This article is about a native of Barnwell County with plenty of regional connections.
This is a eulogy for Lt. Wilson Roberts Williams, who was killed in Mexico in 1847 as part of the Palmetto Brigade from SC. His grandfather, Britton Williams, who was killed in the Revolutionary War against the British is also mentioned in some detail. Britton, a member of the SC Legislature, was captured by the British and executed after the Battle of Wiggin's Hill.
Lt. Williams name is scribed on the monument to those South Carolina men killed in the War against Mexico, which stands in Columbia, SC.
Lt. Williams mother was Esther Roberts Williams, and according to one source of Robert Strauss, she was the first postmistress of Allendale, and Esther Street was named after her. Can anyone verify this?
Lt. Williams was the brother of Elizabeth Hanson Williams, who married Dr. John Harley, both of whom are buried in the graveyard of Mt. Arnon Baptist Church in Allendale.
The article was transcribed from the 29 March 1847 Issue of "The Southern Baptist", copy courtesy of Jennings Rountree, Elko, South Carolina. June 5, 1998, and submitted for the Allendale web page by Robert Strauss, The Woodlands, Texas.
Eulogy of Col. S. W. Trotti, on Lieut. R. W. Williams
Many years have passed away since the citizens of South Carolina poured out heir blood on their own soil, in support of a common cause and country. But, though the soil of our State has been free from invasion since the period of the Revolution, our country has not unfrequently been engaged in wars with savage and noble tribes of Indians, and foreign nations, formidable in arms and resources. History will bear witness that whenever and wherever the flag of the Republic has been unfurled, on land or ocean, that there have stood the sons of the Palmetto -- and that many, in the noble performance of duty, have met a soldier's death, far distant from the green graves of their sires.
In the great struggles for Independence, no State acted a more conspicuous part than South Carolina. Her numerous battle-grounds attest to the determined spirit with which her sons sustained the desperate conflict. At that trying period in the history of our country, this particular portion of the State which now constitutes the large and populous District of which we are citizens, was almost a wilderness, occupied only by a few scattered settlers. But those hard sons of the forest, though few in number, cherished all indomitable spirit of resistance to British control, and some of them sealed with their life's blood their attachment to principles which they held dearer than their life. History has handed down to us some of the names and daring deeds of these devoted men; and the deeply solemn and interesting occasion which has brought us together carries me back to the contemplation of events long ago enacted, but the memory of which should be gratefully cherished by us all. McCoy, in his history of the campaigns in South Carolina and Georgia, has preserved the incidents of the fight at Wiggin's Hill, which is located in the lower part of this District, and near the Savannah river. In this fight, the small American force, under the command of the gallant Col. Harden, sustained a loss of seven men killed and eleven wounded; and I will here remark on other, but unquestionable authority that during the war, and within a few miles of the same place, two of the Browns were also killed, the grandfather and uncle of the two brothers of that name, who, on several occasions have represented this District in the State Legislature, and one of which has himself given a son to the wars of this country --
But the victims of Wiggin's Hill -- their mournful story is not all told. In addition to the loss which the Americans sustained in killed and wounded, five of their number were made prisoners: Britton Williams, George Reid, Renals McKay, George Smith, and a Frenchman, whose name is not known; and on the morning after the fight they were all hung upon the gallows -- that terrible instrument of death, which at that memorable period, selected most of its victims from the purest and boldest spirits of the land.
