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Willett, Fernando Cortez
Age: 19, credited to Bakersfield, VT
Unit(s): 13th VT INF
Service: enl 9/11/62, m/i 10/10/62, Pvt, Co. G, 13th VT INF, m/o 7/21/63 [College: WC 65, LTS]
See Legend for expansion of abbreviationsVITALS
Birth: 07/12/1842, Bakersfield, VT
Burial: Mexico City National Cemetery, Mexico City, MX
Marker/Plot: Not recorded
Gravestone researcher/photographer: Tom Ledoux
Findagrave Memorial #: 66759876
Alias?: None noted
Pension?: Not Found
Portrait?: 13th History
College?: Williams 65, Lane Seminary, Cincinatti
Veterans Home?: Not Found
(If there are state digraphs above, this soldier spent some time in a state or national soldiers' home in that state after the war)
Remarks: 13th Vt. History off-site, Died in Cordoba, Mexico
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National Cemetery, Mexico City, Mexico
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FERNANDO CORTEZ WILLETT.
I am asked to give a sketch of our lamented Comrade Fernando Cortez Willett. I am glad to pay this tribute to my life long friend. By blood he was my first cousin, but I loved him as a brother. Our love for each other was like unto that of Damon and Pythias of classic story or that of David and Jonathan of Bible history. For nearly eight years we were almost constantly together. No misunderstanding ever clouded our fellowship, no unkind nor ugly word ever passed between us. Our tastes, ideals and ambitions were singularly alike. We had warm discussions, we practiced all sorts of jokes upon each other but never to the jeopardy of our friendship. Each "grappled the other to his heart with hooks of steel."
We were room-mates and class-mates together during four years of college life, then mess-mates and tent-mates while together in the army. Again in the theological seminary we roomed together and were in the same class. To be with him I left my seminary in Andover, Mass., and joined him at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, O., where we studied together our Greek and Hebrew Bible. He was a member of my council which ordained me to the ministry. I think I was the last friend to bid him good-bye as he left America to find his grave in Mexico. My sketch of him must be that of a warm friend and enthusiastic admirer yet I am sure I shall say nothing of which he is not worthy. Lest, however, I may seem to over estimate his work and character, I shall quote freely the estimate of others as contained in the press notices given of him at the time of his death.
Fernando Cortez Willett was born A. D. 1842, in Bakersfield, Vt. His parents were Nathaniel Willett and Sarah (Shattuck) Willett. His maternal grandfather was Oliver Shattuck of Bakersfield. His parents were prominent members of the Congregational church and parish, the father for many years being a leader of the choir. Fernando inherited from his father a retentive memory, a dry humor and a love of story telling which made him the delight of the social circle. He inherited from his mother his fine sensibilities, his sensitive nature, his high ideals. He owed to both by inheritance and training the sterling Puritan virtues which encircled his character. His maternal grandfather, Oliver Shattuck, one of the first settlers of the town, belonged to the "old guard" of abolitionists. He withdrew from the Methodist church on account of their complicity with slavery and joined the AntiSlavery Wesleyan church. He held that the United States constitution did not sanction slavery and to be ready to prove it carried about with him a pocket edition of this charter of our liberties. The writer has the finger marked copy as an heirloom of the family. His example and teaching awakened in Fernando a love of country and hatred of slavery which burst into flame when the war came.
Another influence helped to shape Fernando's life- his maternal uncle. Brastus Shattuck was a scholar. He worked his way through Burlington College, accepted a call to a professorship in the Pacific University in the then Territory of Oregon. After teaching for a time he entered the law, was a member of the Constitutional Convention and did much toward shaping the State constitution. After Oregon became a state he was elected judge of the Supreme Court and held the office for 30 years. He was once a candidate for United States Senate and lost the election by one purchasable vote which he refused to buy. He was known as "the just judge." His counsel and his example inspired Fernando's ambition to get an education and make the most of his life. He prepared for college in the academies of Bakersfield and Barre. In these schools he worked hard and stood high. His preparatory course finished, he, with the writer of this article, entered Troy University. At this point commenced the long fellowship between them. They spent two terms in this institution. Then, forseeing the close of the college for lack of funds, they withdrew and entered Williams College at Williamstown, Mass., and joined the class of '64.
