murfreesboro Rebel Extra, January 2, 1863, Vicksburg Daily Whig, January 9, 1863, pg. 1, and “Letter from Middle Tennessee,” Mobile Register, January 9, 1863, pg. 1; Memoir of Charles Barney Dennis, Co. B, 101st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Collection of Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center
[42] Letter from Surgeon Edward H. Bowman, 27th Illinois Infantry, Nashville Daily Union, January 24, 1863, pg. 2 Two soldiers assisted Bowman in burying General Sill, both from the 27th Illinois, and both of whom did not survive the war. Corporal Michael Sadler of Co. G was captured at Chickamauga and died at Andersonville on June 15, 1864. Private John K. Camp of Co. E was accidentally killed by the brigade butcher on May 26, 1863 in Murfreesboro.
[43] Official report of General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Army of Tennessee, OR, Series I, Vol, 20, pg. 666. It is unclear when these ‘acts of cruelty, barbarity, and atrocity” occurred; no record of such exists within the OR.
[44] DeBruin, Ibid.
[45] Diary and letters of Willis James Nugent, Co. D, 78th Pennsylvania Infantry, Regimental Files, Stones River National Battlefield Park
[46] “Funeral of General Sill,” Scioto Gazette, February 3, 1863, pg. 3
[47] Douglas, Ibid.
[48] Poem written in Sill’s memory by “E.H.T.,” Scioto Gazette, January 27, 1863, pg. 2


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