Minnesota's 1812 Pioneers
Even though Minnesota only has one Revolutionary War veteran of the Continental army buried within its borders (in the City of Winona), the state is blessed with more than one thousand veterans of the War of 1812. Those so denoted are of course all American servicemen, and thus if one includes the voyageurs and the many, many valiant servicemen of both the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations the number would likely double at least. Reprinted below are the stories of Francis Bliss and John Logan Willis, one a regular and one a militiaman, one in the east and one in the west. As time goes on hopefully other veterans in Minnesota will be chronicled in this publication.
Elite Soldier of 1814
by David M. Grabitske
Born to Moses Bliss and Abiah Chapin on August 19, 1793, in Chicopee, Francis Bliss grew to manhood in southwestern Massachusetts. His native state was a battleground for early national politics between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists. Political debate has been and continues to be the strength of the American experiment. Whatever Francis' political leanings were at the time, the loyalty that debate encourages enlisted him into the United States service, March 14, 1814.1
Bliss likely waited to join the service for several reasons. First, he was just 20 years old at the time, and practice was that sons remained with their parent's business until that time. His father was a shoemaker in Chicopee and a Deacon of the First Baptist Church. As such, a well regulated life was in order. And third, the best inducements to join the war were offered during the winter of 1813-14. According to J.C.A. Stagg's estimates, the recruitment period of January through April, 1814, was the single most successful at 10,900 new men, though far below the hopes of Congress.2
He traveled the 24 miles by river to Hartford to enlist at Lt. Colonel Smith's station for the Twenty-Fifth Infantry. The next nearest station was Col. Larned's recruitment detail from the Ninth Infantry in Pittsfield, Mass., some 40 miles away from Chicopee by land. In addition to the easier method for travel, Bliss may have been lured by the promise of service in an exceptional infantry company. He was enrolled in Capt. Daniel Ketchum's Company which was specifically raised to perform light infantry functions. Ketchum had received special permission to raise a corps in the spring of 1814 that would be specially dressed, equipped and drilled as such.3 A total of 93 recruits for this formation were enlisted during February, March and April of 1814,4 of whom 49 were enrolled at Hartford. These new recruits were marched in April to an instruction camp at Flint Hill, where the Left Division was engrossed in strict drill under Brigadier General Winfield Scott.
The invasion of Canada began on July 3, 1814. Two days later a general engagement occurred at the Chippawa with Phileas Riall's British division. During the second phase of the action in the afternoon, Major Thomas S. Jesup's Twenty-Fifth came under a heavy flank fire from British light infantry in the woods to his left. The 25th lost 50 men in 10 minutes, but refused to yield. Jesup sent Ketchum's 90-plus man light company into the woods to pursue the British who began to fall back. Francis Bliss was among the men in Ketchum's who held off nearly three times their numbers. At some point Bliss received a leg wound above the ankle while in the woods.5 After the victory at Chippawa, Bliss was taken to Ft. Erie, and likely saw no further action.
Bliss was promoted to Corporal on March 19, 1815, while both sides pondered the close of hostilities. The bulk of Ketchum's Company was discharged in March and May. Bliss received his honorable discharge on March 22, 1815. Afterwards, Bliss spent six years in the merchant marine visiting many ports around the world.
Francis Bliss married Nancy Jane Harrington of Westborough, Mass., on February 5, 1824. She was born in the same on December 14, 1803, to Wentworth and Rachel Harrington. The new couple then resided just west of her home in Shrewsbury, until the late 1820s. At this time the growing family moved to the Springfield-Chicopee area. Francis and Nancy had ten children by September of 1850.
Bliss was first placed on the pension rolls in January, 1834. He was given an annual allowance of $64, and granted $32, backdated to September, 1832, under the Acts for Military Establishment. He continued to draw his pension until his death.6 One of their sons, Wentworth H. Bliss apparently caught the "wander-lust" shortly after his youngest sister was born. The entire family followed his dreams to Chicago, Michigan. Interestingly enough, the widow of former 25th Infantry Lieutenant De Lafayette Wilcox7 was living here at the time. Francis and Wilcox's former connection may have prompted this choice of location. Also, it seems that Francis Bliss either sold his land bounty patent while living in Springfield, or used it to claim land in Michigan.
