A Civil War Odyssey in Brecksville, Ohio: The Search for William Stacy

By John Syroney
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2024, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Charger in February 2024.

It has often been said that stories are the fabric of humanity as they have the capacity to transport us to different places. I cannot think of a more unique story than the one of William Stacy. Having been a resident of Brecksville, Ohio for 25 years, I know the long and rich history that Brecksville has with the Civil War. I would often walk through the Brecksville Cemetery and see the graves of numerous Civil War soldiers. Memorial Day in Brecksville has a long history of honoring those old soldiers and remembering the sacrifices of those who gave the “last full measure” to their country.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Brecksville heeded the call from President Abraham Lincoln for volunteers and answered with a resounding affirmative. The 1860 census listed 1,024 individuals residing in Brecksville including 499 female and 525 male residents. During the war, 88 men either enlisted, were drafted, or acted as substitutes for pay. There is even an interesting story surrounding John Brown and Brecksville. One of the volunteers from Brecksville, Harry Snow, remembers a story told by his mother, Harriet Snow. She recalled an incident that her father, James Lockert, related concerning the selling of sheep to John Brown along Boston Road. According to records, John Brown was living in Richfield, Ohio in the early 1840s and was investing in the wool business. Four of his children died in northern Summit County as a result of “black diphtheria” and are buried in East Richfield Cemetery. The disease was a common affliction that affected many children in the 18th and 19th centuries. The word “diphtheria” is derived from the Greek word for leather, and this name was given to the disease due to its distinctive features. Common symptoms were the accumulation of a thick leathery tissue in children’s throats that made it difficult if not impossible to breathe and swallow.

William Stacy’s gravestone

Before leaving for the 2023 Cleveland Civil War Roundtable field trip to Manassas, Virginia, I decided to take the short drive to Brecksville Cemetery and capture a photograph of the gravesite of William Stacy. I knew that he was buried in Brecksville Cemetery and fought at the Second Battle of Manassas, but my discovery led to a more encompassing glimpse of his life. Circumstantial evidence suggests that William Stacy immigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from Ireland in 1816. Census records confirm that he may have traveled with both of his parents, John and Eliza Stacy, along with two sisters, Dorthea and Margaret. Census records also indicate that the family brought with them three chests and bedding on the ship Conestoga. William’s age at this time would have been around 5 or 6.

William Stacy

From there the story takes a turn. Archival records for William Stacy are very sparse until the 1860s, but there is some information about his wife, Louisa Stacy Stone. Louisa was a resident of Brecksville, Ohio and had strong ties to Brecksville. Her parents, Solomon Stone and Nancy Nash Stone, had lived in Brecksville for many years. Solomon’s mother, Deborah Comstock, had relatives who still live in the Brecksville area, and the Comstock home is one of the many historic homes of Brecksville. Solomon and Louisa appear in the 1850 census living in Blissfield, Michigan. Louisa appears as Louisa Stacy, but there is no record for William Stacy. Apparently Louisa’s brother was a successful merchant in Blissfield. Solomon Stone died in 1840 and is buried in the Blissfield Cemetery along with a number of the Stone children and family.

According to census records, Louisa and William Stacy were living in McKeesport, Pennsylvania in 1860. William is listed as a grocer with Louisa. The record also indicates that they had $3,000 in personal estate value and $2,000 in real estate value. As a result of their successful business, they were able to hire a domestic employee, Luiza Stoner, age 18, from Germany to work in their store. Louisa Stacy’s mother, Nancy, was living in Brecksville with her daughter and son-in-law, Harriet and Julius White, and the White’s six-year-old daughter, Celestia Stacy White. William Stacy must have been an important and integral member of the Stone family to have Louisa’s sister give her daughter the middle name “Stacy.” Nancy was 72 during the 1860 census, and she lived sometimes in Brecksville, but mostly in Blissfield until her death in 1867 at the age of 80.

Following the Union defeat at the First Battle of Manassas, President Lincoln issued a call for three-year enlistments of volunteers. William Stacy offered his services to the Union cause. It would not be surprising if Louisa and William had a number of emotional conversations regarding this decision. At the time of his enlistment, William was either 51 or 52. The intriguing feature of his age is the fact that 19th-century life expectancy was 39.4 years. William must have been in exceptional physical shape, or he must have held some significance in McKeesport as a businessman. Nevertheless, William’s muster roll confirms his enlistment into Company I as a Sergeant on August 19, 1861. Company I was referred to as the McKeesport Rifle Grays, because many of the men in it were recruited from the McKeesport area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The overall commander of the 63rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment was Colonel Alexander Hays, a West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican-American War. Hays still bore scars from wounds he received at the Battle of Resaca and National Bridge during that war.

