William Henry Harrison Reed

Company A, 39th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

See biography below.

[Reed family genealogy on line]                     


Submitted by Wayne Reed

            William H. H., that’s how my father [also William] always referred to him.  My dad didn’t know his grandfather who died when dad had just turned 2 years old.    The rest of the family simply called him William.  He was born in 1840, the year Harrison was elected president.  I suppose that would have been enough reason for the name in many families, but the truth is that William’s grand father, Charles Reed served in the 2nd Revolutionary War [1812-1814] with General Harrison and that seems a more likely reason for the name.

            William’s father was Edward T. Reed.  Edward was born in 1817 in Butler County, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati.  When Edward was about seven, the family moved to Parke County, Indiana.  Edward must have met the Robison family in nearby Tippecanoe County during this time.  The future Mrs. Reed was only ten when, in the spring of 1831, when Edward was thirteen, his father gathered the extended family, including two sons-in-law, Charles Koons and Eli Shoemaker, as well as Joseph Shoemaker (brother of Eli).  That trip required six wagons and the story was detailed to a newspaper reporter years later by sibling, George, who turned seven on the day they arrived in Will County, Illinois near present day Elwood and called the settlement Reed’s Grove.

            We don’t know the details, but when Edward was 20 and Eliza was 16, they were married in Tippecanoe County, Indiana by Thomas Smiley, J. P.  Eliza Robison’s parents, William Robison and Sarah Lane Robison are buried at Mintonye Cemetery in southern Tippecanoe County.  Edward took up farming in Will County, Illinois.  William was the second of eight children.

            William’s grandfather was named Charles Reed.  He was born in the back country of western Virginia.  He referred to it as ‘Virginia, West of the mountains’.  That changed to West Virginia, but in the year Charles died, 1863.  Charles was a pioneer.  He moved west early in life and settled in first Ohio, then Indiana and finally in Illinois.  There is a bio. of Charles Reed at

            William was born in Reed’s Grove, Will County, Illinois.  The history writers say that Reed’s Grove, where Charles settled his extended family after a tough journey from Indiana, was located at the intersection of four townships [Channahon, Jackson, Wilmington and Florence].  That puts the town about 1 ½ miles south west of Elwood, IL.  There are still foundations of the homes and businesses that thrived there from 1831 to about 1900.  There is also a small cemetery with the graves of 11 Reeds and one other.     It must have been comforting to grow up with so much extended family living close by.  William was the second of eight children.  By the time William was born, the hostile Indians had been moved west of the Mississippi River.  The last threat to the settlement was the Black Hawk War of 1831, when Charles and his extended family left the settlement and returned to live with friends in Indiana until the Federal troops removed the Indians.

            William was 21 when the Civil War broke out.  He joined friends and family and joined a infantry unit, the 39th Illinois, known as Yates’ Phalanx, named after sitting governor Yates.

A letter Wm. [age 22] wrote home to his sister:

Elkton Station,
January the 28th 1863

Dear Sister,

    I have just got up out off bed and it is one oclock for I am on guard
until morning and I thought I would light the candle and answer your most
welcom letter which I received yesterday morning.  your letter found me well
and I still remain so.  I was sorry to hear that the children was sick yet I
hope when this comes to hand will find you all well and enjoying hapiness
which I do not altogeather for I feel that the war will never come to a
close the way things is working now.
    We have had a nother change with our generals.  Burnsides has resined
and general Hooker taken his place.  which was in charge of the army of the
potomac.  you no Jay wrote a few lines in your letter and I will give the
rest of my mind in relation to the war in answering his..  and will draw
your attention to something else I have nothing of eny importance to write
this time.  and am out of humor this morning but will say a word or two to
you for I like to write to you.  it snowed all day yesterday and now it is
raining.  the weather has bin very mild this winter and has bin but a few
dayes of cold weather here this winter..  I received a letter a few dayes
since from Cousin Wilson Tolbert stating that uncle jackson started to k-y
for Britton for he was in the hospital sick.  but he could not get to him..
and also aunt jane was sick.  and the worst of all he had lost his youngest
brother.  Armstrong.  which died on the 16th of this month with typhoid
feaver I think Wilson is married.  I suppose you no.  and is out off the
service of the United States..  you spoke about the small-pox being around
neer by..  it is the same here..  they say it is in Wilmington delaware
about 25 miles from here..  you sed you was still waiting for my likeness
yet..  I have one taken now and will get anothern or two when I get paid
off.  and will send them in the Box that we are going to send when we go to
leave here..  I think I will send you a blanket in the box if I can get
anothern I shall write to father and tell him to let you have all he can
possible spare.. of my money when I get paid off..  I remain as ever your
sinceer Brother write soon and all news Mary Smillie

            The consensus of writers who have studied Andersonville and other Civil War prisons is that the profile of the typical survivor was a man who was thin, independent and strong willed.  Many others simply gave up trying to live.  It was the westerner, the outdoorsman and pioneer that survived.  William fits that profile exactly.  As a farmer he was used to being his own boss and making his own decisions.  He was thin and hard from the field work.  Statistics show that the fat and soft city boys from the east succumbed quickly in prison.  Twenty nine percent of those who went to Andersonville died there.

            When William returned home after the war, his health was broken and he needed rest.  Prior to the war, John Shoemaker, Lorena Eversoll and William Reed were best friends.  Actually, Willam Reed and John Shoemaker were cousins by marriage, John’s uncle Eli having married William’s aunt Olive.  Lorena had decided on John as her beau and 6 November 1857, they were married.  John enlisted in the war and 14 February 1863 he died of measles in Nashville, Tenn.  John and Lorena had 3 boys, Delavan Dayton, Francis Sylvester and John Fletcher.

