Gibbs, William

Place of Birth: Manchester

Date of enlistment: 15 September 1874

Age given at enlistment: 22

Rank: Private

Company: K

Location on 25 June 1876: In hilltop fight



From California, UK to California, USA

Alvechurch, Worcestershire, a village noted for its many medieval half-timbered buildings. A Lee J. Andrews photograph.

  • William Gibbs, was born on 28 July 1845 in Alvechurch, a large village near Bromsgrove,  Worcestershire, son of Henry Gibbs, a labourer, and Jane Childs Gibbs, from Shelsley Walsh (aka Little Shelsley).  He was baptised on the 17th of August in the parish church of St. Laurence, which dates from at least as early as the first half of the 13th Century. 
  • No house or street name is recorded in either of the Register of Births or Baptisms.  In 1845 Alvechurch was a Sub-district of Tardebigg(e), in the Registration District of Bromsgrove. William’s birth was not registered by his mother until 1 September 1845, who presumably being unable to read or write, signed her name with the mark of a cross, i.e. ‘X.’ 
  • Henry Gibbs and Jane Childs were married at Kidderminster, Worcestershire on 5 July 1843.  They had four children John (bapt.  Alvechurch, 4 February 1844); William, above; Mary Jane (bapt. Clent, 4 November 1849); Lucretia (bapt. Clent, 7 June 1857). 
  • By April 1861 [Census] the Gibbs had moved to an area known as California, in Kingswinford, a satellite village of Dudley, also in Worcestershire, where William, 15,  was enumerated as an agricultural labourer and lived his parents, brother and two sisters.  Ten years later William’s parents were still living in Kingswinford, with two coalminers as lodgers, but all three siblings had left home: Lucretia, age 14, is a domestic servant in the home of a Thomas Penny, a farrier, in 11 Market Street, Stourbridge.
  • The ultimate fate Henry and Jane Gibbs is not known to this writer.

An extract taken from the manifest of the S.S. Hecla (Captain Gill), which arrived in New York on 14 June 1869, listing 24 year-old William Gibbs amongst its passengers.

  • Gibbs set sail for America from Liverpool on 1 June 1869, aboard the immigrant steamship Hecla, and arrived in New York 13 days later.  Presumably he remained in or around New York City until 15 December 1874 when he was enlisted in the United States Army by Lt. Thomas Gregg.  He told the recruiting officer he was only 22, thus reducing his true age by a full seven years, and said he was born in  Manchester,*  England. An apparently youthful-looking Gibbs was described as having blue eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, standing 5′ 7 1/4″ tall, previously employed as a butcher. He was assigned to the 7th Cavalry and joined Company K at Colfax, Louisiana, on 9 February 1875. From 7 June 1875 to 15 April 1876 he was on extra duty as a nurse in the post hospital at McComb, Mississippi. 
  • Note (*): The whereabouts of William Gibbs from the time of the census in April 1861 until he stepped ashore in New York in June 1869 is not known but maybe he lived and worked in Manchester for a time between these years, which prompted him to name this city as his place of birth.
  • William Gibbs served with his company as part of Capt. Frederick Benteen’s battalion at the Little Big Horn and survived the ensuing hilltop fight unscathed. On 30 September the following year he was at the Snake Creek fight against the Nez Perce. He was  discharged on a surgeon’s certificate for chronic rheumatism from Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, on 5 April 1878 – a private of excellent character.   
  • He never married and many years later received a pension of $30 a month.
  • Geoff Topliss writes: “Gibbs was one of the soldiers who brought water up from the river for the wounded on the second day of the battle. In the 1930s there was an unsuccessful campaign to have him awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Little Big Horn.”
  • Men With Custer, p. 139, and Military Register, p. 136 both give 28 July 1852 and Manchester, England, as his date and place of birth respectively. At age 29, William Gibbs was relatively old for a first enlistment and it was not uncommon for a new recruit in similar circumstances to reduce his age to appear more in line with that of his peers: even so, seven years was longer than normal.
  • William Gibbs, believed to be the last UK-born survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, died on 18 February 1934 at the Veterans Home, Yountville, Napa County, California, of arteriosclerosis and exhaustion.  Three days later he was buried in the Veterans Home Cemetery, section H, row 2, grave 21. Strangely, the census taken in 1930, when he was already an inmate in the Veterans Home, records him as having had no military service.  The age stated on his death certificate, ’88 years 6 months 20 days, birth place, Worcestershire, England,’ confirms beyond reasonable doubt that he was, indeed, the former private in Company K, 7th Cavalry.
William Gibbs Grave

Headstone for William Gibbs, Veterans Home Cemetery, Yountville, Napa County, California.


The Cunard Line S.S. Hecla built 1860.

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