Seventy years, in their silent progress have rolled away since these stirring scenes were enacted on our soil. Time has wrought vast changes in the condition of our whole country. We have grown to be a mighty people in arms and resources. But let us endeavor to go back, in imagination, to that period, now far distant, where a few bold and determined spirits were struggling for liberty, against a nation the most powerful on the globe, in all the muniments of war. Let us go back and ponder on that stern devotion to principles which defied the blandishment and threats of power, and preferred the rugged track of duty, even though it should lead to death upon the scaffold. Let us go back to Britton Williams and his companions in misfortune, on that gloomy morning which was to be their last on earth. There stood the brave men, bound for the sacrifice. Before their eyes the gallows reared its hideous form, and in the deep solitude of the waving pines, the enemy would be the only witnesses of how bravely they could die. It must have been a solemn spectacle, and calculated to soften even the steeled and rugged heart of the foe. And yet these gallant men might have saved their lives, and no doubt many were the temptations held out to them. The whole State was overrun with British forces, and for aught they knew, disasters might everywhere else have attended our arms. Doubtless they were told they were warring against their righteous sovereign -- that their countrymen were few and unable to maintain their resistance, much longer -- that as to rational independence, it was out of the question -- that England would never part with so bright a gem from her crown, and that now was the time to enroll themselves under the standard of their sovereign, and that pardon and promotion would be extended to them. But no -- far more glorious to Britton Williams and his comrades was death upon the gallows, no life, or fame, or fortune, in the ranks of the country's enemies. They died as they had lived -- true to the noblest impulses of duty. They died martyrs to the cause of liberty. For nearly three quarters of a century the remains of these men have reposed in the soil of your District without a stone to tell where they lie or how they fell; and, perhaps, many have heard today, for the first time, a brief statement of their history. Let this no longer be a reproach to us. Let some memorial, however humble, mark the spot at Wiggin's Hill where the heroes sleep. Let them not be neglected because they breathed not their last amid the roar of cannon and the shout of charging legions. They fill in the same great cause, with Campbell and DeKalb.
If more populous portions of the State contributed more largely to the struggles of our Independence, ours contributed its share; and, since that period, Barnwell, true to the spirit of the warrior's name she bears, has been eager to sustain her part in all that concerns the honor and glory of the country. In the War of 1812, she sent down company after company to the board, burning with ardor to meet the threatening Briton; and I can point to individuals with the District who helped to silence the Indian yell at the Horse Shoe, or who, from the blazing lights of New Orleans, looked on the shattered columns of the foe. Fresh in the recollections of you all is that gallant corps of more than a hundred young men, which twelve years ago you sent down into the hammocks of Florida and some of which pierced by rifle balls, sleep their last sleep by the sluggish waters of the St. John's. And, at the mention of the Mexican war, and the mournful fate of the Hammond Guards what heart is not melted to sorrow. Noble was the contribution of Barnwell to that brave Palmetto Regiment whose daring deeds have reflected honor and glory on the State.
It is now but little more than twelve months since a call was made on South Carolina by the General Government for a regiment to be marched immediately into Mexico. You all remember the enthusiasm that prevailed throughout the State, and the eagerness of the different corps that were raised to have a place in the regiment. The Hammond Guards were soon organized and reported, and directed forthwith to join the regiment at Charleston. You saw them commence their march from that village green -- you heard the tap of their drum -- you witnessed their manly bearing, and in the ranks of that gallant corps, in the youngest of its commissioned officers, you saw the grandson of Britton Williams, the victim of Wiggin's Hill. Territory more than a thousand miles south of the spot where his martyred ancestor laid down his life has become American soil; over that soil the flag of an enemy has waved and the brave Lieut. Williams is pressing forward to meet the enemy who has ventured to pollute the soil of his country with his hostile step.
In the dead of winter, the regiment set out for Mexico. It is unnecessary that I should detail the trials and privations to which they were exposed at that inclement season. After a fatiguing route by land and water, the regiment arrives and is landed at the small island of Lobos; and from this bleak and desolate spot they behold the lofty mountains of Mexico, with their snow covered peaks glittering in the sun. The few weeks spent at Lobos were spent in constant preparation. The regiment were aware of their destination. They were to constitute a part of the force destined for the attack on Vera Cruz, a strongly built city, the key to Mexico, and defended by a fortress, the third most powerful in the world. Formidable preparations are made for the attack. Large reinforcements arrive, and all things being ready, the ships set sail. All Mexico is aware that a powerful armament is approaching, and our troops anticipate a desperate resistance. The fleet anchors at Vera Cruz -- the boats are launched -- the signal is given; and before the enemy's guns the soldiers ardently press for the shore -- eager, and more eager as they near the land, until many leap into the surf, their anxiety to be the first to plant their feet on the enemy's soil. South Carolina blood flows in the attack, and flowed as freely as any. But contrary to all expectations, by the most wonderful to all expectations, by the most wonderful achievements of military science, the city and its strong fortress were forced to surrender with comparatively small loss on the part of the Americans. The troops, however, throughout the siege had to encounter the severest privations and exposure; and none encountered them with more cheerfulness than the brave Palmettos.
