April 25, 1811 - March 18, 1860
William Henry Bissell was born in Hartwick, New York on April 25 1811. Bissell graduated from the Philadelphia Medical College in 1835, practiced medicine in New York for two years, and then moved to Monroe County, Illinois. Bissell gave up his medical practice in 1840, and in 1844 graduated with a law degree from Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky. He served as the prosecuting attorney in the Second Illinois Judicial District until 1846.
In June 1846, Bissell was elected captain of Company G, Second Illinois Volunteer Infantry and subsequently colonel and commanding officer of the unit. The Second Illinois landed with General John Ellis Wool at Port LaVaca, Texas on August 2 1846, marched to San Antonio de Bexar, and commanded the flank of Colonel William Selby Harney’s column on their march to the Rio Grande on the October 14. Bissell crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico, marched through Parras, and reached Monclova on December 6 1846. From Monclova the Second Illinois marched to Saltillo, Mexico where they joined General Zachary Taylor and the U.S. Army of Occupation. General Antonio Lopéz de Santa Anna engaged Taylor’s force at Buena Vista on February 22 1847. The two forces established battles lines in the afternoon and the heavy guns of the Mexican artillery fired at U.S. positions with little effect. Early the following morning the Second Illinois was ordered to the left flank of the U.S. lines to support the artillery battery of Captain Thomas W. Sherman, stationed on top of a plateau at the head of one of three ravines the Mexican army was using as lines of attack.
At dawn, General Manual María Lombardini brought his infantry division through a ravine to force Bissell and Sherman toward the U.S. center. The rapid fire of the artillery and a skillful, slow retreat coordinated by Bissell halted the Mexican advance and Lombardini was compelled to retreat. Following a Mexican counter-attack the Illinois regiment was forced into a narrow ravine and suffered heavy losses until artillery fire from Lieutenant Braxton Bragg drove the Mexican army back. The Second Illinois volunteers finished their twelve month enlistment and were mustered out in June 1847. Bissell returned to Illinois and was elected twice in the 1850s as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives and a third term as an Independent. Bissell chaired the Committee on Military Affairs from 1851 to 1855. Bissell and a close friend, Abraham Lincoln, helped form the Illinois Republican Party in February 1856. Elected governor of Illinois, Bissell contracted pneumonia and died in Springfield on March 18 1860.
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