A Wounded Survivor of the War of 1812: Nottingham New Hampshire’s Colonel Joseph Cilley (1791-1887)

Colonel Joseph Cilley

Colonel Joseph Cilley (1791-1887)

There were several men by the name of Joseph Cilley in the early annals of New Hampshire’s military history.  To clarify–“The elder son [of Greenleaf Cilley] was known as Colonel Joseph Cilley, his grandfather was General Joseph Cilley, and his great-grandfather was Captain Joseph Cilley.

For this story I have focused on the first mentioned, Colonel Joseph Cilley. During the War of 1812 he was originally commissioned an ensign, on 6 July 1812, in Capt. John McClary’s company, Eleventh Regiment, United States Infantry (then commanded by Col. Isaac Clark of VT). Joseph Cilley was promoted to 2nd Lieut. 6 July 1812, then again promoted 1st lieutenant on March 17, 1814 and transferred to the Twenty-First United States Infantry, commanded by Colonel Miller. He was breveted Captain after the Battle of Niagara NY. It was not until 1827 that he was appointed an aide on the staff of then New Hampshire Governor Benjamin Pierce, with the rank of colonel, by which he was known for the rest of his life.

Battle of Lundys Lane

Painting of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, from “The War of 1812,” by Albert Bushnell Hart, Prof. of Government, Harvard University, 1916

The War of 1812 was not particularly popular in New Hampshire, however the men of our state participated as much as the other states did, perhaps more. In Joseph Cilley’s case he not only fought bravely but was twice wounded in the service of his country–on 9 August 1812 at the Battle of Maguaga, Michigan [Chippawa] where an explosion of cartridges caused the loss of his right eye, and again at the Battle of Niagara NY (aka Battle of Lundy’s Lane) July 25, 1814 (for which battle he received the brevet of Captain).

Joseph Cilley also participated in the Battle of Sacket’s Harbor on 29 May 1813, and the Battle of Chrysler’s Field/Farm on 11 November 1813. In 1885 he applied for an invalid’s pension for this service, the compound fracture of his thigh “making a stiff knee and shortening the leg.” Other documents show at that time, the 94 year old Joseph Cilley was both blind and lame.

One page from Joseph Cilley's War of 1812 pension file.

One page from Joseph Cilley’s War of 1812 pension file.

Joseph Cilley resigned his military commission in 1816. In 1845 he was nominated for governor by the Whig party, but declined to be their candidate. That very same year he was elected to the United States Senate (from New Hampshire) to fill the position vacated by Levi Woodbury’s resignation. After this term ended, he returned to his home farm. The History of American Biography states that he was “a pronounced abolitionist” as early as 1820 and that he was “the first abolitionist who held a seat in the U.S. senate.”

Colonel Joseph Cilley was the son of Greenleaf & Jane (Nealy) Cilley, grandson of Joseph Cilley for whom he was named. He was born 4 January 1791 at Nottingham, New Hampshire. He graduated from Atkinson Academy, and enlisted in the military at the age of 21.  Joseph Cilley married Elizabeth Plumer Williams, daughter of Nathaniel Williams and Anna Cilley, on 15 December 1824. Together Colonel Joseph & Elizabeth Plumer (Williams) Cilley had 8 children: Martha Ann, Greenleaf Longfellow, Enoch Poor, Victoria Elizabeth (ancestor of astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr.) Joseph Neally, Jennie Osborne, Jonathan and Frederick Williams.

Colonel Joseph Cilley died on 16 September 1887 at Nottingham at age 96. He was buried at Square Cemetery, Nottingham, Rockingham, New Hampshire.

[Editor’s note: Colonel Joseph Cilley’s sister, Sarah Longfellow Cilley married my Abraham Plumer, my 4th cousin 6x removed].  For more information see: Cilley Family Genealogy from “History of Nottingham, Deerfield, and Northwood New Hampshire, by J.B. Clark, 1878, AND for descendants SEE:  “Col. Joseph Cilley” on the web site: The Cilley Pages.


From: The War of 1812 History Documentary — History Documentary Channel

Online Book: The War of 1812,  by Albert Bushnell Hart, 1916

Online Newspaper: “The War,” published in the New York, 4 July 1812 showing the Report of the Committee on Foreign Relations and The United States Declaration of War

War of 1812, by Major John Richardson, K.S.F., 1902

Memoirs and Services of Three Generations: General Joseph Cilley, Jonathan Cilley | Colonel Joseph Cilley, Honorable Jonathan Cilley | Commander Greenleaf Cilley, General Jonathan P. Cilley, reprint from the Courier Gazette, 1909


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