Joshua W. Sill (1831-1862)
Joshua W. Sill was born December 6, 1831, in Chillicothe, Ohio. He was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Sill, who had resided there since the year 1814. Joshua's early education was obtained largely from his father, who took the time from his legal practice to instruct his son in the basic subjects. Joshua was an apt pupil and before reaching adulthood he mastered many of the difficult sciences and achieved particular skill in Mathematics. He was also proficient in Latin and Greek and was conversant with English and French literature. Although his father desired him to study law, he was, at his own request, appointed in 1849 the U.S. Military Academy, from the Chillicothe Congressional, district. During his four years at West Point he ranked among the best scholars and graduated third in his class Upon graduation he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in Ordnance and his first assignment was at the Watervliet Arsenal, West Troy, New York. In 1855 he was recalled to West Point as an instructor. After two years there he was assigned to Pittsburgh Arsenal where he was occupied with the testing of ordnance equipment.
In May 1858, he was sent to Vancouver, Washington Territory to superintend the building of an arsenal. Difficulties with the British Government prevented the construction of this arsenal and he was reassigned to Watervleit Arsenal. A few months latter he was ordered to Fort Leavenworth.
In the spring of 1860, he gave notice of resignation of his commission and accepted the professorship of mathematics and civil engineering in the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute. Following the bombardment of Fort Sumpter he resigned his teaching position and offered his services to the Governor of Ohio, who appointed him Assistant Adjutant General of the State in May 1861. Here he was occupied in the organization of the Ohio forces. In August 1661 he was commissioned Colonel of the 33rd Ohio volunteers and accompanied General Nelson in the Eastern Kentucky expedition.
His regiment was then assigned to General Mitchell's Division and Sill was placed in command of a Brigade and was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. This promotion was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, 29 July 1662. Shortly thereafter, Sill was made Commanding General of a Division. His leadership of this Division in constant skirmishing with the enemy was outstanding and he was noted for having accomplished missions with very little loss. He was soon given command of a Brigade in General Sheridan's Division and shortly thereafter he took part in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Stone's River, just outside of Murfreesburo, Tennessee. In the second day of this battle, 31 December 1862, while personally leading his men forward, he was killed by rifle fire. His body was found by the Confederate troops, who buried it in a battlefield cemetery near the scene of his death. A few years later his body was removed to the Grandview Cemetery at Chillicothe, Ohio.
Although he was only 31 years of age at the age of his death and despite the briefness of his military career he carved a record for outstanding performance of duty which has been equaled by few.
In 1869 his classmate. General Sheridan, officially established a military post in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma which he named in memory of his West Point classmate, Joshua W. Sill. Fort Sill today is the largest Artillery Center in the world. This Center views with pride its attachment to General Sill.
In recent years an interesting incident concerning General Sill has come to light. On the eve of the Battle of Stone's River, General Sill was in conference with his chief, General Sheridan. When it came time to leave this conference, General Sill and Sheridan mistakenly put on each others coat. Sill was thus wearing Sheridans' coat at the time he was killed. The story goes that the riflemen therefore mistook him for Sheridan and shot him. Whether this is true is difficult to say. The story comes to us from a sister of General Sheridan, Nelly Sheridan Wilson.
Perhaps the best epitaph that has been written concerning General Sill came in a letter from one of his officers, who wrote, "No man in the entire army, I believe, was so much admired, respected, and beloved by inferiors as well as superiors in rank as was General Sill".