Conflicting sources make it difficult to pinpoint William R. Townsend’s actual date of birth. We believe he was born in 1839 or 1840, possibly in October. Townsend was living in Niles, Michigan (Berrien County) when he enlisted in the 42nd Illinois Infantry. Early in the war, the Union set limits to the number of men recruited from each state. It was not uncommon, therefore, for men to leave their home state to enlist in another. During his service, Townsend was promoted to the rank of Captain.
1880 Census records indicate that William R. Townsend was living on Dearborn Avenue in Chicago, IL with his wife Agnes and twelve-year-old daughter Lena. At some point he joined the G.A.R. “Phil Sheriden” Post 615 in Oak Park, Illinois.
From an obituary in “Oak Leaves” (Sat., Feb. 24, 1906, Vol. xxv, No. 8 – Oak Park, IL -- courtesy, The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, IL) we learn more about Townsend's life:
“Oak Park lost one of its prominent and respected citizens in the death of W.R. Townsend, which occurred at his residence, 425 Maple avenue, Friday morning at 10:30 o’clock . . . His parents came from New York to Michigan where he spent his early life. When a young man he came to Illinois the first year of the war and entered the Forty-second regiment as first Lieutenant. He was soon promoted to the rank of captain and served four years. He was in the battles of Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Island No. 10 and many others. He was captured at Stony River and confined in Libby prison three months. He served in Sheridan’s brigade and was a personal friend of that general. While his regiment was stationed in Southtown, MO, the officers’ quarters were in the home of a southern gentleman, Mr. Combs, who had opposed secession . . . Here he formed an attachment for Agnes Combs, whom he married at the close of the war. They came to Chicago in 1867 where he engaged in the commission business. He left many friends in the city when he came to Oak Park fifteen years ago. He was connected with the Second Congregational church and during the last five years had taught in that Sunday school and in the Ewing Street mission school in the city. He leaves a widow and one daughter, Mrs. Lena Jackson of Colorado, who with her infant son are in Oak Park . . .”