Dr. William Lyman had a medical practice on the West Side of Rockford since 1852 and had treated all the “old timers.” He was into local and state politics and was always asked to give speeches for any of the celebrations in town. William Senior also represented Winnebago County in 1854-5 in the legislature of Illinois.
William married his wife Julia back in Massachusetts. They had a rather large family, even for the 1850’s. The family consisted of five boys and a girl spanning the ages of eighteen to three years old by 1860. One son, William, or Willie, as the family called him, was the second child born to William and Julia Lyman.
William and Julia brought the four boys born in Massachusetts to Rockford around 1850 and then little Harry and Lois were born after they arrived here. William was named after his father and seemed to be the kind of son that would have made any father proud. When the country went to war in 1861, William Senior and his oldest son, Daniel joined the Army. William Senior was chosen as an Army Surgeon and served in General Grant’s division.
Willie joined the service in 1862. He was only seventeen years old at the time of his enlistment into Company G 45th Illinois Infantry. On January 5, 1864, he was promoted to Hospital Steward. According to the Hospital Steward’s Manual (1862), “The steward was chosen from the ranks or from outside the unit in civilian life. He had to be age 18 to 35 and was appointed that title by the Secretary of War. He had to be either an enlisted soldier or a noncommissioned officer, and was promoted to a rank just above first sergeant.” They also dispensed medicines, applied bandages and dressings, and could apply “cups and leeches.” As a Hospital Steward, William was the general supervisor of the hospital. This included supervising the heating and ventilation for the building and ensuring the food was properly handled and cooked. This was quite an honor for one so young.
After his Army service, Willie’s family breathed a sigh of relief when he returned home safe and sound. He rejoined his volunteer duties by continuing his involvement with the International Order of the Guards Templar. This was a fraternal organization structured much like the Freemasons that promoted temperance, peace, and brotherhood. Willie, though only twenty-three, was highly respected in the community.
The family was shocked when Dr. William passed away unexpectedly on December 23, 1865. He had devoted his life to helping the Rockford community and his funeral procession reflected his popularity. After William’s death, the family struggled on and Julia did her best to hold the family together.
On August 22, 1867, Willie was at the family home, far away from the dangers he had faced on the battlefields of the Civil War. That day, he and two of his brothers were preparing for a hunting trip. One of the young men was in the doorway of the office, about fifteen feet from Willie. He was working on a gun and had the muzzle of the gun pointed back into the room. Somehow, the gun accidently discharged twice, hitting Willie in the chin and throat.
Some of the best medical doctors in Rockford, many of them friends of Willie’s father, rushed to the Lyman home. Despite their best attempts, there was nothing to be done. The autopsy would show that the two shots had ripped into the back of his throat then headed in opposite directions, one heading into the voice box and the other damaging the back of the throat. Willie did not die quickly. The wounds swelled, causing his airway to close. Willie struggled to breathe for two agonizing hours before he succumbed to the injuries and died.
Willie’s funeral was conducted under Post 124 Grand Army of the Republic. His funeral was attended by many people both at the home and at Greenwood Cemetery. The newspapers used the story of Willie’s death to stress gun safety, especially to the young men of the town.
Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events