William Stacy’s muster roll

During the fall and winter of 1861 and 1862, the 63rd Pennsylvania drilled and prepared for action. Assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Samuel Heintzelman’s Division, the 63rd saw its first action in the Peninsula Campaign. The regiment received its “baptism by fire” during the Battle of Williamsburg and subsequent action at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill. In his book Under the Red Patch: Story of the Sixty-Third Regiment, Colonel Hays wrote, “As we gathered up our shattered fragments, after the Battle of Malvern Hill, only two hundred and seventy-eight men were fit for duty out of over one thousand that had started out a few months before. Where were the others? In the gloomy fens of Yorktown, on the bloody field of Fair Oaks and Seven Pines; in the pestilential swamps of the Chickahominy the deadly fever had carried off many more, until of a full and complete regiment of stalwart men, less than three hundred were left to answer roll call.”

After the failure of the Seven Days Battles, the 63rd received its orders to be transferred from the Peninsula to the Army of Virginia under General John Pope. The 63rd was assigned to the 3rd Army Corps under General Heintzelman, but now in the 1st Division with General Philip Kearny in command, and the 63rd was assigned to the 1st Brigade under General John Robinson. To this point in the story, William Stacy had survived the ordeals of the Seven Days Battles and the subsequent bivouacking in the area surrounding Harrison’s Landing. William had also survived numerous engagements, marches through swamp-infested regions, and the daily ordeals of life as a 3rd Sergeant in Company I. It would be splendid if we had correspondence between William and Louisa detailing the experiences of life for both of them. Currently we do not have any letters or journals that allow a glimpse into their lives, but we must surmise and even presume that they did correspond with one another. What was William thinking at this time as he made his way on transports from the James River to spots along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad that transferred his regiment into their next action? How was Louisa carrying on the family grocery store in McKeesport, Pennsylvania with the help of a young female worker? Sadly, she had no idea that her husband was just about to enter the final phase of his life?

The 63rd Pennsylvania arrived on the morning of August 29th at the Second Manassas battlefield in reserve. After eating their breakfast, the men could hear the fighting that was taking place along the long line on which General Pope positioned his army to confront Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s Corps. After a series of frontal attacks along the left side and the middle of the line, Pope decided to launch his largest attack of the day along the right side of his line with 2,700 troops. Pope assigned the 1st Division under General Kearney to lead this assault around 5 p.m. Pope believed that Jackson’s troops were at a breaking point after two other assaults earlier in the day. Leading the initial attack was the 1st Brigade under General Robinson, who had the 63rd Pennsylvania, 105th Pennsylvania, and 20th Indiana at his disposal with support from the 2nd Brigade under General David Birney. In total, Kearny had 10 regiments arrayed for the assault.

Marker for the 63rd Pennsylvania on the Second Manassas battlefield

Moving through wooded terrain, the 63rd Pennsylvania received its orders from General Kearney, who told Colonel Hays, “Colonel Hays, move your regiment until the right rests where the left now is, and charge, and the day is ours.” Through the fairly wooded terrain, the 63rd lost direct contact with the 105th Pennsylvania. Approaching the unfinished railroad, the 63rd caught sight of General James Archer’s Brigade of Tennesseans, who were just arriving at the cut about the same time as the 63rd. Hays ordered his men to charge with bayonets fixed. As the 63rd approached the position of the railroad cut, they were hit by a severe volley of fire that, according to the regimental historian, caused the regiment to “shrivel up.” Undaunted by the initial repulse, the 63rd gathered its troops again for another attempt to take the unfinished railroad cut. By all accounts, this second assault brought the regiment toe to toe with Archer’s Tennesseans as volleys roared through the woods.

Map of the Battle of Second Manassas in late afternoon: The 63rd Pennsylvania is in the upper right directly above the name Leasure and between the 4th Maine and the 20th Indiana.

During this second attempt to take the cut, Colonel Hays received a severe wound in his leg, and command of the regiment devolved to Major Kirkwood, who attempted to lead yet another assault at the railroad cut. This third and final plunge brought the regiment to its closest advance to the railroad cut, but with devastating losses. Kirkwood was forced to retire the regiment to the cover of trees as twilight was beginning to descend upon the battlefield. With calls of “rally around the flag” reverberating on the field, the remaining members of the 63rd Pennsylvania retreated to a safer position with only 75 men reporting for duty. In the official report that was written by Adjutant George Corts, he wrote, “They could not be driven from the front, and we were subsequently forced to retire, being almost out of ammunition, and our effective force being reduced to one-half the number we came upon the field with.”

