(1836 - 1919)
Home State: Minnesota
Education: University of Notre Dame
Branch of Service: Sharpshooters
He moved with his family to Boone County, IL in 1845 and to Minnesota, probably before July 1852 when he and his older brother Henry enlisted in Company D, First United States Dragoons at Fort Snelling on 5 July 1852. He was apparently big for his age at 3 days short of 16 years, and gave his age as 21. The brothers were discharged less than a year later in June 1853 "by civil authority (minor)" - being underage. He attended the University of Notre Dame for two and a half years and may have been admitted to the bar before the War.
He mustered as Sergeant, Second Company, Minnesota Sharpshooters at age 25 on 16 December 1861.
On the Campaign
He was wounded in the foot by shrapnel from an artillery round in action at Antietam on 17 September 1862.
The rest of the War
He was home on wounded furlough to December 1862 and was discharged for disability on 7 January 1863. He returned to Minnesota and raised a company of the 2nd Minnesota Cavalry and he was commissioned First Lieutenant, but resigned, probably before actually serving in that post, about November 1863. He enlisted as Private, Company L, 5th Iowa Infantry on 1 February 1864. He was discharged, date not given, to accept a commission as 2nd Lieutenant, 115th US Colored Troops (USCT, aka 16th United States Colored Infantry). He was then Captain of Company C, 120th USCT, and finally Lieutenant Colonel (by brevet), 125th USCT. While still in uniform he was admitted to the bar in Kentucky and served briefly as a Judge Advocate in 1865.
After the War
He returned to Minnesota and practiced law for two years. In 1867, during Reconstruction, he was appointed US District Attorney at Russellville, KY, and was an agent of the Freedman's Bureau there. He moved to Kansas in 1869 and was a civil engineer on the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Gulf, Chicago & Southwestern, and Central Iowa Railroads. By the end of 1867 he had established his law practice in Waverly, Iowa which he continued to at least 1887 and he also had real estate holdings back in Fillmore County, MN.
In December 1887, by then age 51, he was involved in a violent altercation with his former law partner Willis S. Kingsley (1862-1887), probably because he thought Kingsley was having an affair with his wife. There was also talk that Billings was trying to extort money from Kingsley. Both men were shot with the same revolver and Kingsley died. There were no other eyewitnesses and Billings said Kingsley had shot him, then committed suicide, but he was charged with murder and convicted, in the 2nd degree, on 25 April 1888. He appealed the conviction, and was again convicted on retrial in Black Hawk County. He appealed to the State Supreme Court in October 1889, but was imprisoned when
[t]he supreme court refused his application for a writ of habeas corpus and he will be confined in the penitentiary pending his appeal to the supreme court ... The case against Mrs. Billings for perjury in her evidence at the former trial of her husband has been dismissed.In October 1890 his convictions were reversed, the Iowa Supreme Court ruling:
... But two shots were fired, being about four and one half seconds apart, both of which were from the revolver found by the side of the deceased; and but two balls were ever discovered, one in the head of the deceased and the other in the back of defendant. The deceased was a man of good physique, in the vigor of his physical manhood, and capable of preventing a deadly assault with a revolver placed against his face. Held, that the undisputed facts in the case being inconsistent with murder, but consistent with suicide, the burden was upon the state to overcome the presumptions arising from such facts with affirmative proof of the guilt of the defendant, and that the state having failed to do this, a verdict of murder in the second degree was erroneous.Shortly afterward he was living in Cowlitz, WA and was City Attorney of Kalama, WA. By 1903 he was in the Napa Valley of California practicing law. He had been receiving a veteran's pension since 1876 which was increased to $30 per month in 1906.
References & notes
Casualty information from Nelson1. War service from Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars,2 the Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion (1908-1911), and the US Park Service's Soldiers and Sailors Database. His enlistment in the Dragoons from the Register.3 Personal details from the History of Bremer County, Iowa (1883) and his obituary in the The Weekly Calistogian of 8 November 1918 posted online (among other excellent resources) by Dean Enderlin. His initial murder conviction was covered by the St. Paul Daily Globe of 26 April 1888 [PDF from the Library of Congress]. The first quote above from the Omaha Daily Bee of 10 October 1889. Pension information from the US Statutes at Large (Vol. 34, Pt. 2, 1906). His gravesite is on Findagrave. His picture from one of unknown provenance posted to Ancestry.com; thanks to Susan Hearn Kirstein and Sharon Murray for digging that out.
He married Julia Clarinda Churchill (1840-1922) in 1856; she was 15, he was 19. They had 4 children, two of whom died young in 1862. They divorced in about 1870 and he married Delia Emma Welcher in 1874. There was discussion at one of his trials that she was underage and Billings had crossed state lines and used false information to marry her. They had two children.
At least one source has his name as Myron Edward Billings and his birthday as 8 July 1837.
More on the Web
Some of his wartime correspondence is found in the Myron E. Billings Papers, University of Kentucky. The details of the shooting, his murder trials, convictions, and eventual clearing are in the Reports of Cases at Law and in Equity Determined by the Supreme Court of Iowa (1892), online from Google Books, source of the second quote above.
07/08/1836; Booneville, Oneida County, NY
11/04/1918 Calistoga, CA; burial in Calistoga Pioneer Cemetery, Calistoga, CA
1 Nelson, John H., As Grain Falls Before the Reaper, Hagerstown: John H. Nelson, 2004, pg. 132 [AotW citation 16432]
2 State of Minnesota, Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil War and Indian Wars 1861-1865, 2 volumes, St. Paul: Pioneer Press Company, 1890-93, Vol. 1, pg. 517 [AotW citation 21256]
3 US Army, Registers of Enlistments in the United States Army, 1798-1914, Washington, DC: National Archives, 1956, Vol. 049. pg. 29 [AotW citation 21315]