William H. Harkness Record

William H. Harkness

William H. Harkness was the second son of Andrew and Jannette (Penman) Harkness. He was born December 13, 1835 in Bowden Scotland.

William, or Willie, as he was called by the family, married Margaret Ann,"Maggie" Stewart, July  3,1860, in Oswego, Kendall County, Illinois. Maggie was born circa 1843, in Washington County, New York. She was the daughter of John and Sarah Stewart, of Kendall Township, Kendall County, Illinois. Her father was a farmer, and the Stewart family lived near the Andrew Harkness family in Kendall Township.

William was an educated and deeply religious man. He had attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and was active in church work. While at home he had been in charge of two Sunday schools. While in the army, he organized Sunday prayer services and bible classes.

William enlisted in Company H, of the Eighty Ninth Regiment of Illinois Volunteers  August  7, 1862, at Yorkville, Illinois. He enlisted to serve for three years, or for the duration of the war, whichever was shorter. He was mustered into service as a Second Lieutenant on August 25, 1862, at Chicago, Illinois. While in the army, William commanded two different companies and was highly thought of by his fellow soldiers.

From a correspondence to the Kendall County Record  (KCR) headed, Bivouac Near Loudon, Tenn, April 16, 1864. "Captain Hobbs is the same good natured "Frank" of old, and is much respected by all with whom he comes in contact. Lieut. Beeman is Acting Brigade Quartermaster. Lt. Billy Harkness, everybody's favorite is at home on a leave of absence and that he may have a glorious time is the wish of all. Orderly "Aaron" is as solid both mentally and physically as ever." Excerpted from from a letter to the KCR signed by "R."

From another letter to the Editor of the Kendall County Record. From the "Eighty-ninth," Altoona Hills, Georgia, May 31. Captain Hobbs and Lieut. Harkness although in the heat of the fray came off, I am thankful to write, unscathed. These two officers have been in every fight in which the First Brigade has taken a part, and have done their duty as men; they must be "bullet proof." Letter signed, Yours in haste, R.

From another letter with the heading From the Eighty-ninth, Camp near Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia, June 23, 1864 and signed Corporal. "Although the dating of my letter from this point within our lines is a proof of the successful advance of our army, yet it has cost our regiment and company too great a sacrifice to admit of exultation, and it is with feelings of sadness that our loss is acknowledged and the sympathy of soldiers, who are bound to each other by stronger ties than even they are aware of while each is living, is humbly tendered to those who occupied the last thoughts of those now dead. As you were informed in a former letter, our advance into Georgia has been made over a mountainous region, affording many strong natural positions for defensive fighting by the enemy, and the campaign thus far may be almost summed up as a continuous fight, with the hostile armies face to face. The Fourth Corps, under General Howard, is entrusted with the performance of responsible duties and it accomplishes its allotted task in a manner which proves the correctness of the judgement which selected it; again is a choice of Divisions made for a specific purpose and the Third under General Wood is awarded the position of honor and danger. The First Brigade of that Division, although deprived of the presence of its old leader Willich, still can be trusted with confidence under the guidance of its well known and deservedly popular commander, Col. Gibson and nobly does it redeem the pledge so often given and always kept. The truth permits me to add that the Eighty-ninth Illinois, under Lt. Col. William D. Williams, its commander from the battle-field of Chickamauga and its leader up the rugged fortified slope of Mission Ridge, was chosen to charge the rebel works a few days ago in our front and these were approached over an open field. The charge was made gallantly and successfully and in such good order as to gain the high compliment from General Howard, of its being one of the handsomest charges he ever saw made and the regiment was eulogized as being the equal of the best in this army. This is a glorious comparison when you consider the splendid material associated with us in our own Brigade.

It is not necessary to go further with the record where all are combining their skill and energy in a common cause, but I may be pardoned for saying, that none yet living of the heroes of the Eighty-ninth Illinois who are to sustain the reputation so dearly won in the past, excelled in valor or devotion, those lately taken from us and, alas lost to their friends and county. I must add the name of Lieutenant William Harkness to those before sent you as among the killed in Company H, during the campaign. He was shot on the Twenty first of June, the ball striking him in the abdomen and causing his death a few hours later. His usual fortitude sustained him through his last moments and enabled him to write a letter to his wife although conscious of the nature of the wound and his rapidly approaching end. It may be a consolation for his friends at home to know that he was shot at a time when he could be tenderly cared for, everything done to gratify his requests. The ground had been won on which he was shot and he was superintending the erection of barricades to shelter the soldiers who were to hold it.

As a man he was honest, constant in his devotion to his county and untiring in his efforts to perform his duties. As an officer he was retiring in his intercourse with those in authority but vigilant and efficient in the execution of orders, yet considerate of the feelings of those under his command. Brave himself, he was generous in acknowledging the merits of others and eager to award praise to all who wrought heroic purpose into gallant deeds. The proof that his services were appreciated is shown by his having been twice selected to take command of other companies in his regiment when temporarily deprived of their officers, and he occupied the position of Provost Marshal on General Willich's staff during the absence of that officer, and himself accompanied the General last winter when he went home for the recovery of his health. His loss is felt by all who knew him and many kind expressions of sympathy are breathed by strangers to those whom he loved, yet realizing their grief from his last words concerning those he was to leave desolate."

There was an interesting letter in William's military service file, regarding his appointment as Provost Marshall on the staff of General Willich.

