William Harrison Darwin (1841-1925)

A Biography of William Harrison Darwin (1841-1925)


by Keith and Scott Black

[Copy kindly provided by Stephanie Black Regis]

WILLIAM HARRISON DARWIN was born March 20, 1841, at Flynn’s Lick, Tennessee.  He was one of nine children of William Green Darwin and Mary Burke.  He grew up in the Jackson County area of Tennessee, where living was said to be hard.

When the War Between the States broke out, being the Southern patriot he was, he enlisted along with his brother John G. Darwin as volunteers in the Tennessee army July 30, 1861.  Enlistment was at Livingston, Tennessee.  He was assigned to Company G, 25th Regiment, Tennessee Infantry.  The 25th Regiment was transferred to the Confederate States, October 1, 1861.  He went into Camp of Instruction at Camp Meyers, Tennessee, where he was mustered into Confederate services.  He held the rank of Corporal.

He was involved in several small skirmishes with home guards and federal units along the Kentucky line while at Camp Meyers.

His first real battle came January 19, 1862, where the 25th Regiment, under Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer’s command, was engaged at the Battle of Fishing Creek, where the25th lost 55 members.

On May 28, 1862, he was involved in the engagement on Farmington Road, Corinth, Mississippi, under the command of Brigadier General Patrick R. Cleburne.  He fought at Perryville, Kentucky, October 8, 1862, under the command of Brigidier General Bushrod R. Johnson’s Brigade, where the 25th Regiment suffered eight casualties.

William fought and survived the Battles of Murfreesboro and Chickamauga.  It is said he marched a total of 555 miles in sixty days.

In May, 1864, his regiment was moved to Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in engagements at Walthall Junction, Swift Creek, and Drewry’s Bluff.  He was captured and taken Prisoner of War, June 17, 1864, somewhere in the Petersburg front.  There were not more than 20 members remaining in the 25th Regiment.

He was taken to City Point, Maryland, June 24, 1864, then to Point Lookout, Maryland, PoW Camp.  On July 23, 1864, he was transferred to Elmira Prison Camp, New York, five miles from the Pennsylvania line.

Elmira was a converted Federal recruit center.  It is believed that he was in the sixth group of PoW’s to be sent from Point Lookout.

By mid-August, 1864, more than 9,600 PoW’s were crowded into a compound that was meant to hold 5,000 prisoners.  Because of overcrowding, hunger, extreme winter weather conditions, harsh treatment by guards, and disease, “Elmira was hell,” as described by a Texas Confederate soldier.  It had a 24 percent mortality rate that could only be compared to the South’s Andersonville.

Prisoners underwent a unique indignity when a group of townspeople (Yankees) erected observation platforms outside the prison walls and charged a fee of 15 cents to observe the prisoners as they endured life within the compound.

Because of harsh treatment suffered by Federal prisoners in the South, food rations were deliberately restricted to bread and water causing an epidemic of scurvey.  Prisoners were dying of starvation at the rate of twenty-five per day.  They were forced to eat rats, apple peelings trampled in the mud and even gnawed at discarded bones when found.  A camp surgeon was overheard boasting to have killed more Rebs than any soldier at the front.

Of a total of 12,123 Confederate PoW’s at Elmira, 2,963 died.  Today, all that remains of Elmira is a well-kept cemetery.

William remained at Elmira until he took oath of allegiance May 15, 1865, when released.

After the war, he went back to Tennessee and married Julia A. Haile, one-half Cherokee Indian, January 9, 1868, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

They moved to Texas in the fall of 1876, and then to Arkansas in 1878.  His family was among the earlier settlers of Wickes, a small south-western town near the Oklahoma line in Arkansas.  There he and his family, including his seven children, homesteaded acreage and built the Darwin house one-half mile east of Wickes on Highway 4 in 1883.  He was a farmer and owned and operated the Darwin General Store in Wickes until his death on February 22, 1925.  He died of cardiac disease at the age of 83.  He is buried alongside his wife Julia at Daniels Cemetery, southeast of Wickes.  A Confederate Veterans tombstone marks his grave.

The old Darwin home stood until 1990, when it was torn down.  An article on the Darwin family and a picture of his home was featured in the <i>Ouchita Mountaineer</i> magazine, Winter, 1996.


1)       Tennesseans in the Civil War, Civil War Centennial Commission

2)       Civil War Prisons, Kent State University Press

3)       Muster Roll Records, US National Archives (NARA)

4)       Memories of Keith S. Black