The Newspaper Article
On June 23, 1864, the Petersburg Daily Express newspaper, publishing nearly on the front lines of the Siege of Petersburg, reported the death of Captain Thaddeus G. Williams just one day earlier at the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road:
CAPT. T. G. WILLIAMS.
This gallant officer and christian gentleman fell in the charge made on the breastworks of the enemy yesterday [June 22, 1864]. He was shot through the head just at this moment of victory, and died immediately. Capt. Williams commanded a company from Nansemond county, who were devotedly attached to him. We learn that he leaves an interesting family who have been reduced from affluence to a dependent condition, by this cruel enemy who carried off all his servants and devastated his home.
This straightforward and concise account leaves out a TON of detail. Who was this man? Which unit did he command? Was there anything else I could find about his life prior to the Civil War? Who was in his “interesting family” and what became of them? Did his wife remarry after the war? I was immediately drawn into this story and wanted answers to these questions.
First, I had to find a name and a unit. By deduction, we know a Petersburg paper is going to be discussing regiments from close to home. The only Virginia regiments in the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road on June 22, 1864 were from Mahone’s Virginia Brigade, Mahone’s Division, Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. After searching those regiments at Fold3.com, I was able to figure out Captain Williams’ company (E) and regiment (6th Virginia). From there, I learned he was Captain Thaddeus G. Williams, and the hunt for more on this man, his life, and his family was on.
The Man and His Family
Thaddeus Grashaw Williams was born on June 29, 1826, the son of Moses and Elfreda “Polly” (née Jordan) Williams in Nansemond County, Virginia. Nansemond County, interestingly, no longer exists. The land which made up this county is now part of the independent city of Suffolk, VA. While it existed Nansemond County was located in southeastern Virginia, bordering North Carolina on the south, Isle of Wight County on the northwest, and Norfolk County on the east. I was able to find a good map below which shows Suffolk and Nansemond County in relation to Norfolk, Petersburg, and Richmond.
The records were thin to nonexistent on Williams’ early years, but records show he married Mary Josephine Perkins in Isle of Wight on March 11, 1847. The couple was living in Nansemond County in October 1850, with Williams’ occupation listed as “Farmer” and real estate valued at $1200. He and his wife had two children at this time, 2-year-old Mary Elfreda and 6-month-old Martha Alice. The 1850 Census Slave Schedule shows Williams owned 10 slaves at this point, four females and six males ranging in age from 35 to 1 years old.
|Images from the 1850 Census showing the Thaddeus G. Williams family as well as his slaves. (Ancestry.com)|
The decade preceding the Civil War would see both joy and tragedy. Thaddeus and Mary welcomed two more daughters: Eoline Virginia on July 29, 1852, and Maude on June 29, 1858. However, it appears their second eldest daughter Martha did not survive the decade. Though I could not find any direct evidence of her death, she does not appear to have been living with the family in 1860, and genealogical records for her are confined solely to her birth date. The soon to be Captain Williams had greatly expanded his operation as a gentleman farmer and slaveowner. By 1860, he had real estate valued at $3,000 with a net worth of $18,500. This sum is the equivalent of $580,000 in 2021 money. In addition to his wife Mary and their three surviving daughters, two presumably White male laborers aged 21 and 15 lived with the family. Thaddeus Williams increased the number of slaves working his fields from ten in 1850 to 31 by 1860. His slaves ranged in age from 45 years to just 10 months, with an average age of just under 18 years old. Eighteen were female and thirteen were male. Unfortunately, no names of any kind were taken for the census, a common occurrence.
