Pension File &
Donated by Terry Dunn
EARLY LIFE AND BACKGROUND: Willis Vancil was
born about 1845 in Union County, Illinois. He
was the son of Aaron Vancil and Altamira
Anderson. Willis was living with his parents and
brother James in South District, of Jackson
County Illinois according to the 1850 census.
The 1860 Illinois census shows Willis with his
parents and brother James again, plus a sister
Nancy and a brother Adam. As an adult, Willis
was 5' 4" tall, with dark hair and eyes and a
dark complexion. His occupation was farming.
Willis had four known siblings: James, Mary G.,
Nancy, and Adam, as all were listed as heirs in
Aaron Vancil's estate papers.
SERVICE WITH THE 81ST ILLINOIS INFANTRY: At
the time of his enlistment, Willis was living in
Jeffersonville, Williamson County, Illinois.
Willis was enrolled into service by Captain
Phillips for a 3 year term on February 15th 1865
in Cairo, Illinois. He was assigned to Company
D. His rank was private. Upon enlistment, Willis
traveled to New Orleans where he joined up with
the 81st on February 22, 1865. He remained in
New Orleans until March 12, when the regiment
moved to join the Campaign against Mobile
(Alabama). In Route the 81st landed on Dauphin
Island in the evening of March 16th and stayed
there until March 20th. Willis was involved in
the siege of Spanish Fort from March 26th thru
April 8th. Official sources mention the
activities of the 81st at Spanish Fort in two
instances. The first is summarized as follows:
At daylight on March 27th, Carr's Third Brigade
under Col. Geddes attacked Spanish Fort with the
81st Illinois leading the way into the woods to
the right of the fort. After about four miles
the 81st was ambushed by the 21st Alabama
Confederate Infantry. Several companies of the
81st were initially scattered by the ambush, but
the 81st held their position and were joined by
the 124th Illinois, which advanced and brushed
back the Confederates. The siege continued with
fighting each day. The second mention of the
81st is summarized as follows: There was heavy
fighting all day on the 8th. Col. Bell in the
midst of the fighting, requested support from
Col. Geddes. The 81st, commanded by Lt. Col.
Rogers, was the first Regiment to arrive in
support. During this fighting the 81st had three
men wounded. However, Spanish Fort was captured
on the evening of April 8th. The 81st was then
ordered to Fort Blakely to participate in the
siege there. They moved to near Fort Blakely on
the 9th, but the Union troops had captured it on
the 9th. The 81st then traveled to Mobile by
April 12th. They shortly thereafter headed to
Montgomery, Alabama and did duty there until
July. Willis stayed in Montgomery, where he
later transferred to the 58th Illinois Infantry.
During the Spanish Fort siege the 81st lost two
men and had several wounded.
SERVICE WITH THE 58TH ILLINOIS INFANTRY:
Willis was transferred to Company B of the
58th Illinois Regiment Infantry on July 17,
1865. He joined them in Montgomery and did duty
there and in the District of Alabama until April
1st, 1866 when Willis was discharged from the
service. The discharge was due to disability as
he was suffering from dysentery (chronic
AFTER THE WAR:
Willis returned to Union County, Illinois.
There he married Martha Ann Likens on June 5th
1872. The couple had a child Marguerite Alice
"Maggie" on May 22, 1875. Only 8 months later,
on January 15th 1876, Willis was dead at the age
of 31. Willis Civil War Pension records report
that his death was due to the chronic effect of
the dysentery he had contracted while in
service. Willis' wife Martha married again (to
Thomas Musgraves) but was to survive Willis by
only 4 years. She died on February 14, 1880,
leaving their young child Maggie an orphan.
The Vancils (also spelled Wentzell, Wenzsell,
Wensel) came from the Palantine area of Germany
during the 1750's and initially settled in
Willis' grandparents, Adam Vancil and
Catherine Penrod were first cousins, as Adam's
mother and Catherine's father were siblings.
Willis' father Aaron and his grandfather,
Adam both died at the age of 41. Adam's death
was accidental, due to a "tree falling on him.
Willis' younger brother James also signed on
with the 81st Illinois. He was listed among the
unassigned recruits, signing on in March 1865.
James was reported to be 5'3" tall, with brown
hair, gray eyes, and a fair complexion. James
served only two months, apparently being
mustered out due to the conclusion of the war.
Samuel C. Ferrill who served with Willis in
the 81st was among those who later attested to
the fact that Willis had contracted dysentery in
the Summer of 1865, while in the service. One of
his relation, Franklin Ferrill was raising
Maggie as of 1880, when she was listed as his
ward and living in the Ridge Precinct of Union
County, Illinois. Willis' pension records report
that Maggie was raised by James C. Lilly, so
apparently he and his family took her in
sometime after 1880.
Maggie later married Hamilton Parmley
Mayfield. Interestingly, Hamilton's grandfather
Sampson Mayfield was another of the Union County
boys who served during the Civil War.
Before Willis joined them, the 81st was
involved in such notable campaigns and battles
as the Siege of Vicksburg, the battle of
Nashville, and the Battle of Atlanta among
Spanish Fort was one of several Confederate
fortifications located along the shores of upper
Mobile Bay. Spanish Fort was nearly enclosed and
built on a bluff that projected out into the
During the war, the 81st lost 8 officers and
75 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and
3 officers and 211 enlisted men by disease.
Andrews, C.C. (1866 reprint). History of the
Campaign of Mobile. D.Van Nostrand Publ.
Hearn, C. G. (1993) Mobile Bay and the Mobile
Campaign: The Last Great Battles of the Civil
War. McFarland and Co.
Letters Home. The Civil War diary of Captain
John Palmer Reese (of Co. B. 81st IL Infantry.
National Archives. Willis Vancil Civil War
Reece, J. N. (1900) Illinois-Adjutant
General's Office Report-1861-1866. Vol. 1.
Union Co. Illinois. Aaron Vancil Estate
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