William U. Cardwell - Civil War Mystery Solved

William U. Cardwell - Civil War Mystery Solved


While researching the Cardwell family of McNairy County, TN, it appeared that William U. Cardwell just disappeared after the 1860 census of that county. All attempts to locate him had failed, but a chance review of records on footnote.com solved the mystery.

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William U. Cardwell - Civil War Mystery Solved

  • Alton Prison, Illinois

Having recently subscribed to footnote.com, I was reviewing the Civil War service records of various Cardwell men that served during that conflict. I happened across the record of William U. Cardwell (some of the records refer to him as William G. or William Y., but the majority state William U.) while searching for Thomas D. and Leroy Cardwell. They were sons of William Cardwell and Celia Harper of McNairy County, TN. Detailed examination of William U. Cardwell's records flagged a connection. All three of the men served in Forrest's Regiment of Alabama Cavalry. William and Leroy even enlisted on the same day in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Thomas D. Cardwell enlisted in the spring after the death of his brother on 15 Apr 1864.

First off, this might appear odd since the men lived in McNairy County, TN, but taking a look at a map reveals that Tuscumbia, Colbert County, Alabama (the location of enlistment) is just a short distance away from McNairy County, TN. Colbert county sets in the upper NW corner of Alabama at the tri-state border with Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. McNairy, TN sets on the Tennnesse side of the point. So, the idea that men from Tennessee would end up down in Alabama enlisting in the same unit was not that out of the question.

While researching the McNairy County clan of the Cardwell family, I had never been able to find William after the 1860 census for that county. It had always appeared that he probably died during the Civil War, but there was no solid evidence. The records on footnote.com shows that William U. Cardwell enlisted as a Private in Company F of Forrest's Regiment of Alabama Cavalry, CSA on 01 Jun 1863 in Tuscumbia, Colbert County, Alabama. Forrest's Regiment was reorganized at the 18th Regiment of Tennessee Cavalry and the 11th Regiment of Alabama Cavalry, CSA. He was from "McNarry" (sic) County, TN. No age was given. The next tidbit of info shows that he was captured by Federal forces on 22 Oct 1863 in Cornith, Mississippi. One record states that he was captured in McNairy County, TN, but two state that it occured in Cornith, Mississippi. He was sent to Alton Prison in Madison County, Illinois and arrived at that Federal POW Camp on 08 Nov 1863. He refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States government on 05 Dec 1863. The exact quote from the records states, "Conscripted objects to exchange of desires to take the oath of allegiance." Continued examination of the records produced a document that states William U. Cardwell died on 15 Dec 1863 of smallpox.

1,534 Confederate POWs died while being held at Alton Prison during the war. William U. Cardwell died and was buried at Smallpox Island. It was a small island located across the river from the main holding facility at Alton. Men that contracted the disease at Alton were hauled across the river and quaratined at the island.  A monument was erected with the names of the men that died on Smallpox Island. William Cardwell is listed on that monument (see photos). His unit is incorrectly listed as Porter's Cavalry of Missouri. This is recorded in his Civil War records that reflect his capture and status as a prisoner of war.

by Rand Cardwell  ~ March 2008

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