Military Monday: William Anderson Murrell

Civil War pension papers of William Anderson Murrell, 20 Feb 1899. (Click to enlarge.)

Roberts Family, Murrell Family (Click for Family Tree)

William Anderson Murrell was a younger brother to our ancestor, Elizabeth Ann (Murrell) Roberts. She was the first, and he the fourth, of the children of Wiley Anderson Murrell and Mary Magdalene (Honts) Murrell.

William Anderson Murrell was born 25 May 1841 in Botetourt County, Virginia. We find him with his parents and siblings in the 1850 US Federal Census for District 8, Botetourt County, Virginia; he was just 9 years old. Three years later, William migrated with his family to Warren County, Illinois.

A previous post has mentioned how some of this family’s descendants believe the Murrells may have moved to Illinois as they did not like the pro-slavery stance of most Virginians, and they most likely realized that war would be coming to their own soil if the divisive forces of the slavery and states’ rights issues persisted. We cannot know if states’ rights or slavery was the uppermost issue on their minds, or if just protecting family and assets were of primary importance.  Roseville, in Warren County, Illinois, was a stop on the Underground Railroad for many runaway slaves on their way to freedom in the north or Canada, so the area they chose to settle was anti-slavery. We do know that William took a stand on the issues, as he enlisted in the Union Army on 1 August 1862.

William enlisted with other young men from Warren County at Monmouth, Illinois as the 83rd Infantry Illinois Volunteers was being organized. He became a part of Company H (all from Warren Co.) and was enlisted for three years of service.

The 83rd moved out of Monmouth on 25 August 1862, going to Cairo, Illinois via Burlington, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. Cairo (pronounced “CARE-o” by the locals) is across the border from Kentucky and at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, so it was important for the unit to protect Union assets. Guard duty of communications lines was one of their primary missions.

Embarkation of General McClernand’s Brigade at Cairo — the Advance of the Great Mississippi Expedition — January 10, 1862, a wood engraving from a sketch by Alexander Simplot, published in Harper’s Weekly, February 1, 1862, via Wikipedia, public domain. (William may have been transported on a similar steamboat.) (Click to enlarge.)
The above scene was from before William arrived in Cairo, and after Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant had taken the southernmost city of Illinois from the Confederates. Grant also took Fort Donelson, along the Cumberland River in Tennessee, in February 1862. As it was just over ten miles from Kentucky, this was a huge strategic win for the Union, and the South was stunned. The Cumberland was a route for men and supplies into Tennessee and the heart of the Confederacy. This battle essentially divided the rebellious states into two sections, making it easier for the Union to attack and control. And that the Union did- Nashville, Tennessee, fell to Grant shortly thereafter. Nashville was an industrial center as well as the capital of Tennessee, and its occupation by the Union also gave them control over much of the Tennessee River. The Union held Nashville throughout the war.

William and his fellow soldiers were moved to Fort Donelson, near Dover, Tennessee, about the 5th of September, 1862.

Part of the lower river battery, overlooking the Cumberland River. Photographed by Hal Jespersen at Fort Donelson, February 2006, via Wikipedia; public domain.

On 20 September 1863, the right wing of the regiment moved on to Clarksville, Tennessee, but we have not been able to determine if William was a part of this group.

To be continued…


Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. 83rd Illinois Infantry Regiment–
  2. 83rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment–
  3. Interestingly, there was a young man named Ransom Roberts in Co. H with William- could he have been a cousin through William’s sister Elizabeth’s marriage to John Roberts? There was a Joseph H. Saylor, also from Roseville- John Roberts’ mother’s maiden name was Saylor/Salyers, so he too may have been a cousin through marriage (or a marriage to be.) More research needed here as neither of these names are known to the author.
  4. Civil War Archive- 83rd regiment Infantry–
  5. Fort Donelson Battlefield-


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