Place of Birth: Staffordshire
Date of enlistment: 9 October 1875
Age given at enlistment: 27
Location on 25 June 1876: With Custer's column
A Coachman from Staffordshire - But did he survive the battle?
Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, centre of The Potteries, famous for its bottle kilns.
- A man, who gave his name as William Heath, was enlisted in the U.S. Army at Cincinnati, Ohio, on 9 October 1875 by Lt. Patrick Cusack, 9th U.S. Cavalry. He stated that he was 27 years of age, born in the county of Staffordshire, England, and was described as having blue eyes, brown hair, a dark complexion, 5′ 7 1/4″ tall, previously employed as a coachman. He stated “he had neither wife nor child” and was sufficiently literate to sign his name. However, until the true identity of this soldier can be verified beyond any reasonable doubt his name, age and place of birth must remain uncertain. A claim is made that he survived the battle and died in Tamaqua, Schulkyll County, Pennsylvania, in 1891.*
- From Cincinnati Heath was sent to the St. Louis Depot, Missouri, and there transferred from the General Mounted Recruiting Service to the 7th Cavalry. He was one of 24 new recruits who joined Company L at Fort Totten, Dakota Territory, on 29 October 1875; was promoted to farrier on 3 January 1876; and reported sick from 25 February to 3 March suffering from contusion of the left tibia, having been kicked by a horse.
- Company L, together with Company E, left Fort Totten on 10 April 1876 and arrived at Fort Abraham Lincoln seven days later “to join in an Expedition against hostile Sioux – in obedience to S.O. #27 pay IV Headqtrs Dept. of Dakota.” On 5 May, together with the Regimental Commander [Custer], the Field Staff, the Band, and six other companies, Company L left Fort Lincoln and joined the remainder of the regiment in camp two miles south of the post.
- William Heath was killed with Custer’s column at the Battle of Little Big Horn on 25 June 1876: most likely with his company on Calhoun Hill, though as Frederic Wagner says (Participants, p. 48) the possibility exists he was one of those killed during the panic through the Keogh sector. He is listed as W. H. HEATH on the battle monument, which was erected in 1881. I have found no explanation for the addition of the second initial ‘H’ that first appeared in the list of those killed in regimental return for June 1876.
- Final Statement of William H. Heath (Farrier) [Captain Michael Sheridan’s Company] signed by 1st Lieut. W. S. Edgerly, Commanding Company, at Fort Abraham Lincoln on 31 January 1877.
- DUE SOLDIER
- For clothing not drawn in kind … $15.83
- Proceeds of sale of effects [April 26, 1877] … $5.00
- DUE UNITED STATES
- For tobacco … $1.14
- The above statement does not take into account basic pay due for the period May 1 to June 25, 1876.
- Note (*): Or was he the coal miner from Schuylkill County, PA, whose descendants claim he survived the battle, raised a large family, and lies buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, Tamaqua? Watch this space!
Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand, by Vincent J. Genovese, p. 212. Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York. 2003.