William Wells

Statue at Gettysburg



William Wells was born in Waterbuty, Vermont, on December 14, 1837. He was educated in academies in Vermont and New Hampshire and then became a merchant in Burlington, Vermont. At the outbreak of the Civil War, contrary to Southern tradition which denominated all Yankees "mudsills," Wells enlisted as a private in the only cavalry regiment raised in Vermont during the war. He ultimately became the sixth colonel (of seven) of the regiment and enjoyed a notable career, despite the fact that his New England farm boys were roughly handled initially by the Confederates. The regiment's first active service was in the Shenandoah Valley under the command of General N. P. Banks; later it participated in the Second Bull Run campaign—in neither operation did the Federal cavalry distinguish itself. The 1st Vermont Cavalry was in the field during the Gettysburg campaign as part of Farnsworth's brigade; thereafter, it was attached to the Army of the Potomac. By this time Wells had risen to major. The next action seen by the command was in Judson Kilpatrick's Richmond raid which gave rise to the celebrated Dahlgren controversy. Wells succeeded to the command of the regiment after its previous leader had been killed at Salem Church on June 3, 1864, in the course of U. S. Grant's Richmond campaign. From the beginning of this campaign until the end of the war, Wells followed the fortunes of Philip Sheridan, accompanying the latter into the Shenandoah Valley in August and fighting at Winchester and Cedar Creek, where he commanded the 2nd Brigade of Custer's division. Wells continued on this duty throughout the closing operations at the Petersburg front and in the Appomattox campaign. He was brevetted both brigadier and major general toward the end of the war and on May 19 was appointed a full-rank brigadier general of volunteers. Mustered out early in 1866, he served as adjutant general of Vermont until 1872, then was collector of internal revenue for thirteen years, and was a member of the state senate in 1886-87. General Wells died in New York City on April 29, 1892, and was buried in Lake View Cemetery, Burlington.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.