In 1878 former Confederate general Lafayette McLaws paid tribute to Brigadier General William Barksdale and the gallant
brigade of Mississippians that he led at the Battle of Gettysburg. He said of them:
Barksdale had been exceedingly impatient for the order to advance, and his enthusiasm was shared in by his command. Barksdale was standing in front ready to give the word and to lead. He was not far from me; and so soon as it was signified to me I sent my aid-de-camp, Captain G.B. Lamar, Jr., to carry the order to General Barksdale, and the results I express in Captain Lamar’s words: ‘I had witnessed many charges marked in every way by unflinching gallantry; indeed, I had the honor of participating when in the line with the First Georgia Regulars, but I never saw anything to equal the dash and heroism of the Mississippians. You remember how anxious General Barksdale was to attack the enemy, and his eagerness was participated in by all of his officers and men, and when I carried him the order to advance his face was radiant with joy. He was in front of his brigade, hat off, and his long, white hair reminded me of the white plume of Navarre. I saw him as far as the eye could follow, still ahead of his men, leading them on. The result you know. You remember the picket fence in front of the brigade? I was anxious to see how they would get over and around it. When they reached it, the fence disappeared as if by magic, and the slaughter on the other side was terrible. Barksdale, gallantly leading his men in the terriffic fight, fell mortally wounded. The last words of that ardent patriot to fall on the ears of one of his countrymen were, “I am killed. Tell my wife and children I died fighting at my post.”
– “Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade at Gettysburg: Most Magnificent Charge of the War,” by J.S. McNeily; Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Volume 14, Page 241.
After he was mortally wounded, Barksdale was taken to the Hummelbaugh House, where he passed away during the night. He was buried by his captors in the yard of the home.
Soon after the war, Barksdale’s family began making preparations to have the general’s body brought back to Mississippi. On June 14, 1866, the Intelligencer of Anderson, South Carolina, noted:
Hon. E. Barksdale, formerly member of the Confederate Congress from Mississippi, in a note to the editor of the Jackson Standard, refers to the recently published statements relative to the removal of the remains of his gallant brother, Gen. Wm. Barksdale, who fell at Gettysburg. He says, ‘it is the intention of his nearest kindred to remove his body, at an early day, for consignment to its final resting place, at some appropriate spot within the limits of his own State, without taxing the generosity of others.’
It took some months to finalize the plans for shipping Barksdale, and on January 12, 1867, The Evening Telegraph of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, noted that the remains of the general passed through Lynchburg, Virginia, on the previous Saturday, in route to Mississippi. On January 10 the Vicksburg Daily Herald stated that General Barksdale’s remains were expected to arrive in Jackson the previous day, and that “Arrangements were being made to pay proper honors to the memory of the distinguished dead.”
The Vicksburg Daily Herald published the following article about the funeral of General Barksdale on January 12, 1867, noting that it had originally appeared in the Jackson Clarion two days earlier:
GENERAL WILLIAM BARKSDALE – The remains of this noble and lamented son of Mississippi, arrived here yesterday at 1 o’clock, and will this evening be conveyed to their last resting place – in the bosom of the State he loved so well, and among a people that will ever respect and revere his memory. The body was brought here by Lieut. Harris Barksdale, nephew of the deceased, from Washington, where it had been embalmed, and was met at the depot by a committee of citizens, and conducted to the Capitol, where it lays in state until the hour appointed for the funeral.
THE FUNERAL OBSEQUIES – The funeral of Gen. Wm. Barksdale will take place at 3 0’clock this evening, from the Capitol Rotunda, where his body, in an elaborately mounted coffin, is now lying in state. Religious services will be performed by the Rev. Mr. Crane. The procession, under the direction of Col. Geo. L. Donald, Marshal, and Maj. A.J. Herod, Assistant Marshal, will be formed in the following order: 1. The Body, 2. Relatives of the deceased, 3. State Authorities, 4. Judges of the High Court, 5. City Authorities, 6. Survivors of the Brigade, 7. Masonic Fraternity, 8. Citizens.
The procession will proceed down Capitol to West Street, and thence to the grave. Col. H.W. Walter has been invited and will officiate as Master of Masonic ceremonies. The fraternity are requested to meet at their hall punctually at two o’clock. The following pall bearers have been appointed by the Marshal: Gen. W.S. Featherston, Hon, Lock E. Houston, Gen. J.Z. George, Lt. Jas. B. Clark, Lt. G.S. Covert, and Marion Smith. A like number will be appointed by the Masonic fraternity.
Colonel H.W. Walter headed the Masonic contingent that took part in the funeral ceremony, and his words make a good
epitaph for General Barksdale:
When the hour of peril came to the South, he sought the post of danger, and the halo of heroism illumined the chaplet of the statesman. At the head of his noble Mississippians, he led the van on the ensanguined field, and wherever blows fell fastest and blood flowed freest, his manly form was seen and his clarion voice was heard. In the frightful carnival of death at Gettysburg, he yielded to that conqueror whose command is law, and his gallant spirit went home.
– Public Ledger (Memphis, Tennessee), January 16, 1867
Given his status as one of the most prominent Civil War generals that Mississippi produced, I have always thought it was a shame that there are no known wartime images of William Barksdale in uniform. There are a number of photographs of the general extant, but they are all pre-war images. Perhaps one day a wartime image will turn up, but until that day, the following illustration will have to do. I found this image in The Pictorial Book of Anecdotes And Incidents of the War of the Rebellion, by Frazar Kirkland. The book was published in 1866 by the Hartford Publishing Company, and as far as I know, it has not been seen on the internet before:
For anyone wishing to see the grave of William Barksdale, the general is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson, Mississippi. Please note that he has a memorial stone in the Confederate section of the cemetery, but his actual grave site is unmarked in the Barksdale family plot.
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