EARLY LIFE AND BACKGROUND: Willis Vancil was born about 1845 in Union County, Illinois. He was the son of Aaron Vancil and Altamira Anderson. Willis was living with his parents and brother James in South District, of Jackson County Illinois according to the 1850 census. The 1860 Illinois census shows Willis with his parents and brother James again, plus a sister Nancy and a brother Adam. As an adult, Willis was 5' 4" tall, with dark hair and eyes and a dark complexion. His occupation was farming. Willis had four known siblings: James, Mary G., Nancy, and Adam, as all were listed as heirs in Aaron Vancil's estate papers.

SERVICE WITH THE 81ST ILLINOIS INFANTRY: At the time of his enlistment, Willis was living in Jeffersonville, Williamson County, Illinois. Willis was enrolled into service by Captain Phillips for a 3 year term on February 15th 1865 in Cairo, Illinois. He was assigned to Company D. His rank was private. Upon enlistment, Willis traveled to New Orleans where he joined up with the 81st on February 22, 1865. He remained in New Orleans until March 12, when the regiment moved to join the Campaign against Mobile (Alabama). In Route the 81st landed on Dauphin Island in the evening of March 16th and stayed there until March 20th. Willis was involved in the siege of Spanish Fort from March 26th thru April 8th. Official sources mention the activities of the 81st at Spanish Fort in two instances. The first is summarized as follows: At daylight on March 27th, Carr's Third Brigade under Col. Geddes attacked Spanish Fort with the 81st Illinois leading the way into the woods to the right of the fort. After about four miles the 81st was ambushed by the 21st Alabama Confederate Infantry. Several companies of the 81st were initially scattered by the ambush, but the 81st held their position and were joined by the 124th Illinois, which advanced and brushed back the Confederates. The seige continued with fighting each day. The second mention of the 81st is summarized as follows: There was heavy fighting all day on the 8th. Col. Bell in the midst of the fighting, requested support from Col. Geddes. The 81st, commanded by Lt. Col. Rogers, was the first Regiment to arrive in support. During this fighting the 81st had three men wounded. However, Spanish Fort was captured on the evening of April 8th. The 81st was then ordered to Fort Blakely to participate in the seige there. They moved to near Fort Blakely on the 9th, but the Union troops had captured it on the 9th. The 81st then traveled to Mobile by April 12th. They shortly thereafter headed to Montgomery, Alabama and did duty there until July. Willis stayed in Montgomery, where he later transferred to the 58th Illinois Infantry. During the Spanish Fort siege the 81st lost two men and had several wounded.


Willis was transferred to Company B of the 58th Illinois Regiment Infantry on July 17, 1865. He joined them in Montgomery and did duty there and in the District of Alabama until April 1st, 1866 when Willis was discharged from the service. The discharge was due to disability as he was suffering from dysentery (chronic diarrhea).


Willis returned to Union County, Illinois. There he married Martha Ann Likens on June 5th 1872. The couple had a child Marguerite Alice "Maggie" on May 22, 1875. Only 8 months later, on January 15th 1876, Willis was dead at the age of 31. Willis Civil War Pension records report that his death was due to the chronic effect of the dysentery he had contracted while in service. Willis' wife Martha married again (to Thomas Musgraves) but was to survive Willis by only 4 years. She died on February 14, 1880, leaving their young child Maggie an orphan.


The Vancils (also spelled Wentzell, Wenzsell, Wensel) came from the Palantine area of Germany during the 1750's and initially settled in Pennsylvania.

Willis' grandparents, Adam Vancil and Catherine Penrod were first cousins, as Adam's mother and Catherine's father were siblings.

Willis' father Aaron and his grandfather, Adam both died at the age of 41. Adam's death was accidental, due to a "tree falling on him.

Willis' younger brother James also signed on with the 81st Illinois. He was listed among the unassigned recruits, signing on in March 1865. James was reported to be 5'3" tall, with brown hair, gray eyes, and a fair complexion. James served only two months, apparently being mustered out due to the conclusion of the war.

Samuel C. Ferrill who served with Willis in the 81st was among those who later attested to the fact that Willis had contracted dysentery in the Summer of 1865, while in the service. One of his relation, Franklin Ferrill was raising Maggie as of 1880, when she was listed as his ward and living in the Ridge Precinct of Union County, Illinois. Willis' pension records report that Maggie was raised by James C. Lilly, so apparently he and his family took her in sometime after 1880.

Maggie later married Hamilton Parmley Mayfield. Interestingly, Hamilton's grandfather Sampson Mayfield was another of the Union County boys who served during the Civil War.

Before Willis joined them, the 81st was involved in such notable campaigns and battles as the Siege of Vicksburg, the battle of Nashville, and the Battle of Atlanta among others.

Spanish Fort was one of several Confederate fortifications located along the shores of upper Mobile Bay. Spanish Fort was nearly enclosed and built on a bluff that projected out into the water.

During the war, the 81st lost 8 officers and 75 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 3 officers and 211 enlisted men by disease.


Andrews, C.C. (1866 reprint). History of the Campaign of Mobile. D.Van Nostrand Publ.

Hearn, C.G. (1993) Mobile Bay and the Mobile Campaign: The Last Great Battles of the Civil War. McFarland and Co.

Letters Home. The Civil War diary of Captain John Palmer Reese (of Co. B. 81st IL Infantry.

National Archives. Willis Vancil Civil War Pension Records

Reece, J.N. (1900) Illinois-Adjutant General's Office Report-1861-1866. Vol. 1.

Union Co. Illinois. Aaron Vancil Estate Papers. 1863.

...Donated by Terry Dunn

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