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William Sleeth - Fifth Indiana Cavalry

Sergeant William M. Sleeth - photo courtesy Carl Clink

One of the Foundation's members, Carl Clink, might have a direct connection to the battle that took place in the early morning of July 19th, 1863 in Portland Bottoms. William M. Sleeth, a member of Company G, Fifth Indiana Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, had seen service in the three month Eighth Indiana Infantry. His military pension also indicates service in Company G of the Sixth Indiana Cavalry, which throws a bit of a fly in the ointment if he was present at the battle at Buffington Island.

Sleeth was born December 27th, 1842, to Emmanuel Sleeth (a Virginia native) and Mary Marsh, who had been born in Indiana. He was the second child in the Sleeth family. On the 1850 United States Census, Emmanuel was earning a living as a blacksmith. By 1860 the family had moved to Davis County, Iowa, Emmanuel now a farmer, with his two sons, Aaron and William, also working on the farm.

How William wound up serving in Indiana as opposed to Iowa is unclear, but we do know that he joined Company G of the Eighth Indiana Infantry on April 22nd, 1861, shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter. The Eighth was sent to western Virginia and was engaged at the Battle of Rich Mountain, fought on July 11th, 1861. Sleeth would muster out with the regiment in Indianapolis on August 6th, 1861.

The confusing pension card that shows service in three units during the Civil War

A year later Sleeth was back serving in the army, having joined the Fifth Indiana Cavalry on August 18th, 1862. This is where things become a bit confusing in tracing Sleeth's military service. On his pension card there is mention of service in the Eighth Indiana Infantry (Company I and not Company G is listed), the Fifth Indiana Cavalry, and the Sixth Indiana Cavalry, Company I. The Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana, Volume IV shows Sleeth in Company G of the Eighth Infantry. Volume VI shows a William H. H. Sleeth in the Sixth Indiana Cavalry, Company H and as having served from August 18th, 1862 until mustering out on June 17th, 1865. The Sleeth in the Fifth has a muster in date also of August 18th, 1862, but mustering out on September 15th, 1865. Just what units did William Sleeth serve? I believe the pension card to be in error, and that the pension office combined the services of William M. and William H. H. Sleeth. Unfortunately the Compiled Service Records for Indiana units are not accessible online, so I am unable to confirm just when William M. Sleeth served in the Fifth Indiana, and if he was indeed present at Buffington Island since only a detachment of the Fifth was present on the field.

If Sleeth was at Buffington Island, then he would have been in Henry M. Judah's column that was approaching the Bottoms from the south, the column that would be first engaged with the Confederates under Basil Duke in the early morning foggy hours of July 19th. Sleeth might have been present on the parcel of land that lies between the memorial park and Portland Community Center, as the Fifth Indiana Cavalry was engaged in forcing back the Fifth and Sixth Kentucky Cavalry Regiments (C. S. A.). The parcel was recently preserved, the first battlefield land to be saved in ninety years. If Sleeth was at Buffington Island, then Mr. Clink has a direct connection to this ground.

After the war William returned to Indiana, and married Nancy A. Windser (as spelled on the marriage record) on November 9th, 1865. By 1870 Sleeth was a cooper in Shelby County and two daughters blessed the marriage (Silva and Maude). Unfortunately Maude died in 1871. By 1880 a son had been born (Claude) and William was working in a local saw mill. By 1900 William was widowed - Nancy having died in 1898 - employed as a head sawyer at the mill, and living in the same household as Claude (a house painter) and daughter Birdie (some records show Bertie), who was attending school. Later in 1900 I believe Sleeth married a Carrie L. Cooper, who was an Indiana native and eighteen years William's junior. The marriage license was issued in Shelby County, hence my supposition.

William would die on December 21st, 1925 at Morristown, Indiana, being buried in the Asbury Cemetery with wife Nancy. His stone indicates his service in Company G, Fifth Indiana Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, and perhaps a Buffington Island veteran.

Sleeth's gravestone - photo courtesy Carl Clink

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David L Mowery
David L Mowery
Jan 15, 2023

The National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers & Sailors database indicates that William M. Sleeth served in Company I of the 8th Indiana Infantry, Company G of the 5th Indiana Cavalry, and Company I of the 6th Indiana Cavalry. In both cavalry units, he is listed as a First Sergeant, which implies it's the same man. The motivation for moving to a different unit was either to receive better rank or higher pay, or both. Not sure in this case, because William appears to have stayed in the 5th until September 1865.,+william%20m

The Soldiers and Sailors database uses muster-in sheets for its data. Muster-in sheets are the most accurate military records for Civil War soldiers. Most of these sheets…

Darryl R. Smith
Darryl R. Smith
Jan 15, 2023
Replying to

As the dates of service in the 5th and 6th overlap by several months, he could not have served in both regiments at the same time, if the roster dates are correct for both regiments. The roster for the 6th indicate that Sleeth was not a first sergeant but remained a private throughout service, while the Sleeth on the roster of the 5th shows him mustering out as a first sergeant. I believe these to be two different men.

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