Sunday, July 31, 2011

William Booth Taliaferro: The man who couldn't destroy a Stonewall

William Booth Taliaferro

William Booth Taliaferro (pronounced Tah-liver), was born in 1822 in Virginia.  The man came from a very prominent family.  He was the nephew of James A. Seddon, who would become a Confederate Secretary of War.  He earned a degree at William and Mary College and then attended Harvard Law School.  He would work as an attorney until the Mexican War began.  He then joined the Eleventh United States Infantry where he was made a captain.  He would eventually be promoted to major before he was mustered out following the war.  Taliaferro would then serve in the Virginia House of Delegates and became a major general in the Virginia State Militia.  

When the Civil War began, Taliaferro would be made colonel of the Twenty-third Virginia Infantry Regiment.  The unit would see action at Rich Mountain and Corrick's Ford under Robert S. Garnett (Garnett would be the first general killed during the war at Corrick's Ford).  He was soon commanding a brigade consisting of Georgia, Arkansas and Virginia Infantry.  His subordinates hated him because he was a very strict disciplinarian.  He was assaulted by a drunken Georgia soldier under his command on one occasion.  

A young Taliaferro before the war

He also proved to be a thorn in the side of his superiors.  He and William Loring petitioned Richmond to remove "Stonewall" Jackson from command in January of 1862.  Though they both failed, Taliaferro was promoted to brigadier general.  Jackson protested the promotion, but at the same time appreciated Taliaferro's devotion to discipline.  Though neither man liked the other personally, they managed to serve together during the Valley Campaign and Seven Days battle's around Richmond.  

At Cedar Mountain, when General Charles Winder was killed, Jackson gave Taliaferro  command of the division.  He would command the division at the Battle of Groveton where he would be severely wounded.  The man would be absent recovering for three months.  He again commanded the division at the Battle of Fredericksburg where they were held in reserve, yet still suffered a slight wound.  Taliaferro felt he had earned a promotion to major general by this point.  He became frustrated thinking Jackson was blocking his promotion.  He would ask and be granted a transfer, both men happy to be rid of the other.  

Another wartime view of Taliaferro

Taliaferro was sent to General Beauregard in Charleston, South Carolina.  Beauregard placed the man in command of Battery Wagner, a sand fort located on Morris Island.  Taliaferro and his thirteen hundred man command endured a week of heavy shelling from Federal gunboats.  Following the bombardment, over 5,000 Federal infantry assaulted the fort.  The assault would fail, the Union army losing over 1400 men including Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, while Taliaferro's force lost less than 200.  

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

Colonel Shaw was the son of a prominent Boston family and led the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Colored Infantry.  The Confederate government considered leading black troops against Southern forces to be inciting servile insurrection.  Also, during that time in American history, it was a disgrace for a white man to be buried in the same area as a black man.  When Shaw's father wrote the Confederate commanders at Charleston a request for the body of his son, the reply was, "We buried him with his niggers."  It is still argued today who exactly replied to Shaw's father. Some say it was Taliaferro, others claim it was General Trappier, while still others claim it was an unnamed Confederate major.  Regardless, it was meant as an insult.

Battery Wagner would never fall, despite being bombarded for another sixty days, it would eventually be abandoned for lack of supplies.  A month following the battle, Beauregard removed Talaiferro from command at Battery Wagner and placed him in command of an infantry division on James Island.  He would command a division for the remainder of the war, but saw very little actual fighting.  His command would be surrendered by Joseph E. Johnston to Sherman on May 2, 1865.  He would never receive his longed for promotion to major general.

After the war, Taliaferro would return to the Virginia State Legislature and serve as a judge.  He served on the boards of William and Mary College and the Virginia Military Institute.  William Booth Taliaferro would die in 1898 at the age of 75.  He rests today in Ware Church Cemetery, Gloucester, Virginia.  Who knows what he may have become had he not undermined "Stonewall" Jackson during the first year of the war.  

Taliaferro's resting place

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for keeping this part of our history alive! I always learn something from your blogs!