William O'Neal Payne, 1837-1888
- by Alice Marie Beard

The photo speaks for itself. William O'Neal Payne was not a wealthy man. The above photo shows him with his second wife, Elizabeth Ann Oliver, and their two children who survived childhood and lived to maturity, Hettie born 1885 and Mary Louise born 1883. Judging from the children, this photo was taken when William was about 44.

William was born 2 Apr 1837 in Danville, Vermilion Co., IL. His mother died when he was 10. Soon after his mother died, his father left for the Texas War of Liberation (Mexican War). Three years after William's mother died, he was living with George and Mary Fisher, no known relationship. William married Emma Green when he was 20. William's father was killed in a riot in Danville in Sep 1863; the riot was over differing opinions on the Civil War. On 6 Feb 1865, William enlisted in the U.S. Army in Danville; he served in the Civil War as a private in Co. E, 149th Illinois Infantry.

On 9 Apr 1865, Lee's army surrendered to the U.S. at Appomattox. Five days later, President Lincoln was assassinated. On 26 Apr 1865, twelve days after the assassination, Johnston's army surrendered to the U.S. On 10 May 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis was captured. The last surrender in the Civil War was in July 1865. Four months after that final surrender of Confederate troops, William "deserted his command at LaFayette, GA," taking with him his Army-issued Springfield rifle musket. The Army had agreed to pay him a $100 bounty when he enlisted for one year's service. By the time William deserted on 21 Nov 1865, the Army had paid him $63.33 of that bounty. The Army noted that he owed them $24 for the rifle he took when he left to travel, on his own, from Georgia to Danville, IL. He left about ten weeks short of his one year, and he left four months after the final straggler troops had surrendered in July, but the U.S. Army labeled him a deserter.

William returned to his wife Emma and their 6-year-old daughter Millie (and possibly a son slightly older). Emma died in 1869, leaving him with three children. A year later, he married Elizabeth Oliver. In addition to farming, William also had a butcher shop in Danville.

According to the Army's description, William was a farmer; five feet, ten inches tall; of fair complexion with dark eyes, and grey hair when he enlisted at age 27.

Wm. O
Another Soldier Gone;
January 2, 1889

Died, after a long sickness, Wm. O. Payne, at his home in Potomac, on Saturday, aged 51 years, of diabetes. The deceased was the father of thirteen children, four only surviving, two by his first and two by his second wife, who survives. He was born in this county, and served through the war.

A large congregation was present at his funeral on Sunday. The deceased was a large hearted and most generous man, and died with the friendship of every one.

Highlights of William's life:
+ born 2 Apr 1837 Danville, Vermilion Co., IL
+ first married Emma GREEN 1857 [She died 1869.]
+ served in the Union Army, Civil War, Co. E, 149th Illinois Infantry
+ second married Elizabeth Ann OLIVER 27 Dec 1870 Vermilion Co., IL
+ died 29 Dec 1888 IL
+ buried Potomac Cemetery, Potomac, Vermilion Co., IL

military records, National Archives
2nd marriage record
gravestone at cemetery
U.S. census, Vermilion Co., IL, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
Beckwith's History of Vermilion Co.

Danville, Illinois, was William's hometown, and his ancestors were among the early settlers in the Vermilion County area.

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