Edward S. Willis
Edward S. Willis was born on
August 10, 1840, in Wilkes County, Georgia, the son of Francis T. and Elizabeth
(Butler) Willis. The father, a physician, was the grandson of Georgia
Congressman Francis Willis, of an old Virginia family distantly related to
President Washington. Young "Ned" Willis attended West Point from 1857 to 1861,
resigning on February 5, 1861, after Georgia's secession.
Appointed a lieutenant in the Confederate regular army, Willis was ordered to Fort Pulaski, Georgia, in March, 1861. On July 5, 1861, he was named adjutant of the 12th Georgia. The 12th Was Sent into Westem Virginia, joining a brigade-sized force guarding Allegheny Mountain. During the winter Willis was. promoted to captain and served as an aide to Brigadier General Edward Johnson, the force's commander. Around January, 1862, Willis was appointed assistant chief of artillery on the staff of Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Willis became a popular fixture on the staff. At the Battle of Port Republic Willis and several high ranking officers of Jackson's staff were captured by a wandering patrol of Union cavalry, but Willis managed to escape later that day. In the fall of 1862 Willis, now a major, transferred back to the 12th. The commander of that regiment was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 12, 1862. The officers of the regiment, in a show of respect for the abilities of their youthful former adjutant, petitioned President Davis to appoint Willis, the junior major, as their new colonel. He was promoted lieutenant colonel on December 13, 1862, and colonel on January 22, 1863. He played a gallant and conspicuous part in Lee's army, distinguishing himself at the Battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. At Chancellorsville the 12th captured a Union battery during Jackson's successful flank attack on the Union Eleventh Corps; Jackson, on his deathbed, praised Willis and urged his promotion. A postwar memoirist wrote of Willis that "it was well understood throughout the army ... that no regiment had a better commanding officer than the Twelfth Georgia." During the winter of 1863 and 1864 General Robert E. Lee, another admirer of the young Georgian, sent Willis with a two-regiment demi-brigade into the Shenandoah Valley with orders to comb the nearby mountains and round up deserters. Rejoining the main army, General Lee placed Willis in temporary command of Brigadier General John Pegram's Virginia brigade when that officer was wounded in the Wilderness. On May 30, 1864, Willis fell, hit by a shell fragment while leading his brigade in a doomed assault at Bethesda Church. He died, surrounded by his fellow officers and friends, the next night. Willis is buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah.
He is listed as a general by CMH, Wood, and CV. The former says his general's commission arrived the day after his death. No proof of such a commission exists. However, Willis had already been recommended by General Lee for a brigadier generalship. It appears that the whole army believed that the promotion had been made, although the commission had not yet been made out.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.