            As William recuperated, he started spending time with the widow Shoemaker.  Soon they were married and the three boys went to live with William and Lorena.

            William and Lorena had four children:  Lester, who died young, Eva, who never married [but thankfully collected the family photographs], Viola, who married Warren Corbin and they had two daughters who never married and George Elbert Reed, the author’s grandfather who married Hattie Whitmore and they had three children, two boys and a girl.

William, like his father, was a farmer all his life.

 A biography of William H. Reed is found in:

Past and Present of Will county, Illinois - W. W. Stevens, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, 1907  Pp. 653-654

This story from William’s daughter, Viola recalling when she was a young girl:

            Many years ago, my mother, father [Wm. H.] and little brother George [Wayne Reed's grandfather George Elbert Reed], with my aunt [prob. Mary Olive Smillie] and her youngest daughter [Florence], took a trip in a covered wagon, going from Reed's Grove to Oklahoma.  They were anxious to see this western Indian Country and to visit a relative who was a trader in the new, undeveloped region.

            My sister Eva and I were left in the care of an older neighbor girl, while the family was away.  She was very ready to have a good time with us, and many a happy day we spent riding our white horse, sometimes all three of us perched on her back at once.

            When the family returned we listened to their tales of adventure in the Red Man's country, but doubted whether they had a better time, than we three had in our freedom, from parental authority.

-       Mrs. Viola Corbin

This story appeared in a centennial publication of Elwood, Will County, Illinois:

Out of the Past – Elwood, A History of the Village from the Earliest Records to the Present Time  1854-1974]

Late in his life, about the turn of the century, William contracted with the local undertaker [in Elwood] for his funeral.  He made all the arrangements and apparently signed a contract containing the details.  William lived on until 1916.  When he died, the undertaker retrieved the contract and discovered that it specifically stated that the agreement was for a horse drawn hearse.  The funeral home had been using a gasoline powered rig for some time.  To be faithful to the contract, the mortician retrieved the old hearse from a barn and provided William with what is reportedly the last horse drawn funeral in town.

A letter from my first cousin, once removed, Helen Corbin, Elwood,

Illinois, February 21, 1975

Dear Wayne,

    Received your letter of February 10.  Meant to write sooner and try to
answer your questions.  I have only one letter written by my grandfather
William H. Reed while he was in the army (no diaries).  He wrote to his
sister Mary Olive Smillie.  I will get it out of my bank box and make a copy
for you.
    He married my grandmother March 8, 1866; but he was acquainted with her
before the war.  William lived with his parents in Jackson Township - Reed's
Grove - near the old cemetery we visited.
    Lorena lived in Elwood with her parents William & Susan Eversoll and two
sisters Minerva and Polina.  At this time Lorena was more interested in John
Shoemaker, whom she married in 1857 than she was in William.  She told her
children in later years of sleigh rides, taffy pulls, and dances at which
John was her beau.  Lorena was born in Lancaster, Ohio in 1839.
    Nov. 5, 1857 she married John Shoemaker.  Their children were Delavan
Dayton (born Sept. 20, 1858) Francis Sylvester (March 1, 1861) and John
Fletcher (Mar. 16, 1863).  John Shoemaker served with the 100th Illinois
Infantry and died at Nashville, Tennessee Feb 14, 1863.  Some time after
John died (measles, not at bullet) Lorena took the 3 little boys and moved
in with the Eversolls.
    William did not escape from Andersonville.  He was released at the end
of the war - mustered out June 15, 1865.  He had enlisted in Wilmington,
Ill. Aug 15, 1861.  Co. A was raised mostly in Wilmington and left Chicago
Oct 13, 1861 for Camp Benton, Mo.  From there they were sent to Hagerstown,
Maryland.  He was captured with his pal, Corp. Thomas De Line (from Elwood)
at Wier Bottom Church near Fredricksburg, Va.  June 20, 1864.
    After the war William married Lorena, and the 3 shoemaker boys lived
with them on a farm which William purchased in Florence Township.  Delavan
and John later became farmers and are both buried in the Elwood cemetery
(Maple Hill)  Both had large families Delavan farmed for some years in
Kansas (Udall neighborhood); so some members of his family settled there.
Sylvester settled in Chicago, at first as a teamster (today he would have
had a small trucking business).  Later he moved to Ohio and lived with his
family in Akron & later in Ravenna.
    Lorena said she was glad to marry again as three little boys with
copper-toed boots were almost too much for grandparents who had raised only
    William and Lorena's first child was a boy Lester who died in infancy,
Little John sometimes got tired of rocking Lester in his cradle but felt
real bad when the baby brother died.
    The Reed children (Eva, Viola & George) felt they had three sets of
grandparents Reeds, Eversolls and "Grandpa and Grandma Shoemaker."  (Amilia
& Joseph, parents of John)  In fact, I think Grandpa Shoemaker was a great
favorite with children.
    Did you ever run across "Fifteen Years Ago: or the Patriotism of Will
County" by George Woodruff?  There are copies in the Wilmington & Joliet
Libraries (one each)
    I also consult the Adjutant General's Report (Joliet Library).  Do you
need other information about the 39th?
    Hope you folks are well.  Glad you found a place for the civil war

Love to all,


William is buried at Maple Hill Cemetery, Elwood, Will Co., IL

William’s stone reads:

Wm. H. Reed
Co. A 39th Reg. Ill. Vol. Inf.
1840 – 1917

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