In this institution he completed his college course. He commanded the respect and admiration of teachers and students. He ranked high in scholarship. He was a hard student. His genius was that of hard work. Athletics did not attract him, he had not time for sports. He despised the petty tricks of college students; he eschewed society, it cost too much time and money. He had a facile pen and ready speech and stood high In debates and other literary contests. His nine months' service in the army compelled him to drop back a year and join the class of '65, with which he graduated. His high rank in scholarship made him one of the "honor men" of his class. Because of his ability as a writer and speaker his class elected him to the highest honor in their gift, that of class day orator. His oration was a classic. Its theme was "Honor all men." Its treatment was masterful. Its delivery was eloquent. His class were proud of him. It was declared to be the ablest class day oration that had been delivered for many years. It was printed and admired by those who read it. During Fernando's junior year a deep religious interest pervaded the college and many entered the Christian life. Among them our comrade of Company G. This no doubt turned his thoughts toward the ministry as his chosen vocation. In his choice of Church he was dominated by reason rather than emotion. It was a matter of principle and duty. He ought to be a Christian- that settled it. Henceforth his religious life was calm, deep, constant, consistent to its close.HIS ARMY LIFE
Fernando's college course was with the Civil War and his army service was rendered during that course. He and the writer, after their first year in college, returned to Bakersfield for their vacation the war had commenced. The three months men were in the field the enemy flushed with victory, were threatening Washington A call for 300,000 two years' men was issued. Town meetings were being held to fill Bakersfield's quota. Patriotism ran high. Enlistments were in the air.
These college boys faced the question of duty. Should they imperil their college course and respond to their country's call? "The Spirit of '76" took possession of them and put down all objection, and they enlisted. The regiment met and organized at Burlington. For nearly two weeks we drilled. At length an order came from Washington to disband all two years' regiments and re-enlist them as three years' men. This honorably released them and they could re-enlist or not as they deemed wise. Again they reconsidered this question of duty and the old love for an education was aroused again. The college tugged at their heart strings. They could withdraw without discredit and serve their country at a later period should she need them. So they decided to return to Williams and continue their studies for the present time.
Another year passes. Our college boys are back in Bakersfield tor their summer vacation. The nation is in a great emergency. Our armies must be reinforced. Lincoln calls for 300,000 nine months' men. The spirit of patriotism will not down; duty calls; now is their opportunity. They can give a year to their country and if spared to return they will resume and finish their studies. All objections are swept away and they enlisted with other Bakersfield boys and became members of Company G, and shared the experiences of army life with their regiment. Fernando was there as a matter of duty. He was a scholar rather than a soldier. He had no military ambition. He never sought or preferred the straps of officers. He was content to serve his country as a "high private in the rear ranks." But in that humble position he was an example to all. The deprivations of camp life did not depress nor dishearten him. He was never homesick nor discouraged. He would make spirit out of the hardest experiences. He was loyal in duty, obedient to superiors, cool and fearless in action. At Gettysburg he was in the thick of the fight in the two great crises of the battle and no soldier acquitted himself more bravely than he. He was as cool on the battlefield as in the schoolroom. With his self-command and trained mind and his influence over men he had all the elements to make him a successful officer. I marched by his side during the long march to Gettysburg. He was not strong, had recently returned from the hospital, below the medium size, not used to hardships, yet he kept in the ranks, refused all help, stuck by his regiment, was cheerful and hopeful through it all. He greeted all with a smile and a pleasant word and "lent a hand" to a sick or needy soldier. If he was less in evidence at playing of cards and other sports it was because he did not forget he was a scholar. His leisure hours were mostly spent in the study of shorthand, which he mastered In the army so he could take his lectures on his return to study in that way. When shut up in his tent few knew what he was doing. He was of medium size, dark complexion, black hair and piercing black eyes and lithe, slender body. His constitution was not strong. The exposures of army life told upon him and he sickened and was sent to the general hospital. For some weeks he was separated from his regiment, but he would not be invalided home and returned to his regiment as soon as health permitted, and served faithfully till his term of service ended. After our return to Vermont while we were in Brattleboro, our term of service having expired the government in its distress asked the regiment to return to New York and help to put down the anti-draft riots that were reigning in the metropolis. It was submitted to a vote. Fernando voted to respond to this call and thought it our duty to go. Here as always duty dominated his action. The regiment declined the call. Our military service having ended, Fernando and the writer resumed their studies at Williams College, grateful to God for sparing them to secure the education they craved.
AS A TEACHER.
