Willard R. Olds was born on September 9, 1845, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, the son of Rachel (b. 1807 in New York).
Willard’s family left Ohio sometime after 1845 and eventually settled in Michigan. By 1860 Willard was living with his mother and older sister and they were all living with the George Chickering family in Orleans, Ionia County, where Willard worked as a farm laborer.
He stood 5’8” with gray eyes, dark hair and a light complexion and was 16 years old and probably living with his mother in Saranac, Ionia County when, according to Raymond Steele, the family biographer, he enlisted in Company C on February 16, 1862, at Saranac for 3 years, and was mustered on February 21 in Saranac. He was wounded during the battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863, and was reportedly wounded a second time in June at Brandy Station, Virginia.
Willard (or William) was fined one month’s pay in July or August by order of Regimental court martial, although his offense is not revealed in the available records. However, according to his grandson, Willard “was on duty with the ‘trains’, guarding official baggage, when he was overcome with curiosity as to the purpose of the continuous cannonading coming from Seminary ridge. He left his post” near “Little Round Top and walked to a promontory just to the east of the Union line, south of the cemetery. He arrived in time to see the Virginians step off” and “’in magnificent’ formation marched toward the Union center. He was well aware of the fact he had abandoned his post,” Steele continued, “but was” according to Steele’s father, “’spell-bound’ watching these formations come on with military precision, under the heaviest of defensive fire.” Steele added that Willard “was 17 that afternoon, but 75 years later, according to my father, he could describe the action with the vividness of the day he observed it.”
In November of 1863 Willard was reported missing in action at Mine Run, Virginia, and in fact he had been taken prisoner at Mine Run on November 27 and was hospitalized in the enlisted section of Libby prison hospital in Richmond, Virginia between mid-December and late January of 1864. . According to Raymond Steele, Willard “spent some weeks in . . . the enlisted infirmary of Libby prison” and was sent on to Andersonville prison in mid-February of 1864. “I do not know how long he was there,” Mr. Steele wrote of his grandfather, “however, had it been much longer, I am certain I would not be preparing this correspondence.”
Willard was either confined in Andersonville until he was discharged or he may have been transferred to a prison in South Carolina and subsequently to one in Florida. In any case, he was transferred as a prisoner-of-war to Company I, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864, and was discharged on June 24, 1865, at Detroit “by reason of telegraph from War Department.”
After the war Willard returned to Ionia County.
He married Michigan native Gertrude Russell (b. 1851) and they had at least two children: a son Robert and Edna (b. 1873) and Mrs. Carl Steele (b. 1880).
In 1870 he was working as a laborer and living withh his wife in Smyrna, Otisco Township, Ionia County. (His mother was also living in Otisco that year.) By 1880 he was working as a farmer and living with his wife and daughter and they were all living with his wife’s parents in Otisco. He was residing in Smyrna, Ionia County in 1882, 1883, 1888 and 1890, and in Belding by 1894 and by 1911 he was living at 415 Bridge Street in Belding. He served on the Belding city council and for many years was employed in the greenhouse and florist business in the Belding area. By 1920 Willard was living in Belding with his wife and their grandson Marion Steele; Willard and Gertrude were still living in Belding in 1930 (he was worth about $3000).
Willard was a member of the GAR, as well as a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association and the Michigan Association of Union Ex-Prisoners, and he received pension no. 162,608, dated October, 1879, at the rate of $4.00 per month.
Willard has the distinction of being the last known surviving member of the Old Third Michigan infantry when he died Tuesday night, August 30, 1937, at his home in Belding. Funeral services were held on Friday at 10:00 a.m. at the Hall & Chicy chapel and he was buried in Otisco cemetery.