An aggressive and colorful personality, William Barksdale was no stranger to controversy. Orphaned at 13, he succeeded as lawyer, newspaper editor, Mexican War veteran, politician and Confederate commander. During eight years in the U.S. Congress, he was among the South’s most ardent defenders of slavery and advocates for states’ rights. His emotional speeches and altercations—including a brawl on the House floor—made headlines in the years preceding secession.
His fiery temper prompted three near-duels, gaining him a reputation as a brawler and knife-fighter. Arrested for intoxication, Colonel Barksdale survived a military Court of Inquiry to become one of the most beloved commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia. His reputation soared with his defense against the Union river crossing and street-fighting at Fredericksburg, and his legendary charge at Gettysburg. This first full-length biography places his life and career in historical context.