It was at Vera Cruz that disease first commenced the work of death in the ranks of our devoted regiment. Some of the most robust sunk beneath the privations and fatigues they had to encounter, and the influences of a climate fatal to human life. The Hammond Guards, in common with the whole regiment, suffered greatly and each day some funeral train, followed to the grave a departed comrade. It was at this time that the gallant officers of the Palmetto Regiment, like the Knights Templars, became the nurses of the sick, and, as far as the stern mandates of duty would permit, watched over the sick and brave men who had been committed to their charge -- none more forward in the performance of this grateful duty than Lieut. Williams. The milk of human kindness flowed as abundantly around his heart as it ever flowed in the heart of youth or manhood, and the few small comforts he could obtain were freely bestowed on his sick and feeble comrades; and by the pale and haggard features of the dying did lie watch, with a brother's anxiety, the ebbing tide of life. In the midst of scenes so solemn and so well calculated to awaken all the bitter emotions of the heart, might not some bright angel, invoked from heaven by a pious and widowed mother's prayers, have been whispering to her soldier boy, cheering him on in his kind offices of love and mercy, and preparing his noble spirit for a communion with its God.
Having well secured and garrisoned Vera Cruz, orders were issued by the commander-in-chief for the army to advance in the direction of the city of Mexico. That portion of the army which was so fortunate as to have been ordered in advance gained the brilliant victory of Cerro Gordo. The Brigade to which the Palmettos were attached was not ordered in the advance, having been employed on the disastrous march to Alvarade. It was generally believed after the battle of Cerro Gordo that Gen. Scott would continue in the mountains to recruit the health of his troops, which had suffered greatly on the sultry sea-coast, and that he would not proceed further until he had received large reinforcements. While all were anxiously awaiting the course of events, we learn to our surprise that he has descended into the valley of Mexico with only nine thousand men and pitched his camp before the gorgeous palaces of the Montezumas. There stands the mighty city which has filled the world with the fame of its wealth and splendor -- the capital of a nation of ten millions of people, surrounded by forts and defended by an army of between thirty and forty thousand of their best troops. Tremendous are the odds and advantages against which our little army stood opposed. But nothing can damp the ardor of our troops -- their determination to conquer or die. The enemy were soon encountered and the field of Contreras bore glorious testimony to the valor of our soldiers. That night, Gen. Shields's Brigade, to which the Palmettoes were attached, were ordered to rest on their arms till the light of day -- a day that is destined to live in history forever. With what mournful pride can we contemplate our countrymen on that dismal night, which worn with fatigue and drenched with rain, they waited on their arms until the light of morning would enable them to confront the foe.
At an early hour the entrenchments at Contreras, which had not been taken out the evening previous, were gallantly carried in a few minutes, and our brave army pushed forward to the village of Churabusco, which was destined in a few hours to witness the great battle of the age. At this point, all the forces of the enemy were gathering and as the gallant Shields saw the storm of battle approaching his glancing eye rested on his brave Palmettoes. He knew they would not falter. The work of death has commenced; the conflict has become general; and the Palmetto flag waves over the thickest of the fight. Volley after volley of musketry rolled over the ensanguined field, and far as the eye can reach are seen the glittering columns of the foe.
