William Barksdale, CSA

A Biography of the United States Congressman and Confederate Brigadier General


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About the Book

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.

About the Author(s)

John Douglas Ashton is a retired materials testing executive, distinguished metallurgist, and lifelong student of the Civil War. A founding member and later Chairman of the Southern Ontario Civil War Roundtable, he has traveled to all of the major battlefields where Barksdale’s Mississippians fought to gain further insights.

Bibliographic Details

John Douglas Ashton

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 307
Bibliographic Info: 66 photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2021
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8374-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4172-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
Introduction 3
Prologue: Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, 7:30 p.m., West of Plum Run Swale 6
One—Beginnings 7
Two—Mississippi: Land of Opportunity 11
Three—Military Service in Mexico: Disease, Deprivation and Death 18
Four—Barksdale Secures His Political Future 31
Five—Turbulent Times in Washington City 41
Six—Epithets, Fisticuffs and the Downward Spiral to Secession 56
Seven—From Quartermaster General to a Combat Command at First Manassas 74
Eight—Charges of Drunkenness, Redemption at Edwards Ferry and a Court of Inquiry 89
Nine—The Seven Days Battles: Barksdale Commands the Mississippi Brigade 104
Ten—Malvern Hill: Barksdale Exhibits the Highest Qualities of the Soldier 118
Eleven—Harpers Ferry and Sharpsburg: Brigadier General Barksdale Front and Center 131
Twelve—Fredericksburg: Dead Yankees on the Pontoon Bridges and in the Streets 149
Thirteen—Second Fredericksburg (Chancellorsville): “We must make the fight whether we hold it or are whipped” 177
Fourteen—Gettysburg: A Grim Determination to Do or Die 203
Fifteen—Barksdale’s Death, Burials, State Funeral and Legacy 236
Appendix: Previously Unpublished/Published Material Concerning William Barksdale 257
Chapter Notes 259
Bibliography 285
Index 293

Book Reviews & Awards

• “To generations of Civil War historians, the name William Barksdale conjures up images of his Mississippi brigade’s smashing attack against Gettysburg’s Peach Orchard on July 2, 1863. In William Barksdale, CSA, author Doug Ashton gives readers the most deeply researched biography ever written on this controversial Confederate general. From Barksdale’s beginnings in Tennessee through the combative halls of pre-Civil War Congress and to his final battle in Pennsylvania, Ashton provides greater context to the exaggerated image of Barksdale as only a fire-eating secessionist. In examining Barksdale’s successes and failures, readers will gain a much better understanding of the general’s fiery personality and the equally tumultuous times in which he lived.”—James A. Hessler, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide and award winning author of Gettysburg’s Peach Orchard

• “‘Barksdale!’ His surname alone stirs emotions of valor and memorable sacrifice! Mississippi’s General William Barksdale was one of the Confederacy’s most heroic warrior-commanders. Looking over the heads of his gathered regiments at Gettysburg he called out sharply, ‘Attention, Mississippi Battalions! Forward!’ and charged forever into the pages of history! Long-overdue, Doug Ashton, an impartial chronicler breathes life into Barksdale from birth until his untimely death on the battlefield. Read and understand the substance of a noteworthy life during a noteworthy time!”—H. Grady Howell, Historian Emeritus, Mississippi Department of Archives and History

• “The key considerations of Barksdale’s Civil War career as a fighting officer are notably well presented and convincingly defended. Primarily on the strength of its military biography aspects, William Barksdale, CSA is recommended reading for those wishing to explore the life and career of one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s highest performing brigadier generals.”—Civil War Books and Authors

• “Everyone who knows the Battle of Gettysburg knows of the gallant, but ultimately unsuccessful, charge led by Confederate general William Barksdale on the second day of the battle. Many, however, know little about his prewar life—as lawyer, newspaperman, and politician. Author Ashton has undertaken to fill that gap and has provided a detailed and fascinating account of Barksdale’s service…A well-written and not-before-time addition to the coverage of Civil War generals.”—North & South

• “William Barksdale of Mississippi has finally gotten a Confederate general’s due: a book-length biography. And it’s a good one. …thoroughly researched, capably written, and comprehensively organized. Best of all, its subject provides for a most interesting read….richly illustrated…impressive”—Civil War News