One of The Heroic Blackwater Boys
By Wilson J. Purvis
Just south of the Blackwater in 1865 was a large field fenced with stakes and rails of cedar. In the field about where West avenue is, lived William Ackley, one of the sons of William Ackley, the noted preacher. William Ackley married Mary Smallwood, youngest daughter of General Smallwood, of Maryland. Among their children was a bright-eyed boy named Willie F., who attended the Blackwater school in winter and helped his father in the big field in the summer. Another boy of about the same age was Nathan Cooms, who lived nearby. When the toxin of war rang out over the land these two boys responded to the President's call for 75,000 men. They joined Capt. Dougherty's cavalry at Haddonfield and became a part of that famous 4th N. J. regiment which gave a good account of itself from the battle of Bull Run to the siege of Petersburg in 1865.
At the Wilderness battle young Ackley was color bearer. For his valiant work on the battlefield he was promoted to become second lieutenant. He was badly wounded and sent to a Pennsylvania hospital for special treatment. In March, 1865, when he could walk with crutches, he received his commission as first lieutenant signed by the President, and Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of war.
When General Grant was about to move upon the army of General Lee in the spring of 1865, young Ackley asked to be sent to his regiment in front of Petersburg, but the surgeon refused to let him go, and was sent home to visit his parents in March, 1865. In April, Grant was ready to assault Lee's entrenched army, and Lieutenant Ackley would wait no longer and returned to his regiment, still under the surgeon's care.
When the army of the Potomac charged the works of the waiting Confederates, one of the first regiments to meet that awful hail of bullets was the Fourth New Jersey, and the first man or boy to gel over the trench was Lieut. Ackley, and one of the very first to fall on the breastworks was that same Blackwater boy shouting, "Conic on, boys, come on," and died with the words on his lips. Abe Tiee, of Millville (still living) was right along side of him when he fell. After the charge was over they went back and buried him in a soldier's grave, marking it with a board. After Lee's surrender they tried to find the grave, but the battlefield had been so trampled by the contesting armies that not a trace of it could be found.
Some twenty years after, Lieut. Ackley's mother, with her son, John A. (now a resident of Vineland,) went to Petersburg and with a guide scoured the battlefield, finding the line of trenches and the location of the division he was in, but could find no trace of his burial place. In that field the plow turns a furrow and the corn grows over the unknown grave of one of Vineland's heroic hoys in blue, William F. Ackley, whose sacrifice for the preservation of the Union is worthy of a monument.