Whichever, the Bliss family was again on the move in 1854. Wentworth found work with a railroad in northern Illinois, eventually coming to Rock Island on Independence Day. He boarded the steamer War Eagle and traveled to the Minnesota Territory and St. Paul. That fall Wentworth removed to near Belle Plaine in Scott County. Evidently, Wentworth encouraged his parents and siblings to follow. Francis and family boarded the Jeanette Roberts at Rock Island for St. Paul in 1856. They arrived on the Time and Tide at Belle Plaine and took a claim near Ravens Stream.8
During the Territory Census of 1857, Wentworth and brother Stephen Noyes Bliss were farming adjacent to their father. Francis found a land patent in June, 1861. However, it was not until 1863 that he filed his land patent claim at the Henderson Land Office, April 16. He acquired Henry Baltzer's land bounty for 160 acres of the southwest quarter of section ten.9 His sons Stephen and Wentworth also filed for their land in 1863, presumably Stephen's was in abstentia. Both Stephen and Andrew enlisted in Company I, Eighth Minnesota Infantry, in October, 1862.10 They followed in their father's footsteps and went to war. They were present at the Battle of Killdeer Mountain in North Dakota, and went with the unit to Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Delaware, and North Carolina. They were discharged with their "Indian Regiment" in July, 1865.
The growing Bliss clan continued to live on their Scott County farms. Andrew Jackson Bliss had married while on furlough in 1864. Wentworth married in 1868, and Stephen in 1869. The sister Emma married another Civil War soldier, Charles W. Siemon, a German immigrant who served in Company C., Brackett's Battalion. In 1872, Wentworth resumed his wanderings, but the balance of the family stayed together and remained near Belle Plaine.11 Nancy Jane Bliss passed away November 22, 1881, in Belle Plaine. The aged warrior from Ketchum's Company died the following year on April 3. The couple, faithfully married for nearly 57 years, are still together in Oakwood Cemetery in Belle Plaine. They have a single four-sided obelisk in the oldest portion of the cemetery, where Nancy's name is on the north side and her husband's on the south face.12 Their descendants continue to live in Belle Plaine.
John Logan Willis
A Veteran of the War of 1812
by Alan Woolworth
His father, Smith Willis, was a red headed Protestant Scotch-Irish weaver who emigrated from Northern Ireland to Virginia in 1789. Soon, he settled in Washington County, where he married Mary McMullen on February 7, 1792.1 They had a daughter, Susan, who married a man named Duffy and died young. John Logan Willis was born June 23, 1794.
The Smith Willis family moved to Wayne County, Kentucky, about 1808 when John Logan was fourteen years old. His father purchased 150 acres of land on Otter Creek. The Willis family was listed in the 1810 census of Wayne County, and Smith Willis received a patent on his land on March 15, 1813. Little more is known of them until the War of 1812 came. Doubtless, John Logan attended a rural school and perhaps a frontier academy as he later became a teacher. He also received a sound Christian training and developed strong beliefs against slavery.2
John Logan Willis enlisted at the age of 20 along with more than 80 other young men from Wayne County in Captain Adam Vickery's company, Slaughter's Regiment, Kentucky Detached Militia, on November 14, 1814, for six months' service. They soon rendezvoused with fellow Kentuckians on the banks of the Ohio River where they waited for boats to take them to New Orleans. Old boats and camp equipage were purchased so the men embarked with little other than their clothing. Following a long trip on the Mississippi River, they reached New Orleans on January 4, 1815, and camped without tents on bare ground. Fortunately, their needs were soon met by citizens of New Orleans and the Louisiana legislature.
Next, they were issued arms and were placed under General Adair in the center of the defensive line, immediately behind Carroll's Tennessee troops. On January 8, 1815, British troops advanced in columns against the raw frontiersmen. When they came in range, these backwoodsmen kept up a steady rifle fire. The red coated British infantry, veterans of the long Napoleonic Wars, advanced but were cut down.3
Soon, he was discharged and with two companions, walked back to Kentucky, a distance of about a thousand miles, part of it over the historic Natchez Trace. Barnabas Wallace may have been one of these companions. John Logan Willis was married to Frances McHenry Wallace on July 5, 1818. The daughter of Robert Wallace and Jane McHenry Wallace, she was born in Kentucky on March 1, 1801.
The young couple soon moved to central Tennessee, near Nashville. They lived near General Andrew Jackson's Hermitage estate and would occasionally visit him on Sunday afternoons. During one of these visits, Frances Wallace Willis' pet riding horse, a gift from her father, was traded to the general.
In 1828, the Willis family moved to Ripley County, Indiana, as they did not wish to have their children reared in a slave state. Frances Wallace Willis died there in 1869, and her widowed husband moved to Caledonia, Minnesota, where a number of their children had moved in 1856. He lived with Benjamin Franklin Willis about a mile west of the village and died there in January, 1872. He was buried in the village cemetery.
Family traditions state that a marble tombstone was obtained for his grave to commemorate his War of 1812 service, but through an error, he was described as a veteran of the Civil War. The local historical society states that this cemetery was vandalized in the mid 1930s and John Logan's grave site has been lost.