Crisfield, William B.

Place of Birth: Kent

Date of enlistment: 1 February 1875

Age given at enlistment: 39

Rank: Private

Company: L

Location on 25 June 1876: Custer's column



Crisfield’s date of birth has yet to be established.

A Man of Kent

The River Medway which flows through the heart of the County of Kent. Born east of the river (Crisfield) you are a 'Man of Kent' while to the west (the author) a 'Kentish Man'.

  • William Crisfield was baptised on 1 March 1840 by the Rev. Walter A Vaughan in the 14th century parish church of St. Michael, Chart Sutton, a village with around 800 inhabitants, situated five miles southeast of Maidstone in the county of Kent. The entry in the Register of Baptisms states he was son of Richard Crisfield, a Blacksmith, and his wife, Sarah, but contains neither a date of birth nor a specific dwelling within the village. However, it was common practice in England during this period for a child to be baptised as soon after birth as possible and therefore it is most likely that the future cavalryman was born in January or February 1840, a supposition which is supported by the information in the census taken in June of the following year and his age on arrival in the United States.

Chart Sutton Register of Baptisms 1 March 1840. Note no second name or initial 'B'.

St. Michael's Church, Chart Sutton. William Crisfield was baptised here. (Author's photograph 10 August 2013).

  • It is assumed that Richard Crisfield left England for America soon after the birth of his youngest child, as Sarah (age 31); William (age 11); and Lucy (age 8) – all listed as ‘Chrisfield’ in the manifest – are among the 52 passengers on board the sailing ship Margaret Evans, subject of the popular sea chanty ‘Clear the track, let the bullgine run’. This 899-ton vessel arrived off Ramsgate, Kent, from Gravesend (Port of London) on 22 January 1851, and docked in New York thirty-eight days later on 1 March.

The much-restored Gravesend Pier was built in 1834 and is the oldest cast iron pier in the world. William Crisfield sailed to America from here on 22 January 1851. (Author's collection)

  • William Crisfield, first enlisted in the United States Army at Boston, Massachusetts on 10 June 1859, was assigned to the 1st Cavalry (re-designated 4th Cavalry in August 1861) at Fort Riley, Kansas, and discharged on expiry of service at Maysville, Alabama on 21 October 1863. During the period of his first enlistment the 1st Cavalry was in action at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, the engagement at Kelly’s Ford in 1863, Stoneman’s Raid (29 April-8 May 1863) and the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863).
  • On 23 August 1864, having worked as a teamster since leaving the 4th Cavalry, Crisfield joined Company G, 41st Missouri Infantry, at St. Louis on a one-year enlistment for which he received a bounty of $100. He was promoted directly to sergeant eight days after enlisting. At that time the 41st Missouri was organising at Benton Barracks, Missouri, and the presence of an experienced battle-hardened veteran would have been most welcome. The regiment was mustered into active service in September 1864, and mostly engaged in garrison duties, having worked as a teamster since leaving the 4th Cavalry.
  • Between November 1864 and January 1865, Crisfield had been on detached service as Commissary Sergeant at the Myrtle Street prison in St Louis, a two-storey building (formerly Lynch’s slave market) used to hold Confederate prisoners of war, political prisoners (including females) and Union soldiers accused of major crimes.
  • Crisfield managed to ‘blot his copybook’ at the prison; which is evidenced by a special order dated 26 January 1865. It shows that he was relieved of duty there for ‘conduct unbecoming’ and ordered to return to his regiment. By 14 February 1865 he was again on detached service, this time as a clerk, at Schofield Barracks, Missouri, until he was mustered out with his regiment in the July of that year.

William B. Crisfield (Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Collection).

William B. Crisfield - a colourised version courtesy of Gil Graham.

