Leander Willis (1840-1864)

The graves of Leander Willis and Nathan Willis in Lancaster Rural Cemetery.

Leander Willis was born in 1840, Nathan Willis’ fourteenth child. Before enlisting in the fall of 1862, he attended Union College in Schenectady. He lead a squad of forty eight recruits into the Union army and received an officer’s commission as a result, but resigned his commission before the first payroll.

In the Spring of 1863, he became a Second Lieutenant in United States Colored Troops Sixth Regiment. Correspondence places him on Ship Island in Louisiana, and then in a field hospital set up at St. James Hotel in New Orleans in 1864, where he reported suffering from something like dysentery.

He was sent back to Town Line and was cared for there by the town’s doctor, Herbert Pride. He died there in October of 1864. Doctor’s records indicate an accelerating administration of “medicine” in his last months. Morphine was one of the most common drugs prescribed for diarrhea at the time.

I pieced together some of Leander’s story using court documents around his estate, but much of his story is outlined in the September/October 1998 Issue of a local historical newsletter, The Lancaster Legend.