The following information was extracted from various papers in the service and pension files for Willis Slavens of Hendricks County, Indiana. (This Willis was a son of James Slavens, and should not be confused with Willis Slavens, son of Isaiah Slavens, who lived in Missouri, Illinois, and Parke County, Indiana.)
Willis Slavens of North Salem enlisted in Company A, 51st Indiana Infantry, on September 22, 1861, for a period three years. Also enlisting in the company at the same time were his brothers Harvey and Milton. Willis was elected a corporal in the company and was mustered in on December 13, 1862. He was discharged for disability in June 1862, but recovered his health sufficiently to enlisted as a private in Company I, 9th Indiana Cavalry on January 15, 1864. In the 9th Cavalry Willis was appointed corporal and promoted to first sergeant before mustering out with the unit in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in August 1865.
In his 1862 discharge papers, Willis is described as 26 years of age, five foot six inches in height, with light complexion, gray eyes, and light hair.
Like many other members of his company, Willis contracted the measles about the time the regiment was moving from Indianapolis to Bardstown, Kentucky. He was in the hospital there for nine weeks before his discharge for being unfit for duty-- specifically, he was "incapacitated from marching or carrying his knapsack." According to his neighbor and captain, Jacob Fleece, writing years later for Willis's pension application, Willis contracted the measles while in camp at Indianapolis in December, but was somewhat improved and able to accompany the regiment to Kentucky, where was "taken down again and sent to the hospital." He was unable to leave Bardstown with the regiment but rejoined them at Hall's Gap (seven miles south of Stanford) or at Munfordsville, Kentucky, where he was taken down with diarrhea. When the regiment went to Nashville, Tennessee, he was unable to march and was sent there by ambulance. From Nashville he was furloughed home and discharged. Later, in his service with the 9th Cavalry, he had throat and lung trouble and could not speak above a whisper for four months.
In 1888, Willis made an application for a disability pension based on disability from chronic diarrhea and piles. At the time, he had been working as a mechanic and farmer. A neighbor stated that he had known and worked with Willis for about twenty years, and that he was unable to do more than a quarter day's work. He also stated that he had seen Willis "bleede at the lungs until he wasn't able to lift anything." Willis was granted a pension of $6 per month. In 1890 the pension was increased to $12 a month, to $15 in 1907, to $30 in 1912, and to $40 in 1918.
In 1897 another doctor examined Willis and his statement appears in the pension file. First, Willis states "My diarrhea trouble grows worse all the time. I suffer severe pain in my legs from rheu(matism). Am lame and stiff, cannot walk very far. I am very deaf. My throat troubles me very much. At times I can only talk in a whisper. My heart gives me trouble. Am short of breath. Am very weak and nervous and can do but little manual labor."
The doctor then describes Willis's various ailments: "Applicant looks old and feeble. Has well marked tremor, especially on right side... Nervous system much impaired. Teeth nearly gone, remaining ones soft and spongy. Stomach distended and very tender... Had a stroke of paralysis four years ago, affecting right side. Has never entirely recovered... Cannot hear ordinary conversation at six feet with either ear... Disabilities not due to vicious habits." Willis is described as 62 years of age, five feet six and three-quarters inches in height, grey eyes, brown hair streaked with gray, with very grey whiskers. His occupation was miller.
Another doctor's certificate from 1924 states that at age 89 Willis was five foot nine inches in height (notice how he keeps getting taller through the years!) and had been a timber buyer. The doctor had been seeing Willis for general debility and old age, chronic bowel trouble and bladder trouble. He stated that Willis's bowels were irregular and bothered him all the time, and that he had to void urine every half hour with great pain. He concluded that "the claimant is totally disabled from weakness" and "in my best judgment should have everything that the law ought to give him." Another doctor stated that Willis had a constant need of an attendant and was not able to dress or undress himself. Since his wife's death, Willis made his home with his daughter and son-in-law, Alfred and Della Trotter, and that Della acted as a nurse for him the last six months of his life.
Willis was born November 1, 1835, in North Salem, Hendricks County, Indiana. He was married to Mary Agnes Ragan on March 14, 1868, by Elder Thompson B. Stevens. They had one child, a daughter Della, born May 11, 1870... or 1872, according to another document. Mary died March 10, 1896, and Willis died on July 24, 1924.
Copyright © 2003 Larry Slavens. All rights reserved.