William R. Sayles was born December 22, 1839 in Canada, the son of New York native Elias Sayles Sr. (1803-1897) and Canadian-born Hannah Showers (1808-1872) and stepson of English-born Eliza Ann Wrigley (1819-1885).
The family moved from Canada to Michigan between 1843 and 1846, and by 1850 William was living with his family and attending school with his siblings (including a younger brother John who would enlist in Company G in 1862) in Keene, Ionia County; next door lived Charles and Harrison Soules, both of whom would enlist in Company C in 1861. Nearby lived a cousin, Lyman Sayles, Cyrenius’ son, who would also enlist in the 3rd Michigan.
William farmed for some years in Keene before the war, and in 1860 he was working as a farm laborer and/or living with the Matthew Brown family in Keene; his parents were still living in Keene as well.
William stood 6’1’’ with dark eyes, hair and complexion and was a 23-year-old farmer living in Saranac, Ionia County when he enlisted in Company F on May 13, 1861. He was transferred to Company B on June 12.
There is no further record.
In fact, William may have never left with the 3rd Michigan when it departed Grand Rapids on June 13, 1861.
He married Michigan native Hettie Jane Hunter (d. 1895) on July 14, 1861, and they had at least two children: Charles (b. 1862) and Elroy (1864-1950).
William enlisted as a Private on September 5, 1861, at Marshall, in Company H, 2nd Michigan Cavalry for three years, and was mustered on October 12. He reportedly deserted on March 22, 1863, in Michigan.
Again, there is no further record.
Apparently William eventually enlisted in Company L, 6th Michigan Cavalry at Grand Rapids on January 29, 1864, for 3 years, crediting Keene, Ionia County, and was mustered on January 30. (Both Lyman and John Sayles, also reentered the service in the 6th Michigan Cavalry.)
He joined the Regiment near Stevensburg, Virginia about February 15, and was serving with the wagon train as a teamster from December of 1864 through March of 1865. In June he was on detached service as a teamster through July, and he claimed some years after the war to have been seriously injured by an accident at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in the summer of 1865. (The 6th had been transferred to Fort Leavenworth on June 1 and the veterans and recruits consolidated into the 1st Michigan Cavalry later that month.)
“On or about June 16, 1865,” Sayles testified in 1881, “while on soldier’s duty [with the 6th Cavalry] he was in the act of harnessing a mule to a wagon, the mule becoming scared jumped over the wagon tongue and a rope that was attached to [the] mule’s neck and hub of wagon caught [Sayles] between it and wagon tongue in such a manner as to bend him backwards between the wheel and wagon-box, until assistant wagon-master George Bothwell came to [his] rescue and cut the rope, and from there [Sayles] was sent to hospital.”
And on May 4, 1888, William wrote to Mr. J. C. Black, Pension Commissioner in Washington, that after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox his Regiment “was ordered west and that while in camp at Ft. Leavenworth Kansas,” round June 15, 1865, “I was detailed to drive mules and that (against my own will) and that while in the act of harnessing one of the mules, I was hurt across the back and in the region of the kidney so much so that when I was helped loose that I could not walk or stand on my feet and was injured so that I was sent to [the] convalescent hospital at Fort Leavenworth and remained there about six weeks and was discharged” on August 17, 1865. In fact he was honorably discharged on August 8, 1865, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
After his discharge, William returned to Michigan and resumed farming first in Polkton, Ottawa County from 1865 to 1870, then in Vergennes, Kent County from 1870 to 1874 (actually living in Lowell village in 1870), in Berlin (Saranac), Ionia County from 1874 to 1876, and in Keene from 1876 to 1881. By 1880 he was working as a farmer and living with Hettie and his two sons in Keene, Ionia County.
By 1888 he was living in Lowell when he wrote to the Pension Bureau on May 4, 1888, continuing his efforts to be granted a pension for his war-related injury. He wrote of how needless his injury had been and yet how much he had suffered ever since.
Now I do not want to find fault but I thought that we should have been discharged after the war closed but was not and the result has been ever since my hurt as I have mentioned I have been impaired so much that I have been a great sufferer ever since and . . . as I grow older I grow worse and I have thought that in time will be unable to perform my labor and now the witnesses that saw the accident are dead as well as all of my company officers with the exception of my first Lieutenant and he was on detached duty at the time. My captain died at Grand Rapids about 4 years ago. Now I do not know as I am entitled to pension or not but Mr. Black if after hearing and reading these few lines you think I had ought to or am entitled to have a pension I wish you would write. I have thought of writing you a great many times for information.
He was eventually granted pension no. 507,485, increased in August of 1902, drawing $12.00 per month.
In 1889 he was probably working as a laborer for Cupples Co. on Coldbrook near Ionia Street in Grand Rapids. By 1890 William was residing at 32 Quimby street in Grand Rapids where he worked for some years as a furniture finisher; he was living in Grand Rapids’ 6th ward in 1894 (as was another civil veteran his brother Elias Sayles Jr.).
William was living in Grand Rapids when he married New York native Mary A. Smith Lovelace on March 21, 1896, in Holland, Ottawa County. Each had been married once before.
William was admitted to the Michigan Soldiers’ Home (no. 2928) on September 26, 1899 (no mention made of enlistment in the 3rd Michigan).
William was a widower when he died of “progressive paralysis” at the Home on October 17, 1906, and was buried in Saranac cemetery: lot no. WH-462.