(c. 1839 - 1896)
Home State: Massachusetts
Branch of Service: Infantry
A 22 year old floor layer in Boston, he enlisted on 16 September 1861 in Company K, 19th Massachusetts Infantry. He was appointed Sergeant, date not given.
McGinnis was a natural soldier and everything he did was characterized by military precision and snap. His gait and movements were military ... He could also sing and dance and was a fairly well trained athlete. He could assume command of a detail in the most approved style and his genial qualities made him popular with all.
On the Campaign
He was severely wounded in the chest in action at Antietam on 17 September 1862.
The rest of the War
Sergt. McGinnis, who had received a bullet wound in the breast, saw Capt. Hale as he sat in the temporary hospital his lips swelled so that he could hardly open them and his face puffed out, trying to drink some tea. Thinking to "cheer the boys up a bit," he said to the wounded officer, "Oh, Captain, how I'd just like to kiss you now '' The poor captain could not laugh as it hurt his lips to move them, and could only splutter in his pain. Sergt. McGinnis then lay upon the operating table and had his bullet removed without taking anaesthetics.He was appointed First Sergeant of his Company, and was again wounded, in the neck in action at Gettysburg, PA on 3 July 1863.
Sergt. McGinnis, of Co. K, received his wound just as the line of Pickett's men broke, under the terrible fire trained upon them. McGinnis could not restrain his enthusiasm at the spectacle, and, jumping to the top of a little ridge in front of his company, he waved his arms and shouted: "They've broke, boys! They're running! There they go! See 'em run!" As he cried out in his excitement, a rebel bullet found lodgment in the back of his neck and he dropped.He reenlisted 20 December 1863 and was commissioned First Lieutenant to date from 13 December 1863. He was captured in action with most of his regiment near Petersburg, VA, on 22 June 1864.
The officers were confined in the prison at Macon and endured all the sufferings incident to life in a rebel stockade. After remaining there until the last of July, they were taken to Charleston, S. C, and placed in the jail under fire of the Union batteries on Morris Island. In August they were paroled and taken to the old United States Marine Hospital, remaining there until Yellow Fever broke out in October. They were then taken to Columbia. From there a number escaped, but the majority who survived were exchanged at different times during the next six or eight months.He was assigned to Company E, date not given. He was released 1 March 1865, transferred to Company D, and mustered out on 15 May 1865.
Lieut. "Billy" McGinnis, always a source of fun, did not have the fondness for a joke starved out of him, even in a rebel prison. Most of his hair had fallen out by the time he was placed in "Camp Sorghum" at Columbia, S. C, and all he had to wear was a dressing gown which had been allotted to him from one of the Sanitary Commission's boxes which had been sent to the prison. With his bald head and unkept beard of gray, he appeared much older than he really was.
One day a rebel officer who came into the office, saw McGinnis walking about in his flowing robe, and exclaimed, "It's a shame. If I could I'd let that po' ol' man go free." "Old man," exclaimed McGinnis, "I guess not, yet," - and he turned a handspring in front of the kind hearted officer, who disappeared immediately.
After the War
The 1872 and 1875 Boston City Directories list the firm of Walton & McGinnis (proprietors Thomas Walton and William A. McGinnis) at #12 Harvard, Boston. He was an original Companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) and a member of Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Post #32 (Washington) in South Boston, MA. By 1886 he was receiving a Federal pension of $6 a month for his Gettysburg wound.
References & notes
Service information from Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines 1 and the History,2 source also of the quotes above. Details from the MOLLUS Register of the Commandery of the State of Massachusetts (1 November 1912). His picture from a photograph from the Massachusetts Commandery of MOLLUS via the Historical Data Systems database.
12/14/1896 Boston, MA
1 Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Adjutant General, Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, 8 Vols, Norwood (MA): Norwood Press, 1931-35, Vol. 2, pg. 484 [AotW citation 17935]
2 Waitt, Ernest Linden (compiler), History of the Nineteenth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865, Salem (MA): The Salem Press Co., 1906, pp. 37, 141, 146, 250, 337, 338, 359 [AotW citation 17936]