William Power McDonald and Martha Ann Hornback Sacrifices for their Country

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William Power McDonald (1823-1879) and Martha Ann Hornback (1828-1867)

From Kentucky to Illinois: Marriage and a Family

William Power McDonald was born on 21 November 1823 in Bath County, Kentucky, an area where his future wife’s mother, aunts, uncles, and grandparents had lived prior to his birth. He was the son of Daniel McDonald and Elizabeth Power.

At some point early in his life William left Kentucky and migrated to Menard County, Illinois, where he met, courted, and married Martha Ann Hornback. (It is possible that the Hornback and McDonald families had known each other in Kentucky.) They married in Menard County, Illinois on 28 December 1848; Martha was 20 years old and William was 25. (Map of Menard County, Illinois courtesy of Wikipedia.)

William had served in the Mexican War of 1848 just prior to his marriage to Martha. It is said that the McDonald family was of Scotch-Irish descent. (See McDonald Family History.) William was five feet ten inches tall; he had a fair complexion, blue eyes, and brown hair. He was a farmer for most of his life. Sometime after their marriage, William bought forty acres of land near Greenview, Illinois and built a house on it.

Here is a copy of their marriage certificate:

Martha Hornback’s Early Life

Martha A. Hornback was born on 29 June 1828 in Sangamon County, Illinois. She was the oldest daughter of Mary Elizabeth "Polly" Hornback. Her mother never married and it is not known who her father was.

Martha's mother had migrated with her father and stepmother from Kentucky to Illinois just three years before Martha was born, but Martha spent her entire life in Menard County, Illinois. The photograph at the right is the only known photograph of Martha. It was perhaps taken at the time of her marriage to William.

Children of William and Martha

Between 1850 and 1865, William and Martha had six children:

A Union Soldier in the American Civil War

When the American Civil War began in the early 1860s, William was nearing forty years of age and had a wife and five children (Charles had not yet been born), but he still left his family and enlisted in a volunteer Company from Greenview, Illinois on August 14, 1862. His wife, Martha, was 34 years old and their children ranged in age from two to twelve.

Perhaps William saw it as a chance to supplement his farming income for his family. Perhaps it was a desire to be away for a while. Perhaps it was a desire to fight for his country. He had fought in the Mexican War and must have already felt that he was a soldier as well as a farmer. Whatever his motivations — and there may have been many — he left and was gone for more than eight months.

The only major campaign which William served in was the siege of Vicksburg; his name is inscribed on the Illinois monument there. This campaign occurred in the winter and spring of 1862 and 1863:

The Union forces wanted to take the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi, which lay on the east bank of the Mississippi River, halfway between Memphis to the north and New Orleans to the south. The capture of this city would divide the Confederacy and prove the military domination of the Union forces. After major losses along the river in the spring of 1862, the Confederacy did not want Vicksburg in the hands of the North. But everyone knew that it would not be an easy city to take. It was easy to defend because it was situated on high bluffs along the river and was protected on the north by a maze of swampy bayous.

Union forces tried several times to take the city:

After these failures, Grant decided to move his 40,000 troops to the west bank of the Mississippi; they then marched south beside the river until they could recross it about 30 miles south of the city. Then his forces took Port Gibson, reached Grand Gulf, and prevented the small Confederate army of General Joseph E. Johnston from joining up with the Vicksburg forces.

Fearing that they would be trapped and isolated, Vicksburg's commander, General Pemberton, led his 30,000 troops out of the city but was forced to return when they met Grant’s Army. Slowly, Grant‘s men gained control of all the approaches to the city, and by early June the Confederate garrison was desperately short of ammunition and on the brink of starvation -- exactly what Pemberton had feared. Pemberton surrendered the city on July 4th. It was a pivotal point in the war and the beginning of the end for the South.

Going Home at Last

William was not there to see the surrender of Vicksburg, for he was discharged nearly ten weeks before, on 18 April 1863. Some McDonald family writings say that he had tuberculosis, but another long-distant relative says that he had a “serious hernia as a result of pushing a cannon out of the mud.” It affected his ability to farm for the rest of his life. He made his way home from Youngs Point, Louisiana, by boat (probably up the Mississippi River for part of the way) and by foot.

A copy of William’s discharge papers state:

To Whom it May Concern: Know ye, that William P. McDonald, Private of Captain Samuel Estille Company, (K), 114th Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers who was enrolled on the Fourth day of August one thousand eight hundred and sixty two to serve three years or during the war is hereby Discharged from the service of the United States, this nineteenth day of April, 1863, at Youngs Point by reason of Surgeon's certificate of disability. (No objection to his being re-enlisted is known to exist.) Said William P. McDonald was born in Bath County in the state of Kentucky, is 38 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, fair complexion, blue eyes, brown hair, and by occupation when enrolled a farmer. Given at Youngs Point La this nineteenth day of April 1863."

A New Baby and Martha’s Death

After William returned to Martha and their five children, their last child, Charles Henry was born on 1 May 1865.

Two years after Charles Henry's birth, Martha died (probably in childbirth) on 1 June 1867; she was 39 years old. Her children ranged in age from the oldest at seventeen to the youngest at two. Martha was buried in Menard County, Illinois, in the family Hornback Cemetery. Her tombstone says, "Martha A. McDonald, wife of W.P. McDonald. Died June 1, 1867." Her age is given but it is obscured.

William Remarries

Two years after Martha's death, William married Mrs. Mary D. Bracken Brady on 19 December 1869. They had at least three children together: Robert E. (b. 1871), Belle Howard (b. 1874), and Richard Lawrence (b. 1876) 3. In the 1870 Census, they are listed as living together along with Martha’s 66-year-old mother, Mary Hornback. William identifies himself as a farmer with $8,000 in real estate and $1200 in personal property.

William’s Death, then Mary's Death

Mary died just two years after William.

William died ten years after his marriage to Mary on 17 July 1879 at Greenview, Menard County, Illinois. He was 56 years old and obviously left behind a number of young children. The death certificate says he died of “colery morbis.” His gravestone reads: "Wm. P. McDonald (Co K 114 ILL.INF)."

William’s second wife, Mary, died soon after William in 1881.

When Mary died in 1881, her children were still quite young. Belle and Richard, were raised by Mr. and Mrs. George Anne Rudder of Greenview, Illinois). Their oldest son, Robert, was "feeble-minded" and placed in a state institution at Lincoln, Illinois.

[This page researched and written by Susan Overturf Ingraham, a descendant of William and Martha. Last Updated on June 3, 2019.]

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. ↩︎

  2. For more information about Charles Henry's life, click on his name. ↩︎

  3. There may have been another child -- Andrew H. -- born in 1872, but he may not have survived infancy as little information can be found about him. ↩︎