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Brigadier-General Lester S. Willson, U.S.V.
Brevet Brigadier-General Lester S. Willson, U.S.V.
Brevet Brigadier-General Lester S. Willson was born at Canton, St.
Lawrence County, N. Y., June 16, 1839. He enlisted in Company A, Sixtieth
New York Volunteers, August, 1861; was enrolled second sergeant September
9, 1861; lieutenant October 3, 1862; first lieutenant and adjutant
November 17, 1862; and was offered a captaincy on the same day the
adjutant's commission was received, but declined. He was made captain
August 2, 1864; lieutenant-colonel October 1, 1864; colonel May 17, 1865.
He was mustered out with regiment (Sixtieth New York) July 17, 186-, and
brevetted brigadier-general of volunteers March 12, 1867, "for gallant and
meritorious services under General Sherman, resulting in the fall of
Atlanta, Georgia." This honor was conferred on the recommendation of the
two commanders of the Twentieth Corps, Generals Hooker and Slocum. He was
colonel and assistant quarter-master-general of the State of New York,
November 1, 1865, to March, 1867; quartermaster-general of the Territory
of Montana, with rank of brigadier-general, 1883 to 1886.
He participated in guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, winter of
1861-62; campaigns in Virginia under Banks and Pope, spring and summer of
1862; battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862. May 3, 1863, he was severely
wounded at Chancellorsville, Va. He joined as the army was preparing to
move on the Gettysburg campaign, but his wound broke out afresh, and he
was ordered back to Washington for treatment. In September, 1863, he went
South with General Hooker (Twelfth Corps), participating in Wauhatchie,
Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Peavine Creek, and Ringgold. On
November 24 his regiment veteranized, largely due to his efforts and
influence with the men, and was the second regiment in service to
re-enlist. He returned to the field in February, being in the Third
Brigade, Second Division,-Geary's. Commencing the campaign under General
Sherman, he participated in all of the battles of this command, from
Chattanooga to Atlanta, to Savannah, to Goldsborough, and to Raleigh, N.
C., resulting in the surrender of Johnston. Much of this time he served
respectively as aide, assistant inspector-general, and assistant
adjutant-general, Third Brigade. The Sixtieth New York, with the One
Hundred and Eleventh Pennsylvania, divide the honor of having been first
in Atlanta and first to unfurl their colors from the top of the city hall.
As assistant adjutant-general he received the surrender of Savannah at the
hands of its mayor (Arnold), and was the first officer to enter the city
at the head of his own regiment. This occurred for the reason that advance
was made before daylight, and, it being reported that the enemy held a
position in front, Colonel Willson was ordered to take the regiment in
front of column, which happened to be the Sixtieth, and met the mayor and
a delegation of the City Council instead of troops. Having received the
surrender, with the request that protection be given the citizens as well
from the mob that was then breaking into houses and plundering, he
hastened into the city with his regiment.
||At the earnest solicitation of
General H. A. Barnum, commanding the Third Brigade, he carried
lieutenant-colonel's commission, without muster, from Atlanta to
Goldsborough, the general insisting that it was for the best
interest of the service that he should remain as his adjutant. His
was a constant, every-day service, never leaving the command except
from wounds. He had the confidence of Generals Sherman, Hooker,
Slocum, Geary, Greene, and others of this army, and on more than one
occasion was entrusted with intricate and dangerous duties by
General Sherman. He was accredited with being a most faithful and
intelligent officer, and of his regiment Major-General George S.
Greene has said, " It was one of the best in the service." His
service as assistant quartermaster-general of New York was an
important one. Many and very large accounts were adjusted through
this office with railroads for transportation of soldiers and
supplies for 1865 and 1866,-the settlement of balances between the
State and general government, and the disposing of accumulated
supplies belonging to the State,-and in one year this department
expended about $250,000 for clothing to re-uniform the National
He resigned in March, 1867, to take an active part in business in
Montana, and has been engaged in business continuously,-mining, freighting
by mule-team in early days, mercantile business, and banking. He is now at
the head of a large mercantile house and vice-president of the Gallatin
Valley National Bank.
Source: Officers of the Volunteer Army and Navy who
served in the Civil War, published by L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1893, 419
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