Camp Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry Strawberry Plains, Tennessee January 13, 1864.
Captain Carl Schmitt

AAA General Third Division


The order detailing Lt. Wm. Harkness of the Eighty-ninth Illinois infantry as Provost Marshall on the Staff of General Willich, was received this evening at 8:30.

The Eighty-ninth has present but 8 mustered officers including myself. The detail of Lt. Harkness deprives one of the companies of its only commissioned officer. Four of the companies are already without officers to command them, and withdrawal of Lt. Harkness makes five.

I cannot but think you are not aware of these facts.

I respectfully but earnestly hope, you will reconsider this order, and appoint from some other command, a Provost Marshall less calculated to work injury to the service and Regiment.

I am Respectfully Your Obedient Servant,

Signed, W. D. Williams, Lt. Colonel, Eighteenth Illinois Infantry Regiment.

The order was not reconsidered. William was appointed Provost Marshall on General Willich's staff.

William was killed by a sharpshooter from the First Kentucky Brigade in what has become known as the battle of Kenesaw Mountain. Kenesaw Mountain is just outside Marietta, Georgia, some twenty miles northwest of Atlanta. The official report of the Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry Volunteers states, that Lieutenant Harkness was killed in action at Bald Knob while engaged with Confederate General John H.Lewis' First Kentucky Brigade, known as the "Orphan Brigade."

Joseph Buckley, who enlisted at Lisbon, was severely wounded by the same bullet that mortally wounded William Harkness. The bullet entered Buckley's shoulder, severing the nerve and shattering the arm between the shoulder and elbow, then passing out at the elbow joint. His comrades were sure he was going to lose his arm but the surgeons were able to save it.

From the July 7, 1864, Kendall County Record. "Again we are called upon the chronicle the death of one of our brave soldiers. One who was a favorite with all who knew him. He was a good citizen and neighbor, and brave officer, Lieutenant William H.Harkness. Editor's note: "We were personally acquainted with the Lieutenant and esteemed him highly."

At the time of his death, William was a Captain. Some time previously, the First Lieutenant's position was vacant. Orderly Sergeant John A. Beeman was "jumped" into the position over William, to the dissatisfaction of many. On the Twenty eighth of June 1864, a week after his death, a commission arrived at the regiment, making William, Captain of Company A. The orders promoting him to Captain were actually cut on June 14, 1864. Thus he was a Captain for a week before his death but was unaware of his promotion. His elevation to Captain was a deserving tribute to a brave man. It was unfortunate that he did not live to wear his Captain's bars.

I have extracted two sections from the official report of the battle in which William H. Harkness was killed. "June 20, advanced, deployed as skirmishers. June 21, advanced as support of Forty-ninth and Fifteenth Ohio, deployed as skirmishers. These gallant regiments drove the enemy from a position known as Bald Knob. The Eighty-ninth relieved the Forty-ninth Ohio, which had taken an advanced position in the wood to the right of the knob. The enemy contested this advanced position with obstinacy, and our casualties were 2 killed and 14 wounded. Here fell Lieut. William Harkness, Company H, an energetic and brave officer, a sincere Christian, and urbane gentleman." ...

Headed: Headquarters Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry Volunteers. Near Atlanta, GA. September 13, 1864.
..."Of the commissioned officers of the Eighty-ninth I can speak with pride and pleasure. Not one of them ever faltered in his duty. Ever foremost in the charge, the record of the Eight-ninth's dead and wounded tells the story more eloquently than tongue or pen. To the already illustrious dead can be added Lieut. William Harkness, Company H, and Lieut. N. Street Company D." .... From The War Of The Rebellion: A Compilation Of The Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume XXXVIII In Five parts. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891. Report No. 56. Report of Lieut. Col. William D. Williams, Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry. pp. 401-5.

A good deal of the battlefield site has been preserved and is called Kenesaw Mountain Battlefield National Park. The government's repository for those slain during the 1864 Atlanta campaign is Marietta National Cemetery at Marietta, Georgia. William is buried in the Marietta National cemetery. He is interred in Section C, Grave number 2293.

William H. Harkness, died 21 June 1864. He was twenty nine years of age. A memorial service was scheduled to be held at ten o'clock Sunday morning, July 24, 1864, in the Baptist Church, in Pavilion. His relatives and friends assembled in Pavilion but the church was too small to hold the congregation. To accommodate the large crowd the services had to be held in the adjoining grove in an area known locally as "the green."

William and Maggie's only child, Henry Herbert "Herbie", had died 20 April of 1864 . When he was wounded, William was fully aware of the nature of his wound and the inevitable outcome. While lying mortally wounded and waiting for death, he composed these lines to his wife. "My dear Maggie. I am badly wounded, I shall soon be with our dear little Herbie. May God bless you my dear wife. -- William"

Apparently a widow's pension was based on her husband's rank at the time of his death. When William's wife, Maggie applied for her widow's pension, the Adjutant General's Office responded that there was no record of anyone named William Harkness ever being carried on the Rolls of Company "A" of the Eighty-ninth Illinois Volunteers as Captain and returned her application. Further correspondence and documentation followed. On February 23, 1865, Maggie received a Captain's widow's pension of $15.00 a month, retroactive to June 21, 1964.

Last Modified on 2012-12-29 13:39:51-0600 CST by Elmer Dickson