1st Vermont CavalryBiography
General William Wells
Revised Roster article.
General William Wells, deceased, a native of Vermont, during an active life held a distinguished place in the public and commercial affairs of the country. In the Civil war he proved himself a splendid soldier, and won from General Sheridan this commendation: "He is my ideal of a cavalry officer."
Hugh Wells, a descendant of an old English family, was born about 1590 in the county of Essex, England, and from him the line of descent to General Williams Wells in the seventh generation is unbroken. Hugh Wells was married in 1619, and emigrated to America in 1635. He remained in Boston for a time, and subsequently aided in founding a colony in Hartford, Connecticut. He died in Wethersfield, Connecticut, in 1645.
Thomas Wells, the first child of Hugh Wells, was born in Colchester, England, in 1860, and was taken with his parents, in 1635, to America. In 1651 he married Mary Beardsley, of Wethersfield, Connecticut, daughter of William Beardsley, of England. In 1659 he went to Hadley, and lived there until his death, in 1676.
Ebenezer Wells, eleventh child of Thomas Wells, was born at Hadley, Massachusetts, July 4, 1668, and died at Hatfield, Massachusetts. His second child, Dr. Thomas Wells, was born at Greenfield, Massachusetts, September 25, 1689, and died at Deerfield, Massachusetts, March 7, 1475. The third child of Dr. Wells, Joseph Wells, born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, October 8, 1731, died at Greenfield December 22, 1804. The first child of Joseph, Roswell Wells, was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, September 9, 1769, and in 1805 moved to Waterbury, where he died July 26, 1826, aged fifty-seven years. His wife was Pamelia White, a descendant of Peregrine White, the first white child of civilized parentage born o the North American continent. Of this married were born two children, William Wellington and Roswell Wells.
William Wellington Wells, father of General Wells, was sixth in descent from the original immigrant, Hugh Wells, and was born October 28, 1805, in Waterbury, Vermont, where he died April 9, 1869. He was a man of liberal education, excellent business qualifications and sterling character. He was graduated from the University of Vermont in 1824, and studied law. He was turned away from the profession, however, by reason of family considerations, and gave his attention to mercantile manufacturing affairs in Waterbury, and was numbered among the most successful men of affairs in the state. His wife was Eliza Carpenter, born May 10, 1806, a daughter of Judge Dan Carpenter. She survived her husband four years, and died August 5, 1873. They were the parents of ten children, of whom nine were sons.
The third child in this family, William Wells, seventh in lineal descent from the original immigrant, was born December 14, 1837, in Waterbury. He began his education in the common schools of his native town, and mastered the higher ranches in Barre Academy and Kimball Union Academy, the latter named institution being in Meriden, New Hampshire. While in Barre he performed a remarkable piece of work, using an odometer in surveying for a county map of Caledonia county, a task which occupied him for two months in his seventeenth year. From the age of nineteen until the spring of 1861 he was his father's assistant in his extensive business. At the outbreak of the Rebellion he and three of his brothers became soldiers of the army of the Union.
September 9, 1861, William Wells enlisted as a private soldier, and assisted in raising Company C of the First Regiment, Vermont Cavalry; was sworn into the United States service October 3, 1861; promoted first lieutenant October 14, 1861, and Captain, November 18, 1861; promoted major, October 30, 1862; colonel, June 4, 1864; appointed brevet brigadier general of volunteers, February 22, 1865; May 16, 1865, upon the personal solicitation of Generals Sheridan and Custer, he was commissioned brigadier general; and he was appointed brevet major general of volunteers, March 30, 1865, "for gallant and meritorious service," having received more promotions than any other Vermont officer during the war.
He distinguished himself repeatedly in action. He was in the thickest of the fight at Orange Court House, Virginia, August, 2, 1862; and commanded the Second Battalion, First Vermont Cavalry, in the repulse of Stuart's Cavalry at Hanover, Pennsylvania, June 30, 1863. In the famous and desperate cavalry charge on Round Top, Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, he commanded the leading battalion, rode by the side of General Farnsworth, the brigade commander, and, almost by a miracle, came out unharmed, while his commander fell in the midst of the enemy's infantry. A few days later, in the savage cavalry melee at Boonsboro, Maryland, he was wounded by a sabre cut. At Culpeper Court House, Va., September 13, 1863, he charged the enemy's artillery with his regiment and captured a gun, and was again wounded, by a shell.
