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1st Lt. William D. Price, Company A, 53rd Illinois Infantry

Stan Hutson
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Taken from the Shiloh NMP facebook page:

THE DEATH OF WILLIE PRICE

Early in the morning of October 4, 1862, the 53rd Illinois set out with a Union column marching out of Bolivar, TN., to relieve the embattled Federals at Corinth. At the Hatchie River they ran into General Van Dorn’s defeated Confederate army. So began the engagement at Davis Bridge.

The National troops attacked down Metamora Hill and the Confederates on the west bank were scattered and forced across the rickety bridge. A brigade of Union soldiers rushed over the span in pursuit, and was immediately in trouble. The Southerners had rallied on the higher ground and had their foes trapped.  Willie Price was the lowest ranking of three officers in Company A, 53rd Illinois. His captain could not be found (he was rumored to be drunk), and the 1st Lieutenant was off somewhere with the Colonel. Willie found himself commanding the company in a no-win scenario; he could not advance, he would not retreat. (In military records, Price is listed as a 1st Sergeant).  There was a very slight embankment on the field, the old riverbank from the days before the Hatchie had changed its course. Willie ordered his men to hunker down behind the scant cover and so saved many lives.

On the hill to their front was the dismounted cavalry of Brig. Gen. Charles Pfifer, which included the Arkansas Sharpshooters of Col. “Ras” Stirman. They couldn’t miss but they had to expose themselves to shoot.

With his sword in his hand Lt. Price called out, “There they are boys – give it to them!” They were Willie’s last words. 
“I saw him as the moment the bullet struck him,” recalled Sergeant Sam Baldwin, “taking effect in his right side and coming out under the left arm. He fell and died without a struggle.”

The fight went on for a few more hours and eventually the Confederates, trapped between two rivers and two Union forces, pulled away and escaped across the Hatchie using a bridge a few miles to the south.

There were over a thousand men, of both sides, killed, wounded, and captured during the fight. The forty-six Union dead were buried on the east bank, just under the heights that proved so deadly to them. Willie was buried in his uniform, wrapped in a blanket.

1st Sergeant Patrick Ryan thought the family would want to recover Willie’s body and sent his father a detailed letter on how to find the battlefield, and his son’s resting place.

“At the north side of the grave lays a large fallen tree running parallel with the grave. You will find at the foot of the grave on the butt of an old stump the letters W.D.P., if the headboard should be destroyed, you cannot fail to find him.”

Mr. William Price arrived in West Tennessee a week later and rented a wagon in Bolivar. He placed Willie in a metallic coffin and made the return journey to Bolivar where he loaded his son’s remains onto a train. A few days later Willie was laid to rest in the family plot in Ottowa, far from the Hatchie River.

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From the album:

Confederates and Federals in the Iuka/Corinth Campaign

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Photo Information for 1st Lt. William D. Price, Company A, 53rd Illinois Infantry


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2nd Lt. Willie Price, 53rd Illinois Infantry. His brother, Henry Price of the 104th Illinois Infantry, would be killed July 20, 1864 at Peach Tree Creek, outside Atlanta, GA.

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This map was used by Willie Price’s father to locate his son’s grave after the engagement at Davis Bridge. The dead from the 53rd and 28th Illinois were buried alongside a rail fence; to the right were two officer’s graves. Willie’s is marked with a small “+”. A year after the war forty-five Union dead (not counting Willie) were moved to the Corinth National Cemetery.

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