Virgil
Willett


 

VIRGIL WILLET was born in Pennsylvania around 1838 to Joseph P. and Elizabeth Willett. His father worked as a mason. Virgil Willett's early years were spent in Moorland, Montgomery County PA. He came to Camden after 1850, and on August 18, 1862 married Leonora Campbell. He enlisted as a corporal the next day. On September 4th he was made full corporal in Company C, 12th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and was promoted to sergeant on October 1st. Before being finally mustered out, on June 29, 1865 at Annapolis MD, Sergeant Willett would see considerable action, and at one point be made a prisoner of war for a period of time before being paroled back to the his unit. He served alongside his brother-in-law, George R. Danenhower, who would also return to Camden after the war.

The Twelfth New Jersey Infantry Regiment was raised under the second call of the
president for 300,000 men, Robert C. Johnson, of Salem, formerly major of the 4th regiment (3 months' men), being commissioned as its colonel early in July, 1862.

Woodbury, in Gloucester County, was selected as the rendezvous, and on July 25 the first detachment of troops, about 950 men, was mustered into the U. S. service. Many of the officers had already seen service in other regiments, but comparatively few of the men were familiar with military duties or requirements, though all entered cheerfully upon the work of preparing for the duties before them.

On September 7 the regiment left the state for Washington, but at Baltimore was diverted from its course by General Wool, commanding that district, who ordered it to proceed to Ellicott City, the county seat of Howard County MD, 15 miles from Baltimore on the line of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. 

At Chancellorsville, on May 3, 1863, the regiment received its first taste of actual warfare. It behaved with great gallantry, though the loss was severe, amounting to 179
in killed, wounded and missing. Although under arms during the two succeeding days and nights, it was not again engaged, and on the night of the 5th it re-crossed the Rappahannock and proceeded to its old camp, having in its first battle lost over
one-tenth of its men. 

Soon after reaching the field at Gettysburg on July 2, Company I was sent out on the skirmish line, but the combat not yet being opened, only two or three casualties were sustained. In the afternoon a house and barn standing about 200 yards west of the Emmitsburg road and nearly equidistant from either army having been occupied as a cover by the Confederate sharpshooters, Companies B, H, E and G were sent out to dislodge them, which they did, capturing 6 commissioned officers and 80 men, but with considerable loss, Captain Horsfall of Company E, a brave officer, being killed, and Lieut. Eastwick wounded. During the fearful infantry contest of the following day the regiment was actively engaged, but only lost 5 or 6 men killed and 1 officer and 30 men wounded. 

On October 14, 1863 when near  Auburn mills, some 2 miles east of Warrenton, the Confederate cavalry made an attack upon the corps of which the regiment was a part, evidently hoping to capture its train, but they were repulsed with loss and the corps continued its retreat toward Centerville, the point which Lee was straining every nerve to reach in advance of the Union troops. In the engagement at Bristoe Station, which lasted for 3 or 4 hours, several men of the 12th were wounded, Lieutenant Lowe, of Company G, being among the number. In the skirmishes at Mine Run on November 28, 1863, the regiment did not sustain any casualties, although under fire on several occasions. In the affair at Morton's Ford, on February 6, 1864,some 10 men of the regiment were wounded, but only 1 fatally. 

From May 4 through June 23, 1864, the Twelfth New Jersey was in battle on no less than fifteen separate occasions. At the battle of the Wilderness, although not engaged as a whole, the regiment suffered considerably, Lieutenant John M. Fogg, of Company H, being killed, while Lieutenant Frank M. Riley, of Company K, and several others were wounded. Two days later the regiment lost heavily, Lieutenant Colonel Davis and Captains Chew and Potter being among the wounded. In the magnificent assault at Spottsylvania, which resulted in the capture of over 3,000 prisoners and some 30 guns, the 12th again suffered severely, Lieutenant Colonel Davis being instantly killed while bravely leading the regiment; Captain H. M. Brooks and Lieutenant E. P. Phipps were severely wounded and were obliged to quit the service in consequence. In the assault at Cold Harbor the loss of the regiment was severe, Captain McCoomb, commanding the regiment, being mortally wounded by the explosion of a shell, which also killed or wounded several privates. Up to June 16 the total loss of the regiment in this memorable campaign had been some 250 killed, wounded or missing--a large proportion of the wounded being officers.

From this time forward the regiment was in position at various points on the line, and in July it participated in the movement and affair at Strawberry Plains and Deep Bottom, on the north side of the James. Thence, by a forced march, it returned to the Petersburg front, arriving in time to support the assault at the explosion of the mine, July 30, though not actually engaged. It participated in the second movement to Deep Bottom, charging the enemy's picket line under Captains. Chew and Acton, and upon returning marched to the extreme left flank of the Army of the Potomac, whence it was marched to Reams'
station, on the Weldon railroad, where the 1st division of the corps had preceded it. In the severe action at the latter place Lieutenant Colonel Thompson, commanding the regiment, was severely wounded and Lieutenants Rich and Stratton were killed.