After the return of the regiment from the Kilpatrick raid, in March, 1864, Major Wells was detached and placed in command of the Seventh Michigan Cavalry (which had lost is commander) for a month. He commanded a battalion of Sheridan's cavalry battle of Yellow Tavern, Virginia, May 11, 1864, in which General Stuart, the greatest Confederate cavalry general, was killed. In the cavalry fight at Tom's Brook, Virginia, October 9, 1864, General Wells commanded a brigade of Custer's division; and at Cedar Creek, October 19, 1846, his brigade took a foremost part in turning the rout of the morning into a decisive victory at nightfall, capturing forty-five of the forty-eight pieces of artillery taken from Early's fleeing army. Major Wells served under Generals Kilpatrick, Sheridan, and Custer, and was with Kilpatrick in his famous raid on Richmond, and with Wilson in his daring foray to the south of that city. At Appomattox, on the morning of the surrender of the Army of North Virginia, his brigade had started on its last charge, and was stopped by General Custer in person.
From September 19, 1864, to April 9, 1865, he was several times in command of the Third Cavalry Division. The departure of Sheridan and Custer for Texas left him as the ranking officer and last commander of the Cavalry Corps. At the grand review of the Army of the Potomac in Washington city, May 22, 1865, he commanded the Second Brigade of Custer's Division of the Cavalry Corps, which led the advance. A medal of honor was awarded General Wells by Congress "for distinguished gallantry at the battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863."
His military career may be summarized by saying that he participated in seventy cavalry engagements, in eighteen of which he led a brigade or division, and his service in the field was continuous from the date of his muster in until the close of the war. January 15, 1866, he was honorably mustered out of the United States service, having been held in useful service for eight months after the war had ended, a fine testimonial to his soldierly ability. The official record speaks for itself, and General Wells' military career through-out four years and a half in the war o the rebellion evinces the highest personal qualities of a cavalry commander, combining coolness, promptness and daring intrepidity with most thoughtful consideration for his men.
Soon after General Wells' return to civil life he became a partner in a firm of wholesale druggists at Waterbury. In 1868 they transferred their business to Burlington, which was thereafter his residence. He represented the town of Waterbury, in the legislature of 1865-66, being chairman of the military committee and an influential legislator. In 1866 he was elected adjutant general of Vermont, and held the office until 1872, when he was appointed collector of customs for the district of Vermont, a position which he filled with efficiency and credit for thirteen years. At the end of that time he resumed his active connection with the business house known the world over as the Wells & Richardson Company.
In 1886 he was state senator from the county of Chittenden. He was active in veteran soldiers' societies; was one of the presidents of the Reunion Society of Vermont Officers, and president of the Society of the First Vermont Cavalry. He was one of the trustees, and first president of the Vermont Soldiers' Home, and was a member of the Gettysburg Commission of 1889-90. He was the first commander of the Vermont Commandery of the Loyal Legion, and would have been re-elected had he lived until the coming annual meeting of the Commandery. He was a member of Stannard Post, No. 2, G.A.R., Department of Vermont, and would have been made department commander several years ago had he been willing to accept an election as such. He was a member of the Vermont Society of Sons of the American Revolution.
General Wells was identified with many important business enterprises in the city, being president of the Burlington Trust Company, president of the Burlington Gas-Light Company, president of the Burlington Board of Trade, director in the Burlington Cold Storage Company, director in the Rutland Railroad Company and director in the Champlain Transportation Company. He was a member and a vestryman of St. Paul's church, and was one of the trustees of the Young Men's Christian Association of Burlington, and one of its most liberal supporters. Few men, if any, touched the life of the community in which he lived in so many important capacities.
His sudden death from angina pectoris, in New York city, April 29, 1902, removed, while in the prime of life, a most genial, courteous and kind-hearted man, a gallant solider, and one of the most respected citizens of the Green Mountain state.
General Wells was married January 18, 1866, to Miss Arahanna Richardson, who was born July 20, 1845, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. To them were born two children: Frank Richardson and Bertha Richardson. Frank Richardson Wells was born February 1, 1871, in Burlington, Vermont, and was married in California, November 7, 1900, to Miss Jean Mary Hush, of Oakland, California. Bertha Richardson Wells was born April 23, 1873, and was married in Burlington, Vermont, July 6, 1899, to Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, of Burlington, Vermont.
Source:: Hiram Carleton, Genealogical and Family History of the state of Vermont, (Lewis Publishing Company, New York, 1903), i:332-334.
Image of soldiers' home courtesy of Tom Boudreau
Revised Roster article.
Medal of Honor citation.