Samuel Murphy Hays was born on July 1, 1827, in Highland County, Ohio. He was the son of John and Isabella (Murphy) Hays. John and Isabella had been married in Highland County, Ohio on April 9, 1814. Seven children would be born to this marriage with Samuel being the youngest. When Samuel was eight months old his father passed away on March 24, 1828, leaving Isabella to raise the children.
On May 19, 1833, Isabella married her second spouse John Hutsonpiller. Hutsonpiller was a native of Virginia. Records indicate that John and Isabella had moved their family west settling in Martinsburg Township in Pike County, Illinois, by March 1834. There is some evidence that Samuel may have stayed behind in Ohio or at some point in his youth returned to his home state. When the United States declared war on Mexico in 1846 Samuel Hays would enlist, seeing action at Monterrey and Verra Cruz. When the war ended in 1848 Samuel returned to Pike County where he studied law under Chauncey L. Higbee of Pittsfield, Pike County, Illinois.
Samuels’s stepfather John Hutsonpiller died on November 23, 1851, and was buried in Petty Highland cemetery in Pike County, Illinois. Isabella would remain in Pike County, living with her daughter Isabella in Newburg Township. She died January 11, 1881, and is buried in Highland County, Ohio.
After Samuel completed his law study, he formed a partnership with Chauncey L. Higbee and began to practice law. In April 1860 he married Mary L. Adams in Pike County. Samuel – like many lawyers of his day – became active in politics, throwing his support to the Democratic Party. Samuel would say that during the 1860 Presidential Election he did everything possible to defeat Abraham Lincoln.
By 1861 as the war drums begin to beat across the country Samuel Hays views would change. In December 1860, the partnership with Chauncey L. Higbee dissolved. In January 1861 Hays became partners with James S. Irwin in Pittsfield.
Regardless of Samuel Hays’ politics he – like many in Pike County – knew it was time to put the issues, including slavery, which had divided the country on hold. The time to talk was over; it was time to act and do whatever was needed to save the Union. Hays was tireless. He was everywhere, speaking to the crowds and special meetings that were happening throughout the county.
In late April 1861 just a few days after the firing on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, Hays raised a company of men that became known as the Pike County Home Guard. Local agreement and resolution stated that the company was formed to protect the county and would not leave the state unless called upon to defend the Federal Government.
On May 4, 1861, Samuel Hays moved his company to Quincy, Illinois where they would be formally sworn in as Company K of the 16th Illinois Infantry. Hays was elected Captain of the company that also had a 1st and 2nd Lieutenant, 1st – 4th Sergeants, one Ensign and two Musicians. The company had a total of 64 Privates, but not all the Home Guard enlisted. Hays would comment later that about 20 – 25 men left and did not enlist.
Within a year, Hays had been promoted to Major. The regiment found themselves near Corinth, Mississippi pursuing the enemy. The summer climate and the water supply caused many men in the Union Army to come down with diseases like severe diarrhea and dysentery. Hays was not immune; by mid-summer he had come down with dysentery. He was disabled by the disease to the point that he was sent home on furlough to recover. He was able to travel as far as Monticello (modern Godfrey) Illinois.
He was moved to a private residence and made comfortable. His wife Mary was sent for, along with his personal physician Dr. Joseph H. Ledlie of Pittsfield, Illinois. Weakened by dysentery and chronic diarrhea, Samuel Hays passed away on August 6, 1862.
When the body of Samuel Hays arrived in Pittsfield, the Circuit Court adjourned. It was said that his funeral was the largest attended in the community. The 16th Illinois Infantry officers passed a resolution to wear the black customary mourning armbands for thirty days in honor of their late Major.
His widow Mary would also not see the end of the terrible war, passing away on January 24, 1865. She was laid to rest next to her husband. There were no children born to this short marriage.
In the years following the war, Union veterans began to form a fraternal order known as the Grand Army of the Republic. The veteran soldiers of Summer Hill, Illinois organized their Grand Army of the Republic Post. The Summer Hill post would be known as the Samuel Hays, Post #477.