Heartsill, William Williston (1839–1916)

By: Mark Odintz

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 1, 1995

William Williston Heartsill, soldier, author, and merchant, was born in Louisville, Tennessee, in 1839, the son of A. Heartsill. In 1856 he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and traveled extensively around the state for a wholesale merchandising firm. He moved to Marshall, Texas, in 1859 and worked as a store clerk until the outbreak of the Civil War. On April 19, 1861, he enlisted as a private in Company F of the Second Texas Cavalry and served under Walter Paye Lane and John S. Ford. His unit served on the frontier from 1861 to November of 1862, when it joined the Confederate forces in Arkansas. Heartsill, by then an orderly sergeant, was captured with his regiment at Arkansas Post on January 11, 1863, and was a prisoner at Camp Butler, Illinois, until he was exchanged in April of the same year. Along with other exchanged soldiers, he was assigned to a makeshift infantry company in the army of Braxton Bragg and fought at the battle of Chickamauga in September. He deserted his temporary unit soon thereafter and made a 700-mile journey across several states to rejoin the Second Texas Cavalry in Texas. By March of 1864 he found himself guarding Union prisoners at Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, and he and his regiment spent the remainder of the war on outpost duty in Arkansas and Texas.

After the war Heartsill returned to Marshall and opened a business as a dealer in groceries, saddles, and harnesses. In 1868 he helped organize a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Marshall. From 1874 to 1876, using a small Octavo Novelty Press and printing a page at a time whenever he had some free moments, he printed his Civil War journals as Fourteen Hundred and 91 Days in the Confederate Army. The work is a reliable, engaging, and perceptive view of the army and home-front conditions in the Confederacy, and its value is further enhanced by a collection of photographs of his fellow veterans that Heartsill pasted into the book and by his reprints of soldiers' camp newspapers. The extremely rare work was republished in a 1954 edition edited by Bell I. Wiley. Heartsill was elected alderman in Marshall in 1881 and became vice president of the Marshall and Northwestern Railway Company in 1885. He served as mayor of Marshall at some time. He was active in Confederate veterans' groups. He died at Waco, Texas, on July 28, 1916, and was buried two days later at Marshall.

Mamie Yeary, Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray (McGregor, Texas, 1912; rpt., Dayton, Ohio: Morningside, 1986).
Time Periods:
  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mark Odintz, “Heartsill, William Williston,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/heartsill-william-williston.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

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