The Unknown Soldier of Palos Park
Updated: May 2, 2019
A mother always knows. William Mahaffay's mother knew. She knew in her heart that the body they had sent home to her and her husband was not her son. He was buried in nearby Palos Oak Hill cemetery as William Mahaffay and no one would prove otherwise for 78 years.
William was the son of Irish immigrants Samuel and Betsey Mahaffay who were among the first settlers in what is now Palos Township. He was 18 yrs old in August of 1862 when he left with a group of other local young men on their way to Joliet and then muster out from there.
William's family story is that he played the fife for the Company F of the 100th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Band. It was not an easy job as band members were responsible for also helping injured men to safety from the battlefield. Conflicting evidence states that this particular regiment had no band, so this may or may not be true. Whatever his job, one thing was for sure, this company was made up mostly of young men with no military experience at all just like William.
They learned soldier tactics the hard way by being thrown in to the fire. Their first encounter with gunfire was in Bardstown, KY. They were not involved in the Battle of Perryville but were involved in operations nearby. They then made their way through Kentucky and Tennessee. By November of 1862 they had arrived in Nashville, TN.
Disease was the number one killer in the Civil War. Double the number of men killed by bullets. William died from the measles a few months later , February 9, 1863 in a hospital in Murfressboro Tennesse. He was 1 of 134 deaths due to disease out of a total of 214 deaths in the regiment.
His body was shipped home to Palos but when the casket was opened for Williams parents, his mother adamantly stated that the body was not her son. For one, her sons hair was dark and this young mans hair was light. Despite Betsey Mahaffays many misgivings, the body was buried as Private William Mahaffay in Palos Oak Hills Cemetery, Palos Park, IL.
It was not until 1941 that Betsey's claims were justified. Records were located for a William Mafay from the same regiment and further investigation proved that William Mahaffay was buried in Stones River National Military Park in Murfreesboro, TN.
But then who is in the grave in Palos?? We probably will never know. This young unknown soldier was luckier than most. There are 2,111 unknown Civil War Soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery alone, the total number surely a staggering one. Most, as in Arlington, are buried in large plots together in cemeteries across the country.
In 2002 local Palos Park VFW #4861 dedicated the stone pictured at the top to mark the grave of this unknown soldier, buried as William Mahaffay in 1863. His name may be unknown but his sacrifice will always be remembered.
Thank you for Reading! Until next time, please take a moment to remember these extraordinary men who gave their lives so that others may live.
Much light and love to you all,