A look at the personal effects of Dr. William C. Gilson, CSA - Military Trader/Vehicles

Personal effects of Civil War Dr. William C. Gilson, CSA

The personal effects of Confederate doctor handed down through the family tells the story of a man caught in the Civil War.
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The only known photo of Dr. William C. Gilson was taken shortly before his death from yellow fever at the age of 45.

The only known photo of Dr. William C. Gilson was taken shortly before his death from yellow fever at the age of 45.

His personal guns and documents

When I set up at a local gun show in San Antonio, Texas, I really did not expect much out of it. In this area of Texas, I have found that the shows were attended by mostly non-collector folks whose interests seemed to be oriented towards hunting and shooting rather than collecting. As a collector of antique weapons and military memorabilia, I usually attend and set up in the hope that a modern dealer might have taken in a trade of someone’s old family weapon and may want to get rid of it. That was about the only hope or reason for me to set up at these local shows.

Late in the afternoon of the last day of this particular show, I was getting ready to start packing up when a gentleman came to my table and introduced himself as an occasional attendee to purchase ammo. He explained how the widow lady friend of his wife had some old guns she wanted to consider selling. They had belonged to her deceased husband.

Dr. Gilson carried two pistols during the Civil War, one on his person and the other in his medical bag. This French pistol was one of the two. It measures 6 inches, overall and is about .65-caliber.

Dr. Gilson carried two pistols during the Civil War, one on his person and the other in his medical bag. This French pistol was one of the two. It measures 6 inches, overall and is about .65-caliber.

The gentleman saw the things that I had on my tables and told me that I was probably the only one at the show that might be interested. He gave me his card and suggested I call the following week. He said he would get the name and number of the widow by then.

A few days later, I called. After the man gave me the name and number of the widow, he told me she did not like guns.

Gilson’s other pistol was this Derringer-style pistol. Measuring about 5-1/4” it fires a single .41-caliber ball.

Gilson’s other pistol was this Derringer-style pistol. Measuring about 5-1/4” it fires a single .41-caliber ball.

When I called the widow, she was very pleasant and explained to me that she wanted to find a “good home” for guns as they had come down through her husband’s family. He had been very proud of them and their history. But, as far as she could determine, there were no relatives left entrust with them.

When I arrived at her home, she took out a small cardboard box about the size of a shoebox. There were the two pistols and an envelope with the three old documents, all of which had been passed down through the family for several generations.

Her husband’s middle name was “Gilson” — the maiden name of his mother who was a granddaughter of the Civil War Confederate veteran, William C. Gilson, MD. The widow furnished me with a copy of a marriage certificate and her husband’s death certificate to verify the Gilson family lineage and ownership.

The three documents that descended through the family with the pistols were Confederate medical records including the 1864-dated “Invoice of Medical and Hospital Supplies” issued to Surgeon W. C Gilson; an “Invoice of Medicines” issued to Dr. Gilson; and an 1863 “Report of Sick and Wounded” at Resaca, Georgia, that is signed by Dr. Gilson.

The three documents that descended through the family with the pistols were Confederate medical records including the 1864-dated “Invoice of Medical and Hospital Supplies” issued to Surgeon W. C Gilson; an “Invoice of Medicines” issued to Dr. Gilson; and an 1863 “Report of Sick and Wounded” at Resaca, Georgia, that is signed by Dr. Gilson.

The two guns in this box were a small “Henry Derringer” .41-caliber pistol and a small, single shot French “Muff” pistol (so named because this style of pistol was easily hidden in a lady’s muff or hand warmer) of about .65-caliber. The widow had heard her husband tell several people that Dr. Gilson acquired the French pistol in New Orleans where he graduated from medical school and the Derringer pistol was given to him by Confederate soldier whose life he had saved when he had to amputate his leg. Dr. Gilson carried both of these pistols during the Civil War — one on his person and the other in his medical bag.

The three documents are original Confederate medical records including the 1864-dated “Invoice of Medical and Hospital Supplies” issued to Surgeon W. C Gilson; an “Invoice of Medicines” issued to Dr. Gilson; and an 1863 “Report of Sick and Wounded” at Resaca, Georgia, that is signed by Dr. Gilson.

“Invoice of Medical and Hospital Supplies” issued to Dr. Gilson when he was the surgeon of he 35th Mississippi Infantry in 1864.

“Invoice of Medical and Hospital Supplies” issued to Dr. Gilson when he was the surgeon of he 35th Mississippi Infantry in 1864.

According to the widow these two pistols and the three Confederate medical documents had been passed down through direct descendants after Dr. Gilson’s death as had the detailed history. Apparently, her husband was the last known descendent. ( I have since discovered a great-great-granddaughter and several cousins.) I made her a very reasonable offer and promised to keep the historical Confederate collection together.

A BRIEF HISTORY

William C. Gilson was born at Gilson Mills, Pennsylvania, in 1823. He graduated from Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pa. In 1847, he moved to Lowndes County, Mississippi, where he read medicine with Dr. Scales. Four years later, in 1851, he graduated from the University of Louisiana (later Tulane School of Medicine in New Orleans). He moved to Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, where he set up his medical practice. The 1860 Census shows that he was married (Emily ) and had three children: Eugenia, Franklin, and William.

When the Civil War broke out, Dr. Gilson joined a local unit as a lieutenant. The unit became part of Col. Wirt Adams’ Regiment (also known as Wood’s Regiment and the First Mississippi Cavalry). Wilson remained in the regiment until 1862 when he served with the 35th Mississippi Infantry. Later, he was removed and put in charge of a Confederate military hospital where he remained until the war ended.

After the war, Dr. Gilson, along with a few of his Confederate friends, moved to Texas where they founded the town of Calvert. Dr. Gilson set up his medical practice and established a family farm. He practiced medicine until 1873 when he and his wife both died of yellow fever.

After his death, the pistols and documents were preserved by his son Franklin who also graduated from Tulane School of Medicine in 1883. Franklin returned to Calvert where he practiced medicine until his death.

The guns and documents remained in Texas, passing down through the family until I acquired them. I am proud to preserve this tradition and to share the history about them. 

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