A Guide to the William Wallace Hensley Autobiography, 1912 Hensley, William Wallace Autobiography Ms2009-007

A Guide to the William Wallace Hensley Autobiography, 1912

A Collection in
Special Collections
Collection Number Ms2009-007


Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Special Collections, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061
Phone: (540) 231-6308
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Email: specref@vt.edu
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© 2009 By Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. All rights reserved.

Processed by: John M. Jackson, Special Collections Staff

Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.
Collection Number
William Wallace Hensley Autobiography 1912
Physical Characteristics
1 container; 0.1 cu. ft.
Hensley, William Wallace, 1834-1914
Typed transcript of the Civil War memoir of William Wallace Hensley, Company C, 21st Illinois Infantry.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from the William Wallace Hensley Autobiography must be obtained from Special Collections, Virginia Tech.

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: William Wallace Hensley Autobiography, Ms2009-007 - Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Acquisition Information

The William Wallace Hensley Autobiography was donated to Special Collections.

Processing Information

The processing and description of the William Wallace Hensley Autobiography commenced and was completed in January 2009.

Biographical/Historical Information

William Wallace Hensley (listed in some records as William Worley Hensley), son of Samuel C. and Nancy Lovell Hensley, was born in Marion County, Illinois on May 8, 1834. In 1854 he married Rachel Wilson, who died the following year. In 1856, Hensley moved to Macoupin County, Illinois, where he married Nancy A. Biggerstaff (1835-1916); the couple would have 10 children. Soon after, the family moved to Piatt County, Illinois, where William Hensley purchased from the Illinois Central Railroad Company 160 acres of land, which he farmed.

Hensley enlisted in Company C of the 21st Illinois Infantry on June 14, 1861. Initially a corporal in the regiment's color guard, Hensley had been promoted to sergeant by 1863. Captured at the Battle of Chickamauga, Hensley was confined at Richmond, Virginia. On November 1, 1863, he was moved to Danville, Virginia, then arrived at Andersonville Prison on April 21, 1864. Around September 1, 1864, Hensley was among 10,000 prisoners moved from Andersonville to Charleston, South Carolina, then to Florence Stockade the following month. In February 1865, Hensley escaped with a small group of fellow prisoners but was recaptured near Georgetown and returned to Florence Stockade. A short time later, he was exchanged at Wilmington, North Carolina. Having become ill in the interim, he was sent to St. John's College Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland, where he spent several months convalescing before returning to Illinois in July 1865. Upon his return, Hensley resumed farming but later worked in real estate and insurance. William Hensley died in Howard, Kansas on June 22, 1914.

The Seventh Congressional District (Illinois) Regiment, Captain Ulysses S. Grant commanding, was mustered into 30 days' state service at Mattoon, Illinois on May 15, 1861. Composed of soldiers from counties in eastern central Illinois, the regiment was mustered into three years' Federal service as the 21st Illinois Infantry on June 28. (Grant, now a colonel, remained commander of the regiment until August 7, when promoted to brigadier general.) The regiment was soon dispatched to Missouri, where it guarded the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad line for two weeks. The 21st generally remained in Ironton, Missouri through the fall and winter, though it participated in a battle at Fredericktown on October 21. In January 1862, the regiment marched to Greenville, where it remained until March, when it was organized with other regiments into the Division of Southeast Missouri and began moving into Arkansas. For the next several months, the regiment marched through eastern Arkansas and Missouri, northwest Mississippi, western Tennessee and into Kentucky. On October 8, 1862 the 21st participated in the battle of Perryville. It saw heavy combat at the Battle of Stones River in late December and early January and remained near Mufreesboro until June 1863. Following the Battle of Chickamauga (September 1863), at which the regiment sustained heavy losses, the 21st participated in the siege of Chattanooga, then wintered at Bridgeport, Alabama and Ooltewah, Tennessee. Its three years' service expired, the regiment reenlisted and was granted a month's furlough. It rejoined the service at Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia, then participated in the Atlanta Campaign. For the next several months, the regiment served in Alabama and Tennessee, participating in a number of battles. In June, 1865, the regiment was moved to Texas via New Orleans and was mustered out of service at San Antonio on December 16, 1865.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of a typed transcript of the autobiography of William W. Hensley, sergeant in Company C, 21st Illinois Infantry during the Civil War. Comprised of 61 pages, the autobiography focuses almost entirely on Hensley's experiences during the Civil War. Hensley recalls the terrain and battle actions but also relates in detail his personal experiences, including conversations with civilians, anecdotes (some humorous), and descriptions of comrades. More than half of the autobiography is devoted to Hensley's experiences as a prisoner-of-war, a small portion of which relates to prisoner activities (including escapes) and conditions at prisons in Richmond and Danville, Virginia. In much greater detail, Hensley describes activities and conditions in Andersonville, including the uprise against the "Andersonville Raiders," his small business venture, and interactions with Henry Wirtz, the prison commandant. He writes of the character and physical condition of individual fellow prisoners, interaction with the guards, diet, and "Providence Spring." Hensley also writes of the role he played in organizing Florence Stockade into a clean, orderly camp and describes Col. Iverson, the prison commandant. Hensley chronicles his brief escape with a group of fellow prisoners and the assistance they received from Southern civilians, both black and white. The memoir concludes with Hensley's convalescence in Annapolis, Maryland and his return home in the summer of 1865.

Index Terms


  • Civil War
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865

Contents List

Folder 1
Autobiography 1912