|By the 1860 Census, the Williams family, farm, and number of slaves had all grown considerably. (Ancestry.com)|
Clearly Thaddeus G. Williams had a lot to lose if slavery went away as the 1860s began and Civil War grew ever closer. A great deal of his personal wealth was tied up in owning other human beings, and they were essential to the operations of his plantation. Even with that, Williams did not enlist immediately. Presumably he had to arrange for someone to look over his large farming operation. Whatever the reason for the delay, Thaddeus G. Williams enlisted for one year in what became 2nd Company E, 6th Virginia Infantry on August 6, 1861. He was made Captain and given the command of the company two days later on August 8. It was eventually mustered in on September 14, 1861 and assigned to the 6th Virginia on October 1, 1861. Williams and the 6th Virginia spent the rest of 1861 into May 1862 guarding Norfolk, Virginia, northeast of Williams’ home in Nansemond County and the home of many men in the regiment. Captain Williams was given a leave of absence from December 24-29, 1861, probably to go home to see his wife and children over the Christmas season.
As the Peninsula Campaign got underway in April and May 1862 Norfolk was evacuated. The 6th Virginia moved first to Suffolk and then on to Petersburg before settling into camp at Drewry’s Bluff on the James River south of Richmond. During the Battle of Seven Pines the 6th and 59th Virginia were still stationed at Chaffin’s Bluff on the James, protecting the right of Joe Johnston’s Confederate army. They were finally pulled back to Mahone’s Brigade in mid-June and participated in the Seven Days, finally fighting in their first major battle at Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862. The regiment and Mahone’s Brigade then moved to a post between Richmond and Petersburg, where Richard H. Anderson became their division commander. The 6th Virginia participated in the Second Manassas Campaign in late August 1862, where it was part of Longstreet’s grand charge and lost more men than at any point until the Battle of the Crater during the Siege of Petersburg. The 6th Virginia moved with the rest of the Amry of Northern Virginia into Maryland and ultimately fought in the Battle of Antietam, but the regiment had very few men on the field. Captain Williams was probably one of those absent. He was apparently sick in a Petersburg hospital from September 18 into December, 1862. He finally was able to rejoin his command in camp near Fredericksburg on December 20. It would appear he also missed the Battle of Fredericksburg as a result.
As 1863 dawned the Captain had again rejoined his men in Company E. The extant records do not contain any information on the nature of his illness. Luckily for Private Allen Matthews of Company E, his captain had returned just in the nick of time. The private had been sentenced to death for desertion during the Winter of 62-63, but his sentence was suspended following an appeal by Captain Williams. Whatever ailed him, Thaddeus Williams recovered fully and went on to spend all of 1863 present and accounted for. The 6th Virginia fought at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and in the Bristoe Station and Mine Run campaigns before settling into Winter quarters. A pay voucher for June to August 1863 would seem to confirm he was at Gettysburg.
|Captain Williams was present with his unit in early 1864, having made requisitions for stationery and personal clothing.|
As a new year of 1864 dawned, Captain Thaddeus G. Williams was only six months from his untimely death. Records indicate he put in a request for new articles of clothing at some point in the 1st Quarter of 1864, and also a requisition for stationary on February 15, 1864. I was unable to find anything else of personal interest about the Captain until his death. The 6th Virginia was heavily involved in the Overland Campaign, slamming into the Union Army’s left flank on May 6, 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness. They were somewhat spared at Spotsylvania Court House, only seeing heavy fighting on May 12, 1864 against the Union Ninth Corps on the eastern base of the Mule Shoe Salient. They were stationed on the western side of Lee’s inverted V line at the North Anna River in late May before moving to Cold Harbor in early June. There on the right flank Mahone’s Brigade helped to halt the ill-fated Union assault on June 3, 1864. The last month of Captain Thaddeus G. Williams’ life had begun.
Ulysses S. Grant moved from Cold Harbor on the night of June 12-13, 1864 to the James River. His target was Petersburg. Grant’s crossing of the James River eventually led to fighting just east of the Cockade City starting on June 15, 1864. Robert E. Lee initially hesitated to bring his Army of Northern Virginia south, fearing Grant would attack Richmond. This left General P. G. T. Beauregard to defend Petersburg against vastly superior forces until Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, including Williams and his 6th Virginia, finally moved to Petersburg on June 18, 1864. Mahone’s Division was placed south of the city along the Dimmock Line, built earlier in the war to protect Petersburg from just such an attack as had begun. Williams and the 6th Virginia were stationed near Battery 33.
Captain Williams was killed at the June 22, 1864 Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road.They would soon be called out to participate in Williams’ final fight. The Union Second and Sixth Corps had been withdrawn from the Union lines east of Petersburg in order to form a mobile strike force meant to move south and then west against the Weldon Railroad. The Second Corps was tied into the main Union lines while the Sixth Corps extended the line further south along the Jerusalem Plank Road. On June 21-22, 1864, both Corps were ordered to move west to threaten this vital supply line. Lee took action to prevent its capture, tapping elements of A. P. Hill’s Third Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, including the divisions of Mahone and Cadmus Wilcox. They moved south out of the Dimmock Line on the morning of June 22, 1864. Mahone had been a surveyor for the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad prior to the war and knew the topography of the area intimately. He used this knowledge to capitalize on a deadly Union mistake. As the two Union corps moved west the left of the Second Corps separated from the right of the Sixth Corps, opening a gap. Opposite this gap lay a ravine. Mahone seized this opportunity to move his division through the ravine and onto the flank and rear of Barlow’s Division, Second Corps. Weisiger’s Brigade, including the 6th Virginia and Captain Williams, was stationed on the far right of the line, positioned to move completely into the rear of the Union forces. This attack shattered multiple Union brigades and divisions, sweeping all in front until the Jerusalem Plank Road.
At some point during the successful conclusion of this assault, Captain Thaddeus G. Williams was struck in the head by a ball and died instantly. In a letter penned to his wife Mary on June 25, 1864, Reverend William B. Wellons described the Captain’s death and its aftermath:
A Minnie sic ball passed through his head above the right eye and he died immediately. We found him after 9:00 o’clock at night and brought him into town. Then with the body safely retrieved over the remains we all wept because a brave and good man had fallen.
The Aftermath and the Pension Claims
Captain Williams had fallen just a week prior to his 38th birthday. He left behind his wife Mary and four children. Mary was 16. Eoline was 11. Maude was a week short of her 6th birthday and son Joseph was 2 and a half years old. To make matters worse for the family’s well-being the Union army had occupied the Suffolk area in 1863. Ultimately the Williams family had lost their home, slaves and wealth, leaving these five souls destitute. Thaddeus Williams’ ownership of other human beings had cost his family everything in a war which eventually exterminated slavery forever in America.
As with all tragedies, life goes on. Mary Williams filed a pension claim with the Confederate Government on December 12, 1864. As the Confederacy disintegrated within months, it is likely nothing ever came of this claim. The only other record of a pension claim comes decades later on June 11, 1888. Mary had to track down the testimony of the 6th Virginia’s unnamed Major, almost certainly Robert B. Taylor, who wrote: “[Williams] was killed…being shot in the head with a minnie ball on or about the 21st or 22nd of June 1864 [at] Wilcox’s Farm…in line of battle…” The pension also provides the date Thaddeus and Mary were married. Through the strength of the Major’s testimony, Mary Williams was able to receive a pension of thirty dollars per year. She apparently never remarried after Thaddeus was killed at Jerusalem Plank Road and lived to the age of 78, passing away in Suffolk Virginia on May 8, 1907 nearly 43 years after her husband’s death.
The children of Thaddeus and Mary Williams also lived long after the war. The 1870 census shows all three daughters and baby Joseph still lived with their mother in Nansemond County. Their circumstances had drastically changed, going from a net worth of $18,500 in 1860 to $1000 a decade later. The Civil War had taken a massive toll on this family. By 1880, only Maude and Joseph remained with their mother Mary, with the older daughters having found husbnads in the 1870s.
Eldest daughter Mary married Richard H. Norfleet, but the marriage produced no children. She passed away in 1932 at the ripe old age of 84. Sister Eoline also had a childless marriage with her spouse William J. Knight. She lived even longer than Mary, dying at age 92 in 1945. The youngest surviving daughter Maude appears to have had a similar story as her older sisters. She married William Johnson and also produced no children. Maude passed away about a year before older sister Eoline, dying on April 23, 1944 at the age of 85. Would Thaddeus and Mary have any grandchildren? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is a resounding YES.
The Grandson and the Gravestone
The youngest child and only son Joseph Williams, born during the war in 1862, was to provide Mary many grandchildren in her twilight years. And with it comes a fitting postscript to this story. Joe married Mattie Lee Bartlett on December 17, 1888 in Suffolk. The couple ultimately had nine children over 22 years. Eldest son Hatcher Watson Williams, and thus Thaddeus’ eldest grandchild, must have heard stories of his grandfather growing up. It appears to be Hatcher who, around Halloween 1929, filed out an “Application for Headstone” for his grandfather with the US War Department. The stone would be shipped to Hatcher in Suffolk, VA. It was there in the family cemetery the headstone applied for by grandson Hatcher would be placed at the head of Thaddeus Williams’ grave. Today Thaddeus Williams lies in the Bethlehem Christian Church Cemetery in Suffolk, Virginia.
As with any historical or genealogical investigation, there were unfortunately some impenetrable holes in this story. If you know more about any of the Williams family mentioned above, or if you know the details behind when and where Captain Williams’ body was reinterred three times, please CONTACT US. I would ESPECIALLY love to hear from any of Captain Williams’ descendants who can help fill in and correct the details above.
SOPO Editor’s Note: As many of you who have followed along here at the Siege of Petersburg Online know, I’ve been slowly going through the Petersburg Daily Express and publishing articles of interest. Given the location of the paper, it feels like sometimes I’m publishing all of them! I’ve mostly stayed away from original articles here, by choice, until I had a good “base” from which to work. As of early 2021, I feel like that base has been built, so you will start seeing more of these as I find the time. If you enjoy these original articles, please like and share on social media!
Cavanaugh, Michael Arthur. 6th Virginia Infantry. 1st ed., H.E. Howard, 1988.
Wills, Brian Steel. The War Hits Home: The Civil War in Southeastern Virginia. University of Virginia Press, 2001.
Compiled service record, Thaddeus G. Williams, Captain, Co. E (2nd), 6th Virginia Infantry; Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Confederate Organizations , compiled 1903 – 1927, documenting the period 1861 – 1865, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data:Seventh Census of the United States, 1850; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, 1009 rolls); Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Year: 1850; Census Place: Nansemond, Virginia; Roll: 962; Page: 181a
Ancestry.com. 1850 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Original data:United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Seventh Census of the United States, 1850. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1850. M432, 1,009 rolls.
Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data:1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Year: 1860; Census Place: Lower Parish, Nansemond, Virginia; Page: 514; Family History Library Film: 805365
Ancestry.com. 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
Original data:United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1860. M653, 1,438 rolls.
Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Original data:1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.Minnesota census schedules for 1870. NARA microfilm publication T132, 13 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.
Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. 1880 U.S. Census Index provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints © Copyright 1999 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. All use is subject to the limited use license and other terms and conditions applicable to this site. Original data:Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. (NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
National Archives at Washington DC; Washington DC, USA; Applications for Headstones for U.S. Military Veterans, 1925-1941; NAID: A1, 2110-C; Record Group Number: 92; Record Group Title: Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General
Carter, T. J., Active, and Ephraim W Bouvé. Map of the Seaboard & Roanoke Railroad from Portsmouth, Va. to Weldon, N.C. showing its connection with railroad & steamboat routes. [n.p. Lith. of E. W. Bouvé, 1847] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/gm70002889/>.
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 30 December 2020), memorial page for Capt Thaddeus G. Williams (29 Jun 1826–22 Jun 1864), Find a Grave Memorial no. 9923028, citing Bethlehem Christian Church Cemetery, Suffolk, Suffolk City, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Scott Hutchison (contributor 46635174) .