After his graduation Fernando found himself heavily encumbered by debt, the price of his education. He set himself at once to pay this debt. He first took the principalship of Bakersfield Academy. His success was immediate and pronounced. Within a year he received a call to Evansville, Ind., to become principal of the high school of the city. This call he accepted. The school was large with a large corps of teachers. It was in a demoralized condition. He reorganized it, reversed its course of study and introduced new methods. He quickly became master of the situation, won the respect of both teachers and pupils and showed his marked ability both to govern and to teach. Unmindful of himself he threw his whole soul into the work. He gave to the school four years of unremitting labor. He was not content with this, but entered the Sunday school of his church and sought to reverse its method. With a constitution weakened by his army experience this incessant toll soon began to tell upon him but he would not admit himself sick till one day when in his school room blood burst from his mouth. This was a severe hemorrhage from his lungs. He was ambitious and very anxious to recover that he might again take up his life long chosen calling and continue as a humble and useful follower of the lowly Nazarene. He was young and remarkably well prepared for preaching the Gospel of Christ. Indeed it was sad and a pity he could not have been spared to fulfil the labor of love and elevation of humanity, but such, for reasons, was not to be. His physicians forbade further work and ordered him to seek a more healthful climate. The following extract from the Minutes of the Board of Education explains itself:"To the Superintendent and Board of Trustees of the Evansville Public Schools:
In accordance with the statement of my physician and my own best judgment I am compelled to resign my position as principal of the high school. I assure you that I most deeply regret this necessity and it is with great reluctance that I have at length yielded to it. In retiring from your corps of teachers after four years of service allow me to express my grateful remembrance of the uniform courtesy and cordial support 1 have received from all with whom I have been officially connected.
P. C. WILLETT."
In accepting his resignation the Board placed on record the following:
"In harmony with the general sentiment of our citizens we cannot fail to recognize the earnest and faithful efforts of Prof. P. C. Willett during the past four years to reorganize our high school and place it upon a firm basis of true scholarship. Remembering his constant zeal and untiring labor in this behalf and the eminent success with which his work has been crowned, therefore, Resolved, that we deeply regret the necessity which compels his resignation, and wishing him a speedy restoration to health, that we also commend him as a young man of ripe scholarship with a heart for any work he may espouse."
Then commenced his brave fight for life and health. The grim spectre of the white plague was upon his track. He fled to Colorado. There he could not be idle. He purchased a horse and traversed the state visiting each town gathering statistics and writing up its history, which he gathered into a very readable "Handbook of Colorado." This gave him needed exercise, kept him in the dry, open air and opened to him the finest mountain scenery of the Rocky Mountains. All this hastened his recovery. He felt well again. His college debts were paid. He saw opportunity to realize the darling purpose of his life and prepare himself for the Gospel ministry. He longed to return Bast and enter the Theological seminary. His physician forbade him to go farther East than Cincinnati. The writer, to be with him, joined him there, and they entered Lane Seminary. With renewed hope and courage he entered upon his theological course. His earnest purpose, marked ability and fine scholarship soon won for him a foremost position among his classmates. Churches sought him to supply their pulpits. All regarded him as sure of eminence in his chosen profession. As his hopes were about to be realized and he felt assured of success in his chosen profession, his heart again gave way. Worn with hard study he suffered another hemorrhage and the prostration and insomnia resulting. The Rev. Mr. Van Wyke, a wealthy resident of the city had him removed to his beautiful home where for some months he received the best care and medical skill obtainable free of expense to himself. The writer visited him daily and was often a watcher by his bedside. Under such treatment he improved rapidly and was able to return for a summer rest to Bakersfield. The fell disease lingered - again he fled to Colorado and engaged in his former work and helped to prepare another "Handbook of Colorado." Had he remained in that germ-killing state he might have been spared to a long and useful life, but his ambition to enter his chosen vocation clouded his judgment and after about a year he returned East, and resumed his theological studies and supplied as he was able vacant pulpits. He spent the summer of 1873 with his family friends in Bakersfield. Meantime his Evansville friend, Gen. John W. Poster, our then Minister to Mexico and since then our most prominent diplomat, thinking a change of climate would benefit Fernando, offered him the position of Secretary of Legation. Thinking it would improve his health and give him valuable experience, he accepted the office. Late in August he bade his friends in Bakersfield what proved to be a final good-bye. On his way to New York to take the steamer he visited this writer in his home in Plymouth, N. H. While with him he sat in the council which ordained his life long friend to the Gospel ministry. While he rejoiced for his friend's sake that he had reached the goal of all his studies, it must have been a bitter grief to him that his hopes had not been realized and that the future for him was so uncertain, but no murmur escaped his lips and he never appeared more hopeful and cheerful.
The writer's last view of him was as he stood on the rear platform of the retreating train waving a final farewell. He went by boat to Vera Cruz and thence by rail to the City of Mexico. As he in a few hours reached an altitude of 8,000 feet.
