WE CAN, WE WILL !
WILLIAM O. WILSON
William Othello Wilson, a native of Hagerstown, Maryland, was born on September 16, 1867. He enlisted in the United States Army on August 21, 1889. He earned the Medal of Honor on December 30, 1890 for "gallantry in action" voluntarily, for successfully carrying a message to the battalion commander at the Pine Ridge Indian Agency in South Dakota.
His medal was won at Drexel Mission, S.D., in an action fought the day after the tragic encounter at Wounded Knee. In November 1890, Lt. Col. Guy V. Henry received orders to move a squadron of the regiment, consisting of troops D, F and I, from their duty stations at Fort McKinney, Wyo., and Fort Robinson, Neb. The units then gathered at Pine Ridge Agency, S.D.
On December 24, the 9th received word "to move out at once to head off Big Foot," one of the Sioux leaders who the military feared might bolt for the Badlands. The 9th rode until the night of December 29, when a courier brought word of the bloody encounter at Wounded Knee. The troopers then hastened back to Pine Ridge, some 50 miles away. As they neared their destination, Henry "left the wagon train a short distance in the rear, guarded by a troop."
At daybreak, the main body entered Pine Ridge, where it halted to make camp. Soon afterward, Corporal William O. Wilson of Troop I, "who had volunteered at the risk of his life to reach us," carried the news "that the wagon train beyond the agency was surrounded, and one man already killed." Wilson would later be singled out to receive the Medal of Honor.
Moments after Wilson set out, the remainder of the command, "many not waiting to saddle, galloped to the front and quickly occupied the hills, whereupon the Indians retreated, and the train moved in." Having repelled the attack, the squadron headed back to their encampment. They scarcely had returned when the nearby Drexel Mission came under siege. Henry wanted his hard-pressed troopers to be "allowed to rest longer," because they "had marched some 108 miles in 22 hours." Consequently, elements of the 7th Cavalry responded first, with the 9th following soon thereafter. When the fighting ceased, the last gasps of the Ghost Dance died away, and the great Sioux Nation's way of life changed forever.
His Medal of Honor was awarded on September 17, 1891. William Wilson returned to Hagerstown in 1898 and married. The marriage produced seven children. Two of his daughters, Mrs. Anna V. Jones and Mrs. Elsie Comer currently reside in Hagerstown.
In Hagerstown, Mr.Wilson was a "jack of all trades" and worked as a carpenter and upholsterer. He died in January 1928. The grassy triangle at the intersection of Jonathan Street, Charles Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown, was dedicated to his honor in 1988. His home was located near the corner of Sumans Av. and North St., adjacent to the Martin Luther King Center. Although his family knew of his courageous military act, his actual burial site was unknown until Mrs. Mary Jones, Mr. Wilson's daughter in law, began to research his endeavor. Mrs. Jones research led her to the Washington County Free Library on February 28, 1997. Mr. Don Brown, by coincidence overheard her inquirys and joined the investigation. Don Brown discovered Mr. Wilson's gravesite in Rose Hill Cemetery on April 16, 1997. The grave marker was provided by the Veterans Administration.
Thus far, Mr. Wilson is the only Washington County, Maryland resident to receive the Medal of Honor, our nations highest military decoration. The MOH is awarded to a soldier, sailor, airman or marine who in actual combat, distinguishes himself conspicuosly at the risk of life, by gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. Mr. Wilson's military funeral symbolizes a sense of family and community pride and perfect conclusion to his heroic act of bravery.