William E. Polhamus was born on February 2, 1825, in Sodus, Wayne County, New York.
According to the 1880 census William’s father was born in the Netherlands and his mother in France.
In any case, William married New York native Laura J. (b. 1830) and they had at least two children: Martha (b. 1848) and William J. (b. 1850).
Sometime after 1848 William and his family left New York and by 1850 they were probably living in Illinois. William moved the family to Michigan and by 1860 he was working as a shoemaker and living with his his wife and two children in Eaton, Eaton County.
William stood 5’7” with hazel eyes, dark hair and a fair complexion and was 39 years old and probably working as a shoemaker in Muskegon village and living with his wife Laura J., when he enlisted in Unassigned on January 11, 1864, at Pittsfield, Washtenaw County for 3 years, and was mustered January 12, crediting Pittsfield. (Laura was living in Muskegon during the war.) Apparently he was sent home sometime in 1864 suffering from either illness or wounds. However, as a result of a miscommunication, William was reported as a deserter and subsequently fled to Canada.
On October 29, 1864, F. W. Ferry, from Grand Haven, wrote to Colonel B. R. Hill, the deputy provost marshal in Michigan seeking to intercede on behalf of Polhamus. Ferry was a local politician and man of means in the western Michigan community. “I have been approached,” he wrote, “by several leading citizens of Muskegon, Muskegon County for intercession in behalf of Private Wm. E. Polhamus of Co. H 3d Regt Mich Vol. Infantry, now in Canada. It seemed that he was at home on furlough or sick leave and was ordered to report to Detroit for medical treatment. He complied with the order so far as to start for that city, when deputy Marshal Maiuer [?] took him in charge and turned him over to Capt. [Norman] Bailey [provost marshal] of Grand Rapids who then told him that he [considered] him as a deserter. Frightened at this unexplained condition and much alarmed at the result to follow such predicament he was led by his fears, not his better sense, to escape to Canada to avoid the punishment which he claimed not to have incurred but which he feared would be imposed.”
Ferry went on to say that Polhamus now wished to do make amends and to do his duty “if he may do so and not be subject to punishment.” He concluded by asking “that you permit him to return to his company without disability. By enclosing me such assurance I am assured that he will be forthcoming and will report for duty.”
Sometime in early January, 1865 Polhamus himself wrote to the deputy provost marshal for the state of Michigan. “ I wish you would send me,” he wrote, “an order to report to you so as to protect me from arrest by petty officers on my there. I do ask it as a pardon or reprieve but to give myself in your possession as your prisoner. You may recollect my case as Mr. Ferry wrote to you of me and my case. Give me an order to report in 15 days and send it to my wife at Muskegon and I shall get it and pledge myself as a man and a master mason to report in good time and explain the whole case to you satisfactorily and to my great relief. I would come without an order but am informed that I am watched for closely.” He closed by writing “yours respectfully tho in disgrace at [sic] present.”
William was ordered to report on January 30, 1865, but it is not known if he did in fact present himself to the commanding officer at Detroit Barracks.
There is no further record, and no pension seems to be available.
By 1880 William was working as a shoemaker and living with his wife on Clinton Street in Grand Ledge, Eaton County; also living with them was Martha Leggett, his mother-in-law, and an adopted daughter named Olevia Bentley (b. 1866).
In 1889 and 1890 Laura was listed as living at 1 Peck Street in Muskegon but no mention of William.
It is possible that William died in 1894, possibly in Muskegon.