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John Hilyard Family ca. 1909

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Family in the Civil War: Part One, Thomas Hilyard

I have four known ancestors who fought in the Civil War: Thomas Hilyard, William Henry Harrison Reck, Anselum Wilson, and John H. Anderson. I'd like to honor each of them with a post here.

This is the first in my series on my Civil War ancestors.

Thomas Hilyard, Ohio Volunteer Infantry 81st Regiment, Co. E

Tom Hilyard was born on November 13th, 1840 in Fairfield County, Ohio. His parents were Jeremiah Sylvester Hilyard, who was 23 at the time, and Mary Ann Valentine Hilyard, who was 21.  Tom had five brothers and two sisters, though one sister died as a child.

Tom's family moved to Allen County, Ohio sometime in the early 1850s, where his dad Jeremiah died in 1855 at the age of 37. At age 14, Tom was the oldest child of 7 on their family farm.

The Civil War started in April of 1861. That fall, Tom answered the call for volunteers. He enlisted for a three year term on September 1st, 1861 in the 81st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Company E (81st OVI Co. E).  He was 20 years old. His company was sent to Benton Barracks, Missouri.

Much can be read online about the specific battles in which Tom's regiment fought. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Civil War will recognize Shiloh and the Siege of Atlanta, and later Sherman's March to the Sea. Here, I want to focus on how the war affected one particular soldier and his family.

One of the first battles Tom was involved in was the Battle of Corinth II, fought October 3-4, 1862, in Corinth, Mississippi.  Confederate forces attacked Corinth, but the Union claimed victory.  Tom's regiment lost 11 men, had 44 wounded, and three captured by the enemy.

According to testimony in his Civil War pension file, Tom also received a fatal blow of sorts at Corinth, though it took some years to kill him. It was there he contracted tuberculosis, called consumption at that time. His friend Joseph Wagoner, who was only 17 when he entered the war, made a statement in 1888: "[I] was well acquainted with Thomas Hilliard, comrade. I was also a member of the same company and regiment. I know of Thomas Hilliard being sick and bleeding at the lungs which was at Corinth, Mississippi in the year 1862."

Tom went on to complete his three years of service. If you've never read about the siege of Atlanta, you should. Imagine yourself walking hundreds of miles from your home, in all kinds of weather, to fight your fellow Americans.  Picture the huge earthworks that Tom Hilyard helped create, then sat in while fighting the rebel southerners, all after surviving for three years with hunger, cold, war, and the disease festering in his lungs that was going to kill him.

Atlanta fell on September 2nd, and Tom's term was up. He and 150 of his fellow soldiers headed back to Ohio. There, Tom married Rachel Cremean on December 29 of that year. One year later, they welcomed their first child, Jesse John Hilyard (the man in the portrait on my main page) into the family on December 19, 1865. The war was finally over and they could move forward.

However, Tom's health was never good again. He pension file is filled with testimonies from friends, neighbors, and doctors about how the consumption affected him.

Joseph Roush, about Tom's age, of Allentown, Ohio had this to say:  “I was acquainted with said Hilliard at least 12 years before the war, and lived near neighbors to him, within a half mile.  I have worked with him a great deal before the war, at all kinds of work, and I always found him a stout, hearty, healthy young man as I ever knew.  I never knew him to be sick a single day up to the time of his enlistment and I know that if he had been subject to any complaint or disease I would have known it.
            “When he returned from the service he came back to live in the same place.  He returned in the fall of 1864 shortly after I had enlisted a second time, and I saw him immediately on my return in June 1865.  I know that he was not then in good health; he seemed to be very much broken down, and I have often heared him say he was broken down and could not perform the labor he once could.  He came to work for me soon after my return, and I know he was not able to perform manual labor equal to a well man, nor as he could do before his service in the army. 
            “I remember that one of his symptoms was what is called a hacking cough, which troubled him constantly, and I think his cough gradually grew worse, and after a few years he began to have spells of bleeding from the lungs and his disease became fully developed as a case of consumption.  During the last six years of his life I did not live so near to him as I had before, but still saw him frequently so that I know his disease continued right on in its course untill he died....His habits were exemplary and strictly temperate.”  Signed 26 May 1888.

Another contemporary, Abraham Stever of  Elida, Allen County, Ohio:  “[I] was acquainted with said Hilliard for at least ten years before the war, and lived in same neighborhood, or within about one and a half miles, and have worked with him at hard labor.  I know that up to the date of his enlistment he was a sound, able-bodied, robust young man.  He was entirely healthy or I would have known it.  I never heared him complain of any sickness or disease up to that date.
            “I returned home from the service on the 12th of June 1865, and then I lived within about a half mile of Hilliard.  I saw him within a day or two after I got home.  He was then very much out of health, complained of a pain in his breast, and suffered from a cough, and raised thick yellow matter from his lungs.  I noticed that sometimes after coughing he would spit out matter tinged with blood.  I saw this more than once and can not be mistaken about it.  I worked with him quite frequently when he was able to work up to 1877 and after that I saw him often, and had knowledge of him all the time untill he died. 
            “He was able to do some light work at first, but not very much; was not able to do hard work at all and had frequent spells when he would not be able to do anything.  This continued, and his disease of the lungs continued to increase in severity untill for a considerable time before he died he was not able to do any work at all.  Soon after his return his disease became a settled disease of the lungs from which he ultimately died.”  Signed 10 Apr 1888.

There are other affidavits in the file, but I leave you with this one: Dr. Henry G. Stemen age 36, of Delphos, Ohio:  “I was called to examine and treat on the 27th day of May 1882 Thomas Hilliard, who was then living in Delphos, Allen County, Ohio.  I treated him from that time untill he died August 8th, 1882.  His disease was pulmonary consumption.”  Signed 3 Aug 1886. 

Tom was 41 when he died. He lived the last half of his life with a disease he contracted fighting to preserve the union of our country.


Tom and Rachel had six children. Two of them died before reaching age two.  His oldest son, Jesse John, was my great-grandfather. He moved from Ohio to Indiana, eventually settling on Grease Gravy Road in Orange County, Indiana, the county I was born in. He died long before I was born, but I have a picture of him with my dad.


Francis Hilyard (b. 1939) with his grandfather Jesse John Hilyard, early 1940s


I don't have any pictures of Tom, but I do have photos of two of his brothers and his two sons. There's a strong resemblance among them, so perhaps we can get an idea of what he looked like from them.

Brother Noah Hilyard (1851-1931) on his 76th birthday

Brother Ephraim Hilyard (1854-1918) painted from a tintype


Curtis and Jesse John Hilyard (sons of Tom), Arthur and Vaughn Hilyard (grandsons of Tom) about 1935


You can read a concise summary of the 81st Regiment's movements and battles on Wikipedia.
The very detailed history can actually be read online at Google Books, History of the Eighty-first Ohio Infantry Volunteers, written in 1865.

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