He returned with his father from England in
November, 1860, and very soon entered into a law partnership with his
brother-in-law, Judge Thomas C. Green, in Charles Town. It was of short
duration, however, as he enlisted in Company G (Botts Grays) 2nd. Reg.
Virginia Infantry the following April and was one of those intrepid
souls who helped win for his brigade, under its baptism of shot and
shell at the first Manassa, the illustrious sobriquet of "Stonewall." He
remained with that command. participating in all of its engagements
until the reorganization of the army the following year, when he was
transferred to the Laurel Brigade as Ordnance officer on Gen. Rosser's
Staff, with rank of Captain.
frequently disabled by sickness as his delicate organism could ill brook
the privations and discomforts of camp life, but his optimistic and
buoyant disposition made him always the life of every gathering. He was
wounded but once—on the second day of the battle of the Wilderness, near
Spottsylvania, C. H.—where he received a shell wound very near his heart
and which laid him up for some time.
At the time of the surrender he was Chief
of Ordnance of Mahone's Division and a great favorite with the
blustering Irishman, who made many offers to assist him in his struggles
with the wolf after the war, but as they were all based on a
modification of his political principles, they were invariably declined.
In a final effort, when Mahone was representing the republicans of
Virginia in the U. S. Senate he wrote to William and told him he felt
confident that he could get him a foreign appointment in the Diplomatic
Corps, and all that he need do, so far as politics were concerned, was
to "keep his mouth shut." Even this did not tempt him, however.
[William used to tell a good story on
Gen. Mahone, which occurred when the army was falling back from
Petersburg, and which was very characteristic of the General.
His entire Division was in motion, at the
time, and as they moved laboriously along the rout(;, the General rode
leisurely to the rear, on a tour of inspection. Encountering the driver
of the Head-quarters wagon, he called out:
"Hello, Jim, Is everything all right?"
"