The sudden elevation was a great strain upon his weak lungs and, no doubt, hastened his death. He had a language to learn and the duties of his office to master. He entered upon this work with his usual intensity and zeal. As usual he won for himself a host of friends. The American colony welcomed him to their membership. He got on bravely for several months but his frail body could not bear the strain of the excessive work, consumption had never relaxed its hold. Without warning, while on the streets of Mexico he suffered another hemorrhage. The lower altitude which he sought could not save him. Other hemorrhages followed. The best medical skill and attendance failed to arrest the dread malady. He sank rapidly till the end came on the 20th day of June, 1874. He fought a good fight, he kept the faith, he was ready to be offered. He fully realized his condition, talked calmly of his approaching death. He met it as bravely as he faced death at Gettysburg. Minister Foster wrote a full account of his sickness and death to his mother, Mrs. Sarah Willett. It is so interesting and so reveals the character of our friend and comrade that I give it below as taken from the "St. Albans Messenger" of that date:
"My Dear Madam: - It is with sentiments of sincerest sorrow I communicate to you the intelligence of the death of your dear son, Fernando. He had passed through the winter without any sickness and was feeling quite strong and hopeful. But in the last days of April, without the least warning, while walking on the streets of this city (Mexico) he was taken with a slight hemorrhage, but by no means of a serious character. As a measure of extra precaution, he decided to make an excursion down the railroad to Cordova, 4,000 feet lower than this city. But only two or three days after he wrote you his last letter, on Sunday, May 23rd, he was attacked with the most severe hemorrhage he had ever had. We procured for him a large and comfortable room at the hotel and everything possible was provided that could minister to his comfort. The loss of blood had left him very weak indeed and, upon a consultation of physicians, his situation was found to be very dangerous.
"I remained with him eight days and upon being called to the City of Mexico, obtained Rev. M. N. Hutchinson, superintendent of the Presbyterian Missions in this country, to stay with him during my absence. He talked very freely with Mr. Hutchinson about his sickness and contemplated death. On my second visit I found him gradually growing weaker, and was satisfied he would never be able to rise from his bed again. 1 am glad to assure you that he had everything that could contribute to his comfort or restoration to health. When I came up to this city from my first visit to him, I brought a full written statement of his disease and condition, and with it I had Dr. Skelton, the American Consul General, and Dr. Semeleder, the most celebrated physician in this country, hold a consultation. Also I sent for the American Consul at Vera Cruz, who happens also to be an excellent physician. But he could give us no encouragement. With calm resignation your son submitted to the will of the Lord. To me he said he did not conceal the fact that he would rather live, that he was a young man and he felt he had still much to accomplish in life. But then, if he was only to recover to have a shattered constitution, it Is better he should die; he would be nothing but a wanderer, seeking some spot where he might live, a burden to his friends, without employment and with no hope or ambition in life. He was perfectly settled and clear in his religious views, in his abiding faith in Christ and in his hope of heaven.
"While his illness was tedious and exhausting, it was not very painful. On the evening of the third day before his death he was taken with something like a paroxym or struggling for breath and these attacks were repeated two or three times each day till his death. At these times he told us there was not much pain, and he was perfectly conscious through them all. He frequently referred to you in his last days of his sickness, and with great tenderness and affection. He asked me to tell you that he died in full faith in Christ as his Saviour and that while his death so far away would be a sad blow to you, you must and could find great consolation in the faith with which he died. On Friday evening the last attack of the character of which I have referred came on, and from the effects of it he never rallied, but lingered till about half past twelve the same night, June 19th. During these five hours and more he was conscious he was dying, but he did not suffer much pain and was not at all depressed in spirit. About an hour and a half before he breathed his last he took his final leave of the doctor and myself, as well as Rev. Mr. Stevenson, a Methodist minister who happened to be in Cordova. He thanked Dr. A. A. Russell in the most touching manner for all his unwearied kindness and attention, and In a fervent manner asked God to bless him. In his leave of me he reminded me of his message to you, and your name was nearly the last on his lips. He then fell into a quiet sleep for about half an hour; awoke again, when at different times I gave him water and wine and bathed his lips with water, during which he was entirely conscious; and then he fell into another quiet sleep from which he never awoke, breathing out his life peacefully and without a struggle - a separation pf soul and body so gentle as hardly to be distinguished - the end of life.