  • On 5 April 1865, in St. Louis, Missouri, he had married Mary Pauline Blanchstone [originally Poline Blanchard or Blanchton], born in France on 1 April 1845, daughter of Paul and Clarice Blanchton.* It is alleged [if most unlikely] that Mary was one of Custer’s cooks in the Civil War. The couple would have four children: Edward (b. 1868 – married Rosa Mayberry on 25 September 1889 in Carlinville, Illinois); Charlotte (b. 1870); Albert (b. 18 November 1872, North (?) Carolina, died 27 July 1952 in San Bernardino, California) and Paul (b. 1875, d. 1878).
  • (*) The Federal Census, St Louis, Missouri (1870) lists Paul Blounchton, 53, a Baker, his wife, Clarice, 42, a Tailoress, both born in France and four daughters: Louisa, 17, born Kentucky; Celestina, 11, born Missouri; Annie, 7, born Missouri; Alice, 5, born Missouri. Alice married Lloyd J. Cooper in St. Louis ca. 1887.
  • Crisfield re-enlisted in the regular army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on 17 January 1870, giving his civilian occupation as a labourer, and assigned to Company C, 7th Cavalry. However on 10 December 1873 he was transferred to Company L “‘to benefit his family, being a married man and there being no laundresses in Company L while six women with Company C.” He was with his company on the Black Hills Expedition (1874).
  • On re-enlisted by Lieutenant Thomas W. Custer at Fort Abraham Lincoln on 11 February 1875 for a further five years with Company L , Crisfield he was described as having grey eyes, black hair, a ruddy complexion, and being 5 feet 7 inches tall. He was killed in action with his company – part of Keogh’s battalion – on the first day of the battle.
  • On hearing the news of her husband’s death while still at Fort Totten, near Devils Lake, present-day, Benson County, North Dakota, Mary Crisfield “Sobbed and moaned loudly, doubled over the hymnal in her lap.” See Voices in Our Souls by Gene Erb and Ann DeWolf Erb, Sunstone Press, Sante Fe, New Mexico (2010), p.153.
  • Although written as a novel, Voices in Our Souls is based in part on a diary found on Acting Assistant Surgeon James M. DeWolf’s body at the battlefield and letters exchanged between him and his wife, Fannie. The story focuses on the relationship between the DeWolfs and uses their lives to call attention to the complex situations between whites and Indians as settlers and soldiers pushed west during the second half of the 19th century.
  • Whether Mary Crisfield actually reacted in the way that is told above is, of course, another matter!
  • Crisfield is listed as W. B. CRISFIELD on the battlefield monument. What his second initial ‘B’ stood for, if anything, is not known to this writer.
  • The Final Statement of William B. Crisfield [Captain Michael Sheridan’s Company] signed by 1st Lieut. W. S. Edgerly, Commanding Company L, at Fort Abraham Lincoln 31 January 1877.
  •      DUE SOLDIER
  •      For five years’ continuous service under sec. 2, act August 4, 1854 … $2.00 per mth
  •      For retained pay under act of May 15, 1872 … $16.84
  •      For clothing not drawn in kind … $66.23
  •      For tobacco … $1.14
  • This statement does not take into account basic pay due for the period May 1 to June 25, 1876.
  • Martin Personeus (c.1844-1887)
  • William Crisfield’s widow, Mary Blanchstone, married Martin Personeus (aka Private Michael Conlan, Company L, 7th Cavalry) on 23 November 1876.
  • Martin Personeus was born in Rondout, near Kingston, New York, around 1844, son of Hendriaus (Henry)** and Phebe Personius. His childhood was spent in the district of Olive, Ulster County, also in upstate New York, where he worked on a farm before enlisting in the 20th New York Infantry, at Kingston, on 3 September 1861. For a brief record of his military service, see below.
  • (**) Hendriaus Personius was born in Stone Ridge, Ulster County on 24 January 1815, son of David and Mary Personius and baptised at the Marbletown Dutch Reformed Church, Ulster County, on 28 May 1815.
  • On 13 April 1872 Personeus enlisted in the 7th Cavalry at Yorkville, South Carolina, but under the name of Michael Conlan. He participated in the Yellowstone Campaign (1873) and the Black Hills Expedition (1874) but was on detached service tending the company’s garden at Fort Lincoln from 17 May 1876 and therefore did not take part in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
  • Mary Crisfield Personeus’ life was not an easy one. Not only did she give birth to no less than ten children, of which only four survived childhood but her second husband was admitted to the Jacksonville Hospital for the Insane, near Carlinville, Illinois in 1887. Martin Personeus died there on Christmas Eve 1889 and was buried in an unmarked grave the following day. The sunstroke he suffered at the Battle of Gettysburg on 1 July 1863 may have contributed to his later mental condition and early death. (Military Register of Custer’s Last Command, Roger L. Williams (2009), p.242.)

Mrs Mary Personeus (formerly Crisfield) in later life. Photograph courtesy of Richard Austin Jr.

  • Mary Personeus, who lived for many years in Gillespie, Macoupin County, died 17 February 1931, at the age of 85, and is buried in Mayfield Memorial Park Cemetery, Carlinville, Illinois, where a fine, pink granite stone marks the spot. It was placed there by her daughter, Phoebe, and son-in-law, Charles Goodnight,  a coal miner; almost certainly a near relative of the Charles Goodnight, who is famous for forging the Goodnight-Loving Trail from Texas to Wyoming. 
  • The words, “Survivor Gen. Custer’s Massacre,”  are ‘poetic licence’ for saying that Mary was the wife of a participant of this iconic battle even though she was hundreds of miles away at Fort Totten on that fateful day, 25 June 1876.  Lt Col George Armstrong Custer and 262 other U.S. personnel were killed in battle by a much larger combined force of ‘hostile’ Sioux and Cheyenne Indians who were defending their village along the banks of the Little Bighorn River and, correctly speaking, it was not a massacre.  A further five enlisted men died of their wounds.

Grave marker of Mary Personeus, Mayfield Memorial Park Cemetery, Carlinville, Illinois. (Author's collection)

'Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA (2010), p.74

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