Col. William Sirwell

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William Sirwell, son of Richard and Elizabeth (Graham) Sirwell, both natives of England, was born in the United States army, at the Allegheny arsenal, on August 10, 1820, his father, who had been principal musician, at that time being armorer at the arsenal. Of a military turn of mind he entered the militia service in 1839, and commanded in succession the City Blues, of Pittsburgh, and the Washington Blues, Brady Alpines and Kittanning Yeagers, of Kittanning, to which place he removed in 1855. He was also for ten years brigade inspector of Armstrong county. In person he is six feet in hight, broad shouldered and robust. He was married on November 6, 1840, to Miss Elizabeth McCandless, of Butler county. They have had eight children, viz.: Lucinda Ann, Alexander Nelson (dead), Sarah C., Mary H., William Mitchell, Samuel (dead), Elizabeth M., and Emma J. (dead).

In 1854 being in Iowa, he raised at Davenport the first military company in the state, and in 1855, while on his way home, he organized in Pittsburgh the first military company of colored men known to have been formed in the United States. They were called the Hannibal Guards.

On the breaking out of the rebellion Col. Sirwell with his company, the Brady Alpines above mentioned, were the first company in Western Pennsylvania to offer their services to the United States government, and were at once accepted and served through the three months compaign in the 9th regt. Pa. Vol. Inf., under Gen. Patterson, in Virginia. Upon the expiration of their term of service and return home, Capt. Sirwell at once proceeded to organize the 78th regt. Pa. Vol. Inf., was commissioned colonel of the same, and with his brigade, under the command of Gen. James S. Negley, ordered to the army then stationed in Kentucky. In the affair at Lavergne, one of the actions for the defense of Nashville, the regiment particularly distinguished itself, and its commander was complimented by Gen. Negley and by Andrew Johnson, then military governor of Tennessee. At Stone River the regiment captured the White Horse Artillery, of New Orleans, consisting of four twelve-pounder brass Napoleon guns, the regimental colors of the 26th Rebel Tennessee, and the guidon of the 4th Florida. As a reward of his service here, Col. Sirwell was made provost marshall of Murfreesboro, and was afterward placed in command of the 3d brigade, 2d division, of the 14th corps, department of the Cumberland. In the terrible conflicts of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge, and in the subsequent campaign of Atlanta, he rendered valuable services. At New Hope Church so marked was his gallantry that he was commended by Gen. Thomas. When Atlanta finally was taken after a campaign of a hundred days in which the smoke of battle scarcely cleared away, it became difficult to keep open the base of supplies, stretching away to Chattanooga. Col. Sirwell was assigned to this duty and preserved unbroken the line of transportation, supplies being rapidly brought up. After his term of service expired, at the solicitation of the commander of the department, Col. Sirwell remained in the field, his regiment as mounted infantry being employed in attacking and pursuing Forrest's cavalry through Middle and Southern Tennessee.

Col. Sirwell was a gallant but prudent officer. He was much admired by his brother officers and the men of his command. He was made the recipient of two swords, both handsome and valuable ones, but prized by him more dearly for their associations than aught else.

At one time Col. Sirwell saw fit to resign his command (which, however, he almost immediately resumed), and the officers of the 78th regt. at that time, November 20, 1863, presented him with the following resolutions:

WHEREAS, Col. William Sirwell has felt it his duty to resign his commission as colonel of this regiment, we, the commissioned officers, do resolve,
  1. That we sustain Col. Sirwell in the cause that induced him to take this step which sunders the reciprocal ties which for over two years have held him and his military family together. Declining health induced by hard service in the field entitle "the old soldier" to an honorable retirement.

  2. That the history of this regiment from its organization to this time, its superior discipline, its undaunted courage on the field of battle, and its complete appointment in every department are the handiwork of Col. Sirwell, and stamp him as a military commander of the first order.

  3. That the name and services of Col. Sirwell will ever be associated in our minds with recollections of Lamb's Ferry, White Creek, Neely's Bend, Goodletsville, Lavergne, Brentwood and Stone River, Dog Gap, Chickamauga.

  4. That the kindness of disposition and the frankness of Col. Sirwell have endured him both to officers and men, and in parting with him they feel that they ware losing a father who watched over them with fond care.

  5. That we each and all resolve here tonight in taking the parting hand of Col. Sirwell that we will do our utmost to bring this regiment home to him with its colors flying and its bright escutcheon untarnished.

  6. To William Sirwell, late colonel of this regiment, the strict disciplinarian, the accomplished soldier, the high-toned gentleman, the kind and genial companion -- you have toiled with us, you have endured all the sufferings and enjoyed many of the glories of the soldier's life -- to you we say farewell, and God bless you.

  7. Resolved, that copies of these resolutions be forwarded to Col. Sirwell and to the papers in Kittanning (except the Mentor), Indiana, Clarion, Butler, Lawrence and Pittsburgh.
(Signed by the commissioned officers of the 78th Regiment).

Having performed his duties faithfully to the government during the time of war, Col. Sirwell has since resided in Kittanning, and has held the offices of postmaster and justice of the peace. He has spent much time in collecting curiosities and relics, especially those which pertain to Armstrong county, and has perhaps the most valuable private cabinet in Western Pennsylvania.

Source: Page(s) 598-599, History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania by Robert Walker Smith, Esq. Chicago: Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1883.
July 2000 by James R. Hindman for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by James R. Hindman for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (

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