As an orphan, William Burnham Chilvers did not have parents to coach him through his journey of life that took him across the sea from Great Britain to the United States. Shortly after immigrating, he found a home in the army and campaigned with the 95th Illinois Infantry. Years of hard marching and tough fighting carried him through the Vicksburg Campaign and into Louisiana and the Red River Campaign. He served in Missouri, then at Nashville and Brice’s Crossroads, before finishing his career assaulting the Confederate works near Mobile, Alabama. Through it all, Chilvers was a strong abolitionist and sympathetic to the plight of slaves. He wrote about the atrocities faced by African Americans at the hands of Southern whites–as well as by his fellow Union soldiers.
His letters and the editors’ research tell stories of massacres, combat, and idealism in the face of the brutal realities of war. Will Chilvers and the 95th Illinois Infantry fought to victory, but his experience transcends mere combat and instead reveals the development of a remarkable man whose compassion and humanity rose above the ugliness of the Civil War.