He was born in 1834 on the island of Ceylon/Sri Lanka. His parents were wealthy, and had decided to dedicate their lives to bringing Jesus to the natives in the form of the Congregationalist Church. When William was 14, his parents sent him back to the U.S. to continue his education. He was admitted to Yale (at 14!) and spent the next 6 years doing his undergraduate work.
He graduated from Yale when he was 20, and spent the next 9 years in an apprenticeship under the auspices of Yale Medical School. In 1863 he graduated a Doctor in Medicine with a specialization in comparative anatomy. He immediately applied to join the Union Army as a surgeon. The Civil War was well under way.
By November of 1863 he was sworn in as an acting assistant surgeon, but it was 6 months before he was sent to the scene of any battlefield. He was remembered as a sensitive, courteous man who read, painted watercolors and played the flute. In May, 1864, this gentle soul was sent to Orange County, Virginia to do medical battle in the Wilderness. A trial by fire, surely.
Soldiers were wounded, " . . . in every conceivable way, men with mutilated bodies, with shattered limbs and broken heads, men enduring their injuries with stoic patience, and men giving way to violent grief, men stoically indifferent, and men bravely rejoicing that--it is only a leg!" Into this living hell went Assistant Surgeon Minor, armed only with bloody rags and a bone saw.