His remains were brought to this city and interred at his request in the American Cemetery, in a pretty spot adjoining the monument erected by our government in memory of the American soldiers who died in the war of 1847. The burial was attended by a large company of friends, including the entire Diplomatic Corps, officers of the Mexican Government and the foreign society here. It gives me pleasure to inform you that your son had made a large circle of warm friends in this city. I also can say to you that he was always unremitting in his official duties, and was succeeding excellently in his position. His friends among the American residents here -very cheerfully contributed a fund of $175 to erect a monument to his memory, over his grave. The cemetery where he is buried is a very attractive place, and Is kept in order at the expense of our government. I have now fulfilled the sad duty imposed upon me by your son's death. May the Lord sustain and comfort you in this your deep sorrow, is the fervent prayer of your sincere friend.
John W. Foster.
After his death the press teemed with commendatory notices of him, both East and West. Rev. S. K. Leavitt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, In a long obituary notice of him, published in a Cincinnati paper, among many things said. "The death of Rev. Fernando C. Willet has brought sorrow to a large circle of friends and deserves more than a passing notice. When leaving Evansville for Colorado his friends thought he was going there to die, but he felt confident that Grod would spare him to a useful life. Never shall I forget the whole purposes of his life as he freely talked with me in Iowa as he slowly journeyed westward emaciated and weak from loss of blood. His very soul glowed with animation as he anticipated the recovery of his health and his return East to study for the ministry. * * * Mr. Willett was a true Christian man of great energy and rare ability. In Evansville he labored earnestly in the Sabbath School and gathered a large class of young men and women whom he taught. He delivered and address at the opening of the new rooms for the Young Men's Christian Association which was remarkable for its vigor of thought and chaste polish. His library was choice and he read for improvement. His mind was well balanced and stored with learning to an extent attained by few of his age. He was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith."
Col. Albert Clarke, his beloved commander in Company G, published an able and appreciative obituary notice of him In The St. Albans Messenger, of which the Colonel was editor. After speaking of his entering the army at the early age of 19 he said of him:
"He suffered a severe and protracted Illness in the army which probably laid the foundation of his ever subsequent delicate health and untimely death, but he rallied from it with more of determination than bodily vigor and fought bravely at Gettysburg where in a station far beneath his worth he won the lasting honor and friendship of his immediate commander and all his comrades. * * * Before going to Mexico he engaged to furnish Mexican correspondence to this paper. * * * In a private letter to the editor written from Colorado on the second of May, he conveyed the sad information that two weeks after his arrival at the Mexican capitol he was attacked by a violent hemorrhage which drove him down Into the tierra caliente tor several weeks. After his return that with the pressing duties of his office, a language to learn, and many strangers to entertain, he was again driven forth and hemorrhage followed hemorrhage in quick succession. However, wrote he: 'If the good Lord grant me another lease of comparative health I will endeavor to keep my promise to you. Please do not publish these facts in regard to my health, as I do not wish to give my friends any uneasiness.' Poor brave fellow. This was characteristic of his life. We have seen him on the weary march, when he did not look as though he could carry his musket, refusing all proffers of aid, absolutely declining to be relieved from duty. During the night, after a day's hard fighting, who but he should go forth, even beyond the skirmish line, to help pick up the wounded, applying a bandage here, giving a draught of water there, making no distinction between the blue and gray, for his brave humanity recognized that all were alike the children of God. * * * He was graceful and accomplished in every station, facile as a writer, logical and eloquent as a speaker. It is an honor to Franklin county to have been his birth place and home. It is an honor to have been his friend. Envied by many, he was respected by all."
Services commemorative of the life of our friend were held at Bakersfield in. the Congregational Church, August 8th, 1874. The sermon was preached by his pastor, Rev. R. Hicks on the text, Ps. 119:9. Letters were read from Hon. Mr. Foster and Col. Albert Clarke. His friend and classmate, the writer, was detained from attending this service by sickness in his family.
Mr. Hicks paid an appreciative and discriminating tribute to the character of the deceased. "The course the deceased pursued is fresh in your memories. The traits of character which raised him to the honorable positions he filled are open to your observation. They are concealed by no brilliant dash, no flowery egotism, no accumulated good fortune, no happy hit, no unexpected success will account for the esteem with which you all hold him. His success was won by the old time ways of honesty, prudence and perseverance. * * * Mr. Willett's life has been one of unflinching perseverance, may I not say of incredible industry and that too, in face of much physical sickness. No son more than he has made a glad father and been the joy of his mother. Mr. Willett has not lived and would not have lived to accumulate money. A miserly, grasping mind was the object of his supreme contempt. His life was lived free and happy in no bonds to shame or worldly approbation. His first choice was Christ and his service. To this one idea of his life everything else seemed subordinate."
Source: Sturtevant's Pictorial History, Thirteenth Regiment, Vermont Volunteers, War of 1861-1865, p. 632