Col. William Sirwell
History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania by Robert Walker Smith, Esq.
Chicago: Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1883.
William Sirwell, son of Richard and Elizabeth (Graham) Sirwell, both
natives of England, was born in the United States army, at the Allegheny
arsenal, on August 10, 1820, his father, who had been principal musician, at
that time being armorer at the arsenal. Of a military turn of mind he entered
the militia service in 1839, and commanded in succession the City Blues, of
Pittsburgh, and the Washington Blues, Brady Alpines and Kittanning Yeagers, of
Kittanning, to which place he removed in 1855. He was also for ten years
brigade inspector of Armstrong county. In person he is six feet in hight,
broad shouldered and robust. He was married on November 6, 1840, to Miss
Elizabeth McCandless, of Butler county. They have had eight children, viz.:
Lucinda Ann, Alexander Nelson (dead), Sarah C., Mary H., William Mitchell,
Samuel (dead), Elizabeth M., and Emma J. (dead).
In 1854 being in Iowa, he raised at Davenport the first military company in
the state, and in 1855, while on his way home, he organized in Pittsburgh the
first military company of colored men known to have been formed in the United
States. They were called the Hannibal Guards.
On the breaking out of the rebellion Col. Sirwell with his company, the
Brady Alpines above mentioned, were the first company in Western Pennsylvania
to offer their services to the United States government, and were at once
accepted and served through the three months compaign in the 9th regt. Pa.
Vol. Inf., under Gen. Patterson, in Virginia. Upon the expiration of their
term of service and return home, Capt. Sirwell at once proceeded to organize
the 78th regt. Pa. Vol. Inf., was commissioned colonel of the same, and with
his brigade, under the command of Gen. James S. Negley, ordered to the army
then stationed in Kentucky. In the affair at Lavergne, one of the actions for
the defense of Nashville, the regiment particularly distinguished itself, and
its commander was complimented by Gen. Negley and by Andrew Johnson, then
military governor of Tennessee. At Stone River the regiment captured the White
Horse Artillery, of New Orleans, consisting of four twelve-pounder brass
Napoleon guns, the regimental colors of the 26th Rebel Tennessee, and the
guidon of the 4th Florida. As a reward of his service here, Col. Sirwell was
made provost marshall of Murfreesboro, and was afterward placed in command of
the 3d brigade, 2d division, of the 14th corps, department of the Cumberland.
In the terrible conflicts of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge, and in the
subsequent campaign of Atlanta, he rendered valuable services. At New Hope
Church so marked was his gallantry that he was commended by Gen. Thomas. When
Atlanta finally was taken after a campaign of a hundred days in which the
smoke of battle scarcely cleared away, it became difficult to keep open the
base of supplies, stretching away to Chattanooga. Col. Sirwell was assigned to
this duty and preserved unbroken the line of transportation, supplies being
rapidly brought up. After his term of service expired, at the solicitation of
the commander of the department, Col. Sirwell remained in the field, his
regiment as mounted infantry being employed in attacking and pursuing
Forrest's cavalry through Middle and Southern Tennessee.
Col. Sirwell was a gallant but prudent officer. He was much admired by his
brother officers and the men of his command. He was made the recipient of two
swords, both handsome and valuable ones, but prized by him more dearly for
their associations than aught else.
At one time Col. Sirwell saw fit to resign his command (which, however, he
almost immediately resumed), and the officers of the 78th regt. at that time,
November 20, 1863, presented him with the following resolutions:
WHEREAS, Col. William Sirwell has felt it his duty to resign his commission
as colonel of this regiment, we, the commissioned officers, do resolve,
- That we sustain Col. Sirwell in the cause that induced him to take
this step which sunders the reciprocal ties which for over two years
have held him and his military family together. Declining health induced
by hard service in the field entitle "the old soldier" to an
- That the history of this regiment from its organization to this time,
its superior discipline, its undaunted courage on the field of battle,
and its complete appointment in every department are the handiwork of
Col. Sirwell, and stamp him as a military commander of the first order.
- That the name and services of Col. Sirwell will ever be associated in
our minds with recollections of Lamb's Ferry, White Creek, Neely's Bend,
Goodletsville, Lavergne, Brentwood and Stone River, Dog Gap,
- That the kindness of disposition and the frankness of Col. Sirwell
have endured him both to officers and men, and in parting with him they
feel that they ware losing a father who watched over them with fond
- That we each and all resolve here tonight in taking the parting hand
of Col. Sirwell that we will do our utmost to bring this regiment home
to him with its colors flying and its bright escutcheon untarnished.
- To William Sirwell, late colonel of this regiment, the strict
disciplinarian, the accomplished soldier, the high-toned gentleman, the
kind and genial companion -- you have toiled with us, you have endured
all the sufferings and enjoyed many of the glories of the soldier's life
-- to you we say farewell, and God bless you.
- Resolved, that copies of these resolutions be forwarded to Col.
Sirwell and to the papers in Kittanning (except the Mentor), Indiana,
Clarion, Butler, Lawrence and Pittsburgh.
(Signed by the commissioned officers of the 78th Regiment).
Having performed his duties faithfully to the government during the time of
war, Col. Sirwell has since resided in Kittanning, and has held the offices of
postmaster and justice of the peace. He has spent much time in collecting
curiosities and relics, especially those which pertain to Armstrong county,
and has perhaps the most valuable private cabinet in Western Pennsylvania.
Transcribed July 2000
by James R. Hindman for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by James R. Hindman for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy
Armstrong County Genealogy Project Notice:
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