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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

An Eagle on His Button

Sgt William McGiffin of Co B of the 28th U.S. Colored Infantry served in a Civil War regiment formed in Indianapolis. He is buried at the Portee Cemetery, northeast of Lawrenceville. (Irene Black's 1976 "Cemeteries of Lawrence County, IL", pg 597) (Researchers believe this is undoubtedly the BILL McGIFFIE who was the bodyguard for Lawrenceville's Capt W.A.J. Mieure of Co G, 11th Missouri Infantry, who died of typhoid on 3 Nov 1861 at Cape Girardeau, MO.)

McGiffin enlisted on 26 Dec 1863 at age 28 in Indianapolis, IN for a term of 3 years. He was discharged on a Surgeon's certificate of disability on 13 October 1864 near Petersburg, VA. The disastrous Battle of the Crater happened on 30 July 1864 as part of the siege of Petersburg, so Sgt McGiffin was possibly wounded then.

William McGiffin is found in the 1860 Federal Census of Lawrenceville, IL as a 22-year-old male mulatto working as a day laborer who had been born in Indiana. After he returned from the war, the 1880 Census of Lawrenceville shows him to be single, but by 1900, he had been married for 14 years to his wife Isabelle E. McGiffin. He was then farming. The widow's tombstone inscription at the Portee Cemetery reads "Isabelle E. McGiffin, April 19, 1852 - April 25, 1929" (pg 598 of Irene Black's Cemetery Book)

McGiffin's Pension Record Index Card is available at Ancestry.Com and 20 pages of his service record can be found at

Additionally, Sgt Edward C. Sims served in Co D of the 28th U.S.C.I. and is also buried at the Portee Cemetery. He was born at Vincennes IN just as was Bill McGiffin. Both men were at Petersburg and their 28th Colored Infantry Regiment took heavy casualties at the Battle of the Crater.

The story of Bill McGiffin and Edward Simms are but two examples of the many stories out there of Civil War soldiers who were from or lived in Lawrence County, IL after the war.

Attention Clubs and Organizations: If you need a program, contact the Historical Society for our award-winning presentation “An Eagle on His Button”, the story of the African Americans from Lawrence County who fought during the Civil War. Our presenters will explain how the movie was made, the research behind the video content, and answer questions after showing the 23-minute video. Contact or 908-208-2372 You may watch the video here



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