William Ellis (1834–1875)
William Ellis was born in England in 1834. After immigrating to the United States, he was living by 1860 in the household of woolen manufacturer Simeon Ford in Watertown, Wisconsin’s Third Ward. Ellis, then age twenty-eight, was a wool carder in Ford’s employ. After the Civil War began, Ellis enlisted as a sergeant in Company K of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry on October 21, 1861, eventually rising to the rank of first sergeant. The Third Wisconsin organized at Janesville on November 30, 1861, and mustered in on January 28, 1862. The regiment served in Kansas, Missouri, the Indian Territory, and Arkansas before mustering out on September 8, 1865, at Fort Leavenworth, having lost sixty-four men killed and mortally wounded and 153 to disease.
The regiment was based in Little Rock (Pulaski County) when Ellis became part of a detachment of 276 dismounted cavalrymen from the Seventh Army Corps who were dispatched to Dardanelle (Yell County) on January 14, 1865. Four hours after occupying the stockades that commanded the roads into town, the Union troops were attacked by 1,500 Confederate cavalrymen led by Colonel William Brooks. The Federal troops, backed by the cannons of a section of the Second Kansas Battery, held off the attackers for four hours before Brooks broke off the attack.
During this engagement, Ellis was struck three times by enemy fire but stayed at his post, leaving it only at the direct order of his commanding officer, Major J. D. Jenks of the First Iowa Cavalry, after being wounded a fourth time. Some months after the fight at Dardanelle, Congress honored Ellis with a Medal of Honor in recognition of his gallantry in the battle. His name was misspelled “Elise” on his Medal of Honor citation.
After recovering from his wounds, Ellis transferred to reorganized Company E of the Third Wisconsin, and he was promoted to second lieutenant of the company on March 9, 1865. Ellis resigned from the regiment on August 26, 1865. He lived at Frog Bayou in Crawford County for a time before heading west, where he died at Cahon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, on February 1, 1875. The location of Ellis’s burial is unknown.
For additional information:
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, United States Senate. “Medal of Honor Recipients, 1863–1978.” Senate Committee Print No. 3, February 14, 1979.
Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 3. Des Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing Co., 1908.
“Honor to Whom, Honor Is Due.” New Era (Fort Smith, Arkansas), October 14, 1865, p. 3.
Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861–1865, Vol. 1. Madison: Democrat Printing Co., 1886.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 48. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 03/13/2020