Capt Samuel Andrew Willson

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Capt Samuel Andrew Willson

Death 24 Jan 1892 (aged 57)
Burial Rusk, Cherokee County, Texas, USA
Memorial ID 14431972 · View Source
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Dr. Willson was a lawyer.

Samuel Andrew Willson was born on January 9, 1835 in San Augustine, Texas. He was the sixth and last child of Dr. Stephen Pelham Willson and Mary (Polly) Davis. The family moved to northern Tyler County in the late 1840's where Dr. Willson was one of the county's six medical doctors.

By 1850, young Sam was the only resident child of the Willsons. At the age of 15, he began studying law in Woodville and was a protégé of Mijamen Priest, who later became a judge in Woodville and again in Rusk. The Texas Senate enacted a special legislation to allow Sam Willson to be admitted to the bar in 1852, at the age of seventeen. He was a junior member of the firm of Priest and Willson and he married Mr. Priest's daughter, Susan, in 1853.

In 1856, Sam became the District Attorney for the Fifteenth Judicial District. Like so many others, his future looked bright in the years leading up to the War of Southern Independence. And just like so many others, the War brought personal tragedy for the Willson family. In 1858, at the age of 23, he was re-elected to the position of District Attorney.

In January of 1861, Phillip A. Work was chosen to be one of two Tyler County representatives at the Secession Convention. Several weeks later, he returned to Woodville to organize the Woodville Rifles and his friend and former law partner, Sam Willson, was selected to replace him during the Adjourned Session of March 2, 1861 to March 25, 1861. Sam was the only native born Texan at this convention and probably the youngest.

On May 28, 1861, Sam was elected 1st Lieutenant of the Woodville Rifles, serving under the first captain, P.A. Work. It was at this time that the Rifles were assimilated into the 1st Texas Regiment as Company F in Virginia. One year later, Phillip Work was promoted to Lt. Colonel, commander of the 1st Texas and Sam was elected as the new Captain. This unit served the remainder of the War with distinction as one of only three regiments in the Texas Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia.

Captain Willson was on active duty in most major engagements of the ANV, including Sharpsburg where the 1st Texas sustained casualties of 82%, the most ever for a regiment in the entire War. Sam was badly wounded in one arm and returned to Texas for medical leave after he was released from the hospital. Therefore, he missed Fredricksburg and returned to duty in January 1863. At the Battle of Gettysburg, Company F fought proudly and participated in the capture of two Federal cannons on July 2nd. Lt. Colonel Work gave permission to Captain Willson to select some men to move the cannons off the field of engagement. On the following day, July 3, 1863, the 1st Texas witnessed the artillery duel prior to Pickett's Charge. During this time, they were assaulted by Yankee cavalry who made a sudden charge into their ranks and captured Sam along with Pvt. T.D. Rock.

Sometime between July 7th and July 12th, Captain Willson escaped from the POW camp, Ft. Delaware. He crossed enemy lines to return to his unit. His escape was planned from the time of his capture when he disguised himself as a private. Had the Federals learned that he was an officer, he would have been sent to Johnson's Island, where he likely would have languished for the remainder of the War, or died in confinement. One of the prisoners at Ft. Delaware, (Judge) John W. Stevens, Co. K, 5th Texas Infantry, wrote a book in 1902 and said, "No one but my own company men knew him, and we always addressed him as Sam and never as captain. I fed him a stolen ration every night. I had known him from boyhood---a brave and gallant man".

Dr. and Mrs. S.P. Willson did not survive the War and neither did one year old Frank Sexton Willson, born to Sam and Susan, while he was in military service. Three of his brothers-in-law died in the summer of 1862, one in Tyler County and two at the infamous POW killing field known as Camp Douglas. Sam's only brother, Hiram, served in the 27th Texas Cavalry and his first cousin, Frank Sexton, was one of the two Texans to serve in the Confederate Congress for the duration of the War.

The Captain returned to Woodville and he was elected County Judge in 1866. Then came Reconstruction. In 1868, Sam had enough of the harassment and probably had to resign anyway since he was not eligible or inclined to take the Oath. He moved to Rusk and held brief occupations as a banker and owner of the newspaper, yet the Reconstruction politics would continue to interfere with his life.

The Radical Republicans lost power and Richard Coke was elected governor in 1874. He selected Sam to serve on the special committee that codified the law for the new (and current) Texas Constitution. In 1882, he was appointed to the State Court of Appeals by Governor O.M. Roberts and won the following election. His publication of Willson's Criminal Forms was adapted to the Criminal Codes of Texas and was still in use as a textbook at the University of Texas Law School in 1955.

Sam Willson was active in the Baptist Church and refrained from using alcohol. He had undying devotion for his brothers-in-arms and he helped organize the Hood's Texas Brigade Association on May 14, 1872. These veterans held 62 reunions until the last in 1933.

In early January 1892, Judge Willson developed pneumonia following a trip by horseback, in the snow, from his home in Rusk to the Cherokee County Courthouse where he was scheduled to hold court. He died on January 24th at the age of 57. On January 11, 2002, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, including the P.A. Work Camp (Woodville Rifles) participated in a military grave marker dedication for Captain Willson at the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Rusk, Texas.

Every line of information was borrowed from sources so numerous that the thought of arduous recollection gives me a brain cramp. I beg understanding and forgiveness from each and every author, living and dead. The abstracts are all still in my possession and a full copy of Captain Willson's compiled military service record is filed at the Heritage Village Library.

Attached is a poem written for Sam by his father-in-law, Judge Mijamin Priest. It is interesting to note that Judge Priest was pro-Union during and after the War though he was a slave owner and three of his sons served in the Confederate Army. That includes the two afore-mentioned who died at Camp Douglas. Priest was a Republican and served in the Texas Senate during the Dark Years. Sam was a life long Democrat, but the two never let their political differences keep them from being close friends. Both men have portraits in the Tyler County Courthouse. There is another portrait of Judge Willson on the second floor of the Cherokee County Courthouse.


At Rest


Planning a visit to Cedar Hill Cemetery?



  • Created by: SnL Roots
  • Added: 28 May 2006
  • Find A Grave Memorial 14431972
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Capt Samuel Andrew Willson (9 Jan 1835–24 Jan 1892), Find A Grave Memorial no. 14431972, citing Cedar Hill Cemetery, Rusk, Cherokee County, Texas, USA ; Maintained by SnL Roots (contributor 46780348) .