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Henderson, William Legg



  • Existence: 1833-1897


William Legg Henderson was born in Old Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on March 28, 1833. He came to America in 1846 and settled in Iowa in 1849. He married Clara J. Durno on March 27, 1856. He was the brother of David Bremner Henderson and Thomas Henderson. On September 22, 1861 he enlisted in Company C, 12th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, and was present with this company at Fort Donelson. He was a member of the Union Brigade at the siege of Corinth and at the battle of Corinth on October 3 and 4, 1862. Henderson was promoted to 1st Sergeant on April 1, 1863 and served at the Siege of Vicksburg, the Siege of Jackson, Brandon, Tupelo, and at Nashville where he commanded the company. Soon afterward he received a promotion as first Lieutenant, in which capacity he served most of the time until he mustered out on January 20, 1866. He was commissioned Captain, Company C on November 22, 1865 but owing to reduced numbers was not allowed to muster in. While there were various reasons for fighting in the war, for many the cause was not slavery. It was for Henderson, who demonstrates this in some of the first entries in these journals. From October 13, 1861: "I went to church twice today. Mr. Webb officiated in the morning. Professor Bush in the evening. His text was War. Jehovah or the Lord will provide. Comparing Abraham's offering up Isaac to our Fathers and Mothers offering their Children of the altar of human freedom. But the Preacher said very little about the real trouble, Slavery." And again on October 14, 1861: "Today we had an exhibition of that prejudice against the African Race so common through the North. Our Company until today had 100 sworn men and we wanted only one more to make the maximum of our Company. About Noon, a Man offered himself and was sworn in. But when it was ascertained that he was 1/4 African Blood 1/2 of our Company was for rejecting him on that account although he was a citizen and a free holder. I fear victory will never perch upon our banner while such injustice is practiced by such a large proportion of people both North and South." On January 18, 1864: I gave a lesson to Edward B. Scott, a Colored man. He is learning very fast and like a great many Negroes, is very anxious to learn." These diaries are well-written, with a good eye for details, as evidenced by the following entry from November 5, 1861: "The following is an account of an evening in Camp and they all bear a resemblance to each other. After sundown the Brass Band played for a short time while at the same time the religiously disposed were congregating in an empty Barrack to hold a class and prayer meeting while at a very short distance from the prayer meeting 50 or 60 Men were dancing by the light of a single candle to the music of a fiddle played very vigorously by one of the members of the Waterloo Company, while from every barrack was heard the voice of song both sacred and profane. Hundreds were writing to their friends, Hundreds were playing cards and many were reading novels. Some were reading their Bibles and many were despairing about their missing blankets. Many were talking of their adventures by flood and field. Some were sitting by the decaying embers of the almost deserted campfires thinking of their loved ones far away and in the midst of all these occupations, the drums beat for all to retire to their quarters and the noise and hubbub of 1000 men going to bed can easier be imagined than described and at half past 9, the Taps was beat. The lights were all put out and in a few minutes silence settled over the encampment and nothing is heard but the stragglers returning from the city." Once they leave the Dubuque encampment, the entries get shorter and more terse. Upon his discharge from the service he returned to his farm but finding his health impaired he moved to LeRoy, Minnesota where he engaged in business. In 1896 failing health forced him to give up his business and seek a change in climate, first in Michigan and then in California. Obtaining no relief in these locations, he returned to Iowa, where he died at the home of his son in Riceville on June 19, 1897. His funeral in Postville was attended by several members of Company C. He had two sons, T. Judson and Frank L., and two daughters, Mrs. C. J. Ramsey and Mrs. S. R. Johnson. Resolutions published by the Loyal Legion of Iowa, of which he was a member, describe Henderson: "No better soldier ever fought under his country's flag. Brave without rashness, he shrank from no danger or hardship, but obeyed the orders of his superiors without a question and was never known to complain at his lot, or seek to evade a distasteful duty. As an officer he was kind, faithful and true; greatly loved by his men, and respected by his associates. Subordinate himself, he expected his men to be the same, and never found it necessary to argue the question of obedience. With him it was, 'Boys we are detailed for duty; fall in.' And with that discussion ended. "No purer man as soldier and citizen has ever lived. His conduct and conversation were always above reproach. No one ever heard him utter a profane or impure word or indulge in language that might not have been used in the presence of his wife and daughters. In all the vexations of over four years of hard campaigns those most closely associated with him have no remembrance of impulsive or hasty words from him which could cause regret or which they would wish to have recalled. Judging by these fruits we are persuaded that he had received the reward promised to the pure in heart, and we shall ever hold enshrined in our memories the record of his life, as that of one in every way worthy of imitation, and his example as one that may be safely followed."

Author: Jacque Roethler
Based on the entry on Henderson in D. W. Reeds University Recruits.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

William Legg Henderson Civil War Diaries Collection

Identifier: MsC0925
Scope and Contents

Eleven journals of the Civil War accompanied by a copy of The History of the Henderson Family of Aberdeenshire Scotland and the Journals of William Legg Henderson, along with CDs of the journals.

Dates: 1861-1866