Loud amidst the din of battle is heard the voice of the heroic Shields, "Who will follow me?" "Every South Carolinian here, General" replied the noble Butler, 'will follow you to the death." And against the iron ball of death the Palmettoes dashed to the charge. Fast and thick their comrades fall, but onward they swept their fiery way,
They too can no longer bear up against the impetuous charge. They reel -- falter -- retreat; and loud upon their scattered squadrons are heard the Palmettoes' shout of victory. But
On the field of carnage and of fame, where the heroic Butler and so many honored Carolinians fell to rise no more, on that field -- struggling with the agonies of death, his face covered with blood, his sword grasped in his hand -- lay the brave Lieutenant Williams, the youngest officer of the Hammond Guards, -- a youth blest with the kindest and most generous nature. He had borne himself gallantly through the fight, and near its close, almost at the very last moment, he received a ball in his forehead, just above the eye, and he fell speechless to the earth, though life did not become extinct for several hours. Could the thoughts of the noble youth, as he lay on his last battlefield, leave found utterance, poetry has described what might have been the passing scene between the dying soldier and the iron-nerved leader of his gallant corps:
What was passing in the mind of the gallant soldier in his last moments we are not permitted to know. But, as his failing vision caught the tattered folds of his Palmetto flag, might not his thoughts have been turned to his distant home, and to his beloved and widowed mother, who, with all the blessings of a mother's love, had committed her darling boy to the fortunes of that brave banner, or to the period, when, a child upon his father's knee, he listened to the story of the sorrows and sufferings of the victim of Wiggin's Hill, and fancied now that he saw his martyred ancestor beckoning his warrior spirit from the field of strife up to the bright realms of bliss? But the pulsations of life are growing fainter; the spirit of Lieut. Williams is passing away -- it is gone.
"Gone like a sunbeam to its native skies."
This is not the time for me to trace the brave Palmettoes through all the brilliant victories which followed in rapid succession the battle of Churubusco, and which resulted in planting the stars and stripes triumphantly over the palaces of the Montezuma's. It is sufficient that they have won for themselves glory as imperishable as the gratitude of their country and that the State is proud of them all
The conquest of the city of Mexico has given repose to our arms, at least for a time; and, in accordance with the heartfelt wishes of all, such of the bodies of the gallant dead as could be obtained have been brought home for internment. The remains of Lieut. Williams have been borne over many miles of land and ocean. To be deposited in the soil of his fathers; and, for the performance of this mournful duty we are now assembled; and it is no ordinary consolation to see that the gallant leader of his corps, who saw him fall on the distant battlefield; and others who where his companions in the camp and the fight, have been permitted to be with us, and to participate in the funeral honors to the departed comrade. Wile, with a bursting heart we think of the dead, it is with emotions that we cannot now express that we grasp the hand of the living.
This solemn occasion is full of interest and instruction. And my brothers of the Squires and Compass have deemed it suitable and proper that some effort should be made, however feeble, to give utterance to the emotions that must fill the bosoms of us all. I feel how incompetent I have been to the task that has been assigned me. No human being, however gifted, could be so eloquent as the occasion itself, and I have felt, as I have heard my own voice falling on this assembly that it was almost an intrusion on thoughts too sacred to be disturbed. This is no time for the living to address you. That dead soldier boy is speaking . He is holding communion with your thoughts; and , long after my poor voice is stilled in death and your now animated forms are now mouldering among these sheeted dead, his noble example of patriotism and valor will be speaking to your children's children through the burning page of history, from the sculptured marble, and animating them to deeds of glory and renown.
Comrades of the Square on this little knoll, where the loved forefathers of the hamlet sleep, we will bury our brother mason. Hallowed is the sport that we have selected for him. Sacred is the ground on which we stand. Many are the tears that have been shed in this quiet church yard; and as time runs its course, death will still bring here its victims and their mourners. On this spot, then consecrated by the tears and affections of a whole community, we bury the widow's son, we bury the soldier, we bury all that can die of the brave Lieut. Williams.
Transcribed by Robert Strauss from the 29 March 1847 Issue of "The Southern Baptist", copy courtesy of Jennings Rountree, Elko, South Carolina. June 5, 1998. Thanks to them both!
Copyright ©1999, Jennings Rountree and Robert Strauss. These documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy. However, this document is copyrighted and may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same. I welcome submissions for this page, but please list your sources.
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