Civil War Blog

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William C. Mills – Naval Veteran of Millersburg

Posted By on January 19, 2015


During the Civil War, William C. Mills saw both infantry service and naval service, but it is for his naval service that he was most remembered.  His name appears on the Millersburg Soldier Monument (plaque shown above) as W. C. Mills.

When William C. Mills died on 21 September 1916, the obituary which appeared in the Harrisburg Telegraph described an incident in the naval battle at Hampton Roads, 8 March 1862, in which Mills escaped injury:


Capt. W. C. Mills, Member of Cumberland Crew, Dies

Millersburg, Pennsylvania, 22 September 1916 — Captain William C. Mills, a veteran of the Civil War died suddenly of heart disease yesterday at his home in Lenkerville, aged 77 years.  Mr. Mills came to Lenkerville from Chester County after the war and for many years followed milling.  During the war he was a member of the crew of the warship Cumberland, and was one of the crew who escaped when rammed by the Merrimac in Hampton Roads.  He also witnessed the battle between the Merrimac and the Monitor after the destruction of his ship.  He is survived by two sons, William Mills Jr., of Millersburg, and Harry F. Mills, of Hazleton, and four daughters, Mrs. Annie Noble and Mrs. H. H. Heicher, of Harrisburg; Mrs. William H. Goodwin of West Chester, and Miss Sue Mills at home.

However, the day before the obituary appeared in the Telegraph, the Harrisburg Patriot printed its obituary with slightly different and additional information:





Millersburg, 21 September 1916 — William C. Mills, aged 74, a retired miller of this place, died this morning at 5:30 o’clock at his home in Lenkerville following a sudden attack of neuralgia of the heart.  He was a Civil War veteran and the last survivor of the Congress, sunk by the Merrimac during the war.

Mr. Mills was born in Chester County, coming to this district shortly after the close of the Civil War.  His wife, who died eight years ago, was Miss Rachel L. Poffenberger.  Surviving are these children:  Mrs. Annie Knoble, Mrs. George Boyer and Mrs. H. H. Heicher of Harrisburg; Mrs. William Goodwin, of West Chester;  William Mills, Harry Mills, and Miss Susan Mills at home.

Mr. Mills served during the war in Company F, Ninth Pennsylvania Infantry (9th Pennsylvania Infantry) and was also in the marine service, taking part in the battle between the Merrimac and ship Congress, being on the latter vessel when sunk by the Merrimac.

Funeral services will be held Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock from the home.

The two ships, Congress and Cumberland were both attacked and lost on the first day of the naval Battle of Hampton Roads, but with slightly different results.  Most of the crew of the Cumberland escaped but there were some casualties.  Most of the crew of the Congress perished when the ship exploded and burned to the waterline.


Cumberland Rammed at Battle of Hampton Roads

In 1890, William C. Mills reported two military services:



Click on documents to enlarge.

Mills’ first service was in the 9th Pennsylvania Infantry, from about 19 April 1861 through 27 July 1861.  That service has been confirmed in the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Card File available at the Pennsylvania Archives.  Mills enrolled at West Chester, Chester County, and was mustered into service at Harrisburg.  At the bottom of the 189 document, he indicated no disabilities related to that service.

Mills’ second service was naval service aboard the Pontiac, which according to the information he gave the census taker, was from 17 August 1861 through 17 August 1865, or a period of 4 years.  At the bottom of the form it is stated that he incurred two disabilities from naval service:  (1) catarrh; and (2) wound knee and back, latter part of 1864.  On 7 November 1864, the Pontiac was engaged in fighting off Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, when a shell exploded killing 6 men and wounding 6 others.

The naval service which began for William C. Mills on 17 August 1861 is confirmed in monthly muster records available through Ancestry.com for the entire period he claimed service.  From those records, there is no indication that he was aboard either the Congress or Cumberland in or before March 1862, when the Battle of Hampton Roads took place.  The muster records indicate that he was stationed at the Washington Navy Yard during that time period.  However, the muster roll for October 1864 does have the name of William C. Mills aboard the Pontiac and the November 1864 muster roll has him in Philadelphia, not aboard any ship and not in the naval hospital there.

No record has been seen that indicates that William C. Mills was aboard either the Congress or the Cumberland at the time it was attacked.  Nor has any record been seen that Mills’ wartime injuries occurred while aboard the Pontiac.



William C. Mills applied for a pension on 4 April 1876 and stated in that application his service in the navy and the infantry.  However, his pension records are found in the navy files, Certificate No. 3682.


According to the summary information on the U.S. Naval Pension Index, 1861-1910 (shown above from Ancestry.com), the file for William C. Mills contains 4 fiche cards.  He was approved for and received a pension.  The descriptive information of that database states:  “The information contained in this index can be used to locate the original pension application files located on the microfiche collections… at NARA.”

Additional information is sought on William C. Mills including verification of his naval service.  Pictures, stories and documents are especially welcome.  Comments can be added to this post, or send the information by e-mail.


The Pension Index Card is from Fold3.  The news clipping from the Harrisburg Patriot is from the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia.  The news clipping from the Harrisburg Telegraph is from the on-line resources of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America.


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