The author with the 63rd Pennsylvania marker

It was sometime during the battle that William Stacy was killed. Estimates of the length of time of the assault in the railroad cut were about one hour, indicating the ferocity of the struggle for that position. Attempts were made to retrieve the bodies but were called off due to the approaching darkness and the continuous volume of Confederate firing in that area. The 63rd along with the rest of Pope’s army retreated by the evening of August 29th for the safety of the defenses of Washington, D.C.

A casualty list that includes William Stacy

News of the battle would have been received throughout the cities of the North. Casualty lists of the battle would have reached the areas of McKeesport, Pennsylvania and Brecksville, Ohio fairly quickly. For example, after the Battles of Antietam and Gettysburg it was reported in Brecksville that casualty lists were read out on the steps of the Red Brick Store in that city. The devastating news would have reached Louisa in McKeesport, and the information would have been communicated to the Stone families in both Brecksville and Blissfield. A casualty list of the 63rd Pennsylvania appeared in the Pittsburgh Gazette on September 11, 1862.

What can be ascertained is that William Stacy is reported to be buried in the Brecksville Cemetery. The marker clearly states his name and provides information about his regiment and the Second Battle of Manassas. The question remains why Brecksville is William Stacy’s final resting place. The Confederate army would have quickly vacated the Manassas battlefield as it prepared for the impending invasion of Maryland that culminated in the Battle of Antietam the following month. It is feasible that burial parties and the newly established Sanitation Commission were able to document the names of the Union soldiers killed during the battle. It is also possible that Louisa Stacy and the Stone families in Brecksville and Michigan could have arranged the transport of William’s body to Brecksville for his final resting place. Both families were engaged in the merchant business and would have access to transportation and shipping schedules. They could have arranged for William’s body to be transferred from the battlefield to Brecksville.

Widow’s pension for Louisa Stacy, dated September 30, 1862

Louisa Stacy, who was forced to continue living her life without William, died in 1896 and is also buried in the Brecksville Cemetery alongside her husband. The record is incomplete on where she spent her years after the Civil War. Records do show that she received a military pension. There is also a record indicating in her last will and testament that Celestia “Lettie” Stacy Coates was the executor of her estate. Louisa shares a family burial plot with her niece Celestia and Celestia’s husband, William Coates. William Coates was educated at Oberlin College and began teaching at the Brecksville district school at the age of 17 while still managing a family farm. William Coates also served as a Deputy County Clerk for Cuyahoga County. Louisa’s brother and sister lie in the same cemetery in the Stone Family plot with their spouses.

Louisa Stacy’s last will and testament

Tracing the journey of William Stacy has been an odyssey. There are still gaps in the story, and there is still much uncertainty concerning William’s birth and his marriage to Louisa, as well as questions pertaining to their residence in McKeesport. What is certain is that William Stacy served his nation when she most needed assistance. His vitality was strong considering that he served on the lines of the 63rd Pennsylvania in the capacity as a 3rd Sergeant. His devotion to his country can never be questioned, and his connection to Louisa and the Stone family remains cemented in Brecksville, Ohio.

Sources (Click on the book titles on this page to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.)

Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861 – 1865. 5 vols. Harrisburg; 1869.

Caccamo, James F. “John Brown, A Brief Chronology” (https://www.hudsonmemory.org/people/john-brown/), accessed January 1, 2024.

“Casualties in the 63rd Regiment.” The Daily Pittsburgh Gazette and Commercial Journal. Volume LXXV – No. 254. p. 3. Thursday Morning, September 11, 1862.

Hays, Gilbert Adams. Under the Red Patch: Story of the Sixty-Third Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1864. Pittsburgh; 1908.

Hennessey, John. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas. New York; 1993.

Perry, Mildred. Editor. A Reminiscent History of Brecksville. Berea; 1961.

Klass, Perry. “How Science Conquered Diphtheria, the Plague Among Children” (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-diphtheria-plague-among-children-180978572/), accessed December 29, 2023.

“United States Census, 1850,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MF8V-GQZ : Wed Oct 04 02:15:31 UTC 2023), entry for Marvin L. Stone and Hellen M. Stone, 1850.

“United States Census, 1860,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MXP7-MJK : Thu Oct 05 11:04:10 UTC 2023), entry for William Stacy and Louisa Stacy, 1860.