William Justice was born to Lucinda Justice on 7 April 1838; having been born outside of wedlock, his parentage has been uncertain to those who decended from him for some time. Documentation from the era indicates his biological father was a man by the name of Lackey Salisbury, but he was certainly raised entirely by his stepfather Harmon Owens. (Harmon Owens, incidentally, was Lackey Salisbury's step-nephew.)
He and his family had lived a goodly portion of their lives in Greenup County, Kentucky. In January of 1862, at the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion, he traveled to Ceredo, Virginia (later West Virginia) to enlist in the Union Army. In December of that same year, he married Rachel A Fields.
When William returned to Ceredo to fulfill his service agreement, very shortly thereafter he came down with the measles. Being in the field certainly did not help this condition, but even if he could have been administered to a standard hospital at the time, there was very little that could have been done to help him. He survived, but not well; William would live the rest of his life with rheumatisms in his right hip and knee, a strong debilitation in the use of his right lung, and an exacerbating deafness in his right ear.
Throughout his service in the 5th West Virginia Infantry (and later into the 1st West Virginia Veteran Infantry), William was regularly admitted to a hospital in Gallipolis, Ohio, for treatment of the secondary conditions that resulted from his measles. After his involvement in the Second Battle of Bull Run, William began leaving the hospital earlier than instructed with no warnings to anyone; he claimed that, in feeling better himself, he was attempting to get back to his batallion, but because the military was unaware of his absence, he was regularly labeled a deserter. In 1864, he was court martialed for one such incident, and served one month in a military prison in Charleston.
Because of his debilitation, William was regularly put on furlough during his service as well, being largely incapable of assisting with most of the day-to-day duties of the camp. At the end of the war in 1865, he was decommissioned in Annapolis, Maryland; with his cousin Jonathan Justice, he traveled back home to Kentucky, a journey that had to be taken on foot. During this trip, Jonathan, seeing the weakened and deteriorating state of his cousin, offered him his horse for use the rest of the way home. When the two finally arrived at William's half-sister's place, William collapsed and remained paralyzed in her care for three months, unable to move due to the excrutiating pain in his right side.
From here, a number of different stories come from different testimonies regarding William's home life. Rachel, his wife at the time, claimed that he was sleeping around; on the other side of the coin, William, being largely bed-ridden to begin with, claims that Rachel, being his wife, refused to help him out with personal daily requirements of living that he was incapable of performing himself. The two split in 1872, and a formal divorce was filed by Rachel on 2 October 1875 in Lawrence County, Ohio.
William next married a woman by the name of Renee Blankenship; the date of this marriage is presently unknown. This marriage did not last very long however, as she died in the late 1870s, around 1878.
Working as much as he physically could as a farmer and a teamster, William managed to get by largely on his own (his half-sister assisted him, both in work and financially). In 1882, William met Mary Jane Justice in Carter County, Kentucky; the two were married 27 July 1885, to which his half-sister was a witness.
With the passage of the Dependent and Disability Pension Act in 1890, William was given a new chance to try and support his family through his service for the Union. After several years of back-and-forth arguing between himself and the US Government, he was finally granted a pension of $6 a month in the early 1890s; this was increased over the years as the government began to truly understand his disability. It was very likely this regular contestment that encouraged William to learn to read and write, something that, at the time, was incredibly uncommon in the area, especially for someone his age.
In the later 1890s, Rachel, William's first wife, learned of his pension and filed a declaration stating she was entitled to half of it. There was a large amount of disagreement on this, and finally a special investigation was launched in 1902 to determine the facts of the case. The investigation was closed within two days: Rachel had not included the fact that she had legally divorced William, a fact of which William himself was unaware; the legal wording of the divorce freed either of them of their "contractual obligations of marriage", meaning William did not owe her anything.
William Justice Owens died 14 July 1914 of what his doctor referred to as "organic heart failure"; it is likely this was yet another complication of the measles he'd contracted upon enlisting. Mary, his widow, filed for the remainder of the pension owed to William prior to his death; however, as she had been married once before and could prove neither death nor divorce from that marriage, she never received it. The other man in question, Eli Fultz, had been imprisoned in the late 1870s for murder; he broke out of prison and, with the help of his brothers-in-law, fled into Virginia, where it was said he'd died. Hearsay, however, is not valid grounds to the US Government.
William is presently buried in the Saulsberry Cemetery in Aden, Carter County, Kentucky. It is said one of his sons, Simeon, obtained a veteran headstone for him; however, this has not been verified visually by anyone living, as the site of the cemetery is known only to a slim few.