Wednesday, September 14, 2011

William Seward Gridley

Captain William Seward Gridley, ca. 1861.
Photocopy from Gridley family file.
William Seward Gridley (1838-1889) was responsible for organizing the first company in Schenectady, the 18th Infantry Regiment, New York State Volunteers, Company A -- first known as the Seward Volunteer Zouaves -- during the Civil War.

Gridley was born July 13, 1838 in Schenectady to Reuben Gridley and Mary (DeMille) Gridley. Both of his parents and a newborn sibling died on June 23, 1843. After his parents' deaths, Gridley was placed with his twin brother, Henry, with the Shakers at Watervliet, NY. William and Henry both ran away from the Shaker settlement in 1853 and returned to Schenectady. There, William worked for his brother-in-law, Thomas Cleary, at a hotel and began the study of law.

On April 18, 1861, six days after the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter, William Seward Gridley published the following notice in the Schenectady Daily Times:
"Attention Volunteers - All young men who are in favor of forming a light infantry company and offering their services to garrison this state, or to the President of the United States, to aid and assist in defending the Constitution and Union of the United States against foreign or domestic foes, are requested to meet at Cleary's saloon, opposite the railroad depot, on Friday evening at 7:30 o'clock, the 19th inst. This means fight, and all who sign must go."

Forty-seven men who attended the meeting signed an application for a company organization, and asked Governor Morgan to commission Gridley as Captain. Gridley took the application to Albany. He received notice from the Adjutant General for he and his company to report for duty at Albany on April 22, 1861. The company of seventy-four men and three officers -- most of whom were from Schenectady -- was referred to as the "Seward Volunteer Zouaves" until it was assigned as Company A of the Eighteenth Regiment, New York Volunteers on May 14, 1861. A few days later, on May 17, 1861, the company was mustered into service. Soldiers with the 18th Regiment fought in Virginia at Braddock Road, Fairfax Station, Blackburn's Ford, the first battle of Bull Run, Munson's Hill, Union Mills, West Point, Gaines Mill, Garnett's and Golding's Farms, Glendale, Malvern Hill, Burke's Station, Fredericksburg, Franklin's Crossing, and Salem Church, and in Maryland at Crampton's Pass and Antietam. While with Company A, Gridley was promoted to Major on October 14, 1862. He mustered out with the Regiment on May 28, 1863, at Albany. At the close of the war, Gridley received the honorary title of Brevet Colonel, New York Volunteers.

William's brother, Nathaniel, also served in 18th New York Infantry Volunteer Regiment, Company A, as a private. He was killed in 1862 at the battle of Gaines Mill in Virginia. William's twin brother, Henry Seward Gridley, lived in Schenectady during the 1860s through around 1871, working as a saloon-keeper and fruit dealer.

After his war service, William Seward Gridley returned to Schenectady and studied law. He is listed in the 1865 city directory as boarding at the home of his brother-in-law, Thomas Cleary, who operated a hotel and restaurant between State and Liberty Streets. Gridley was admitted to the bar in 1867; by 1868 he was practicing law at 15 Union Street and resided at 62 Barrett Street. He moved to Jackson, Michigan, later that year, near the family of his wife, Caroline Eleanor Gridley. The Gridleys remained in Michigan until moving to Chicago in 1885. William Seward Gridley died in 1889. He is buried at Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum in Chicago.

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