After the action at Reams' station the regiment was in various positions along the Petersburg front, Fort Hell on the Jerusalem plank road, Fort Morton, and at other points, until late in October, when it moved out and participated in the action known as the battle of the Boydton road, where it lost 4 killed and 9 wounded--including Captain T. O. Slater. In the winter of 1864-65 it took part in the various actions at Hatcher's run, where in one instance it charged across the run, waist deep, and took the enemy's works, upon which its color-bearer, Ellwood Griscom, was the first to plant the national
colors. It was present in the movements of the army preceding the main assault on the Petersburg defenses; took part in the assault, under the command of Major Chew, and aided in the various actions during Lee's retreat until his surrender. It returned, via Richmond, to Bailey's crossroads, in front of Washington, where in June, 1865, the old battalion of the regiment was mustered out of service, and in July the remainder of the regiment. Its total strength was 1,899, and it lost, by resignation 14, by discharge 171, by promotion 56, by transfer 206, by death 261, by desertion 216, by dismissal 3, not
accounted for 29, mustered out, 943.

By 1870 Virgil Willett was living in Camden's North Ward with his wife Leonora, son Joseph, and daughters Clara and Leonora G. "Gertie" Willett. A son, also named Virgil, came shortly after the Census was taken, but sadly, Joseph Willett would pass during the 1870s. Virgil Willett listed his occupation as a "dealer in milk" in 1870.

At some point during the 1870s Virgil Willett went into the business of packaging coffee. He was still involved in this at the time of the 1880 Census, when he was living at 501 North 3rd Street. The coffee venture had ended by early 1888, when he went into the grocery business in Philadelphia. By 1887 he was living at 828 North 2nd Street in North Camden, and was there as late as 1890. He filed for his Civil War pension on September 4th of that year. Virgil Willett was also a member of the Thomas M.K. Lee Post No. 5, of the Grand Army of the Republic, in Camden. On occasion he traveled about the area, speaking at G.A.R. events. He was a;sp active as a member of Tabernacle Methodist Episcopal Church.

Virgil Willett passed away on January 16, 1899. He was survived by his wife, Leonora Willett. 

Virgil Willett was a longtime member of New Jersey Lodge No. 1, Independent Order of Odd Fellows and of Camden Lodge, No. 1, Ancient Order of United Workmen. George Reeser Prowell wrote the following in his History of Camden County, New Jersey which was published in 1886:

Ancient Order of United Workmen.

The object of this order is to embrace and give equal protection to all classes and kinds of labor, mental and physical ; to strive earnestly to improve the moral, intellectual and social condition of its members ; to create a fund for the benefit of its members during sickness or other disability, and, in case of death, to pay a stipulated sum for each member, thus guaranteeing his family against want. Its jurisdictions are a Supreme Lodge, Grand and Subordinate Lodges. The Grand Lodge of Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware is thus officered: G. M. W., John J. Gallagher, of Wilmington, Del.; G. F., William H. Vermilye, Jersey City, N. J. ; G. O., James A. Vansant, Camden, N. J. ; G. G., John W. Diefendorf, Wilmington, Delaware; G. R., A. F. Colbert, Baltimore; G. Receiver, Myer Hirsch, Baltimore ; G. M. E., G. S. Wilkins, M.D., Baltimore. 

Camden Lodge, No. 1. was chartered January 27, 1879, with these officers : Master Workman, Joseph R. Leaming ; Foreman, Charles Markley ; Overseer, George W. Coles; Recorder, Harry Ladow; Financier, William Thegen ; Receiver, Albert P. Brown ; Guide, William P. Partenheimer; Inside Watchman, Benjamin M. Denny ; Outside Watchman, William Jones ; Medical Examiner, H. Genet Taylor, M.D. These were also charter members, Moore Beideman, Robert L. Barber, John F. Benner, De Witt C. France, Joel H. Evaul, Henry S. Fortiner, George R. Fortiner, Howard L. Gandy, Merritt Horner, William Struthers, Benjamin G. Smith, William H. Stans bury, Marmaduke B. Taylor, Frank S. Wells, John S. Wells. The lodge has one hundred and forty- eight members, with these officers: Past Master Workman, J. C. Prickett; Master Workman, Virgil Willett; Foreman, J. H. Le Chard; Overseer, R. R. Lewellen ; Receiver, W. R. Lun drum ; Financial Secretary, Charles Markley ; Recording Secretary, John Woltjen; Guide, J. S. Pike ; Inside Watchman, John W. Clopper, Jr. ; Outside Watchman, J. H. Evaul ; Medical Examiner, E. R. Smiley, M.D.

 


1870s-1880s
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Philadelphia Inquirer - April 24, 1871

Philadelphia Inquirer - March 22, 1896

Philadelphia Inquirer - January 17, 1899

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