William was the ninth of ten children -- two boys and eight girls. In addition, he had one half-sister from his mother's first marriage. Alvin died when William was four and a half, but the older children assisted Mrs. Munsell in keeping the family together. When William grew up, he became a farmer just like most of his male relatives and neighbors.
Soon after William turned twenty years old, the Civil War began. The disastrous Union defeat in the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 apparently influenced William to enlist in the Thirteenth U.S. Infantry for three years service on August 24. Army records described him as 5'8" in height, of fair complexion, with auburn hair and blue eyes.
Although William was healthy before the war, within a few weeks the rigors of army life began to weaken him. Records show that he was sick and in the hospital with a severe case of diarrhea for much of the time that his unit was stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri in September and October 1861.
His health problems continued as the months passed. On July 7, 1862, at Alton, Illinois, Captain Charley Ewing certified that William had been unfit for duty for 45 days during the previous two months. An army surgeon diagnosed the cause as chronic enteritis and reported that the diarrhea could be controlled only through the constant use of opiates and other drugs. Since William was unable to perform the duties of a soldier, they discharged him on August 19, 1862 and he returned home to Ohio.
Life at home apparently cured William quickly. A little less than a year later, on August 3, 1863, he received a $100 enlistment bonus for joining Company D of the 45th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. A surgeon certified William as "free from all bodily defects and mental infirmity."
William joined the regiment in Kentucky. In late August and early September, they marched from Stanford, Kentucky to Loudon, Tennessee, a distance of about 175 miles. Due to exposure during the hard march and laying out nights, William once again contracted chronic diarrhea. A regimental doctor treated him at least once, but William continued on active duty.
Upon arrival at Loudon, Tennessee, the 45th ferried across the Tennessee River in advance of all other portions of the army. They soon transferred to a cavalry brigade led by a Colonel Wolford. On October 20, the Confederate cavalry surprised the brigade, cut off its direct retreat, and completely routed it. William's regiment lost three men killed, four mortally wounded, and more than 100 captured, but he apparently managed to get away without injury.
The 45th participated in a major battle at Knoxville during the following month as part of a brigade commanded by General Saunders. Toward evening on November 18th, the Confederates drove Saunders' division from the breastwork of rails which provided partial protection and inflicted serious casualties. Both Brigadier General Saunders and Adjutant Ferns of the 45th were mortally wounded.
William was one of many soldiers seriously injured in this battle. A soldier named Thomas Hatcher described William's injury in this way:
It was a severe wound wholly disabling him for this time at least and I assisted him from the field. While I was leading him from the field I opened his clothes and saw the wound. It was a bad one. I should think from my recollection of it, a little below the heart.Another report said that the gunshot broke a rib and seriously injured William's lungs and heart.
As soon as the fighting let up, some soldiers moved William from the battlefield to Bell Hospital in Knoxville. He remained there until February 9, 1864, when the army transferred him to the General Hospital at Lexington, Kentucky. By March 23, William had improved enough to be sent home to Ohio on furlough.
After several weeks at home, William reported to Camp Dennison in Ohio on May 13 and remained at Dennison Hospital until about the beginning of August. Since his wound had partially healed, he then reported for duty as a guard at the Camp Dennison barracks.
The exertion of guard duty damaged William's precarious health, but he could not give up the work because he had no other way to get clothes. His company commander, still on active duty, failed to provide clothes despite repeated requests. After about a month of guard duty at Camp Dennison, the army transferred William to guard duty at Tod Barracks in Columbus, Ohio.
William apparently rejoined his regiment around November 1864, but saw no further fighting. When the regiment mustered out at Camp Harker, Tennessee on June 12, 1865, the records listed William as on detached duty at the divisional hospital.
Because William's health problems prevented him from returning home with his regiment, the army transferred him to the 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry stationed at Victoria, Texas. He spent the next four months at the divisional hospital and was mustered out on October 3, 1865, well after the end of the war.
Although William's actual battlefield service was fairly limited, he spent a total of more than three years in the army. Hardship, exposure, and wounds damaged his health so badly that he was never at full strength for the rest of his life.
Only five months after his discharge, William applied for a military pension. Although only 25 years old, he was unable to do any physical labor because of a seated cough and palpitation at the wound. The least exercise took away his strength. The government granted him a small pension, which he supplemented, when his health permitted, by working for his brother-in-law Joseph Keller (earning 15 cents a day and board).
On April 5, 1870, William married a seventeen year old orphan named Ella Hatfield (her name also appears as Elmira Hites) from just across the county line in Hardin County. They settled in Hardin County and had five children, one of whom died at birth of spinal fever. How the Munsells were able to support this growing family on a $4 a month disability pension and occasional jobs is a mystery.
William applied for increases in his pension periodically, claiming that the disability from his wound was continually increasing so as to incapacitate him 75 percent. Due to the wound and the chronic diarrhea which had afflicted him since his military service, his general health was failing.
The Munsells moved from Hardin County to Paulding County, near the Ohio-Indiana state line, in 1882. As the sons became old enough to work on nearby farms, they began to add to the family's meager earnings. On March 29, 1889, the family purchased a ten acre farm in Jackson Township of Paulding County for $200. They listed the title to the land only in Ella's name, possibly due to the precarious state of William's health.
The Munsell farm was next to a 100 acre farm owned by Elias F. Patton, a justice of the peace and former candidate for county clerk. Known in the surrounding neighborhood as "Squire" Patton, he took an interest in the Munsells, becoming close friends and employing their sons on his farm.
In 1893, Dr. W.J. Fife of Melrose, Ohio reported that William suffered from diarrhea, dyspepsia, rheumatism, some dropsical affliction, heart trouble, weak eyes and a bad cough. William continued his attempts to increase his pension, which at this time was $10 per month. By 1896, William also mentioned that he had scurvy and disease of the kidneys or lumbago.
After many long years of suffering, William died on January 8, 1897, at age 56. In addition to the family, Squire Patton was present when William died. Patton and Andrew Bassinger, another neighbor, assisted in dressing and laying out the body. The family buried William in nearby Bowholtz cemetery.
Ella soon applied for a widow's pension, reporting that all she owned was one milch cow, her household goods and the small farm and that her yearly income from all sources would be about $50. The Pension Bureau granted her $8 per month, which she received until she remarried in the following year. Ella eventually moved to Jackson, Michigan, and lived there until her death on May 9, 1914, at the age of 59.
Information on William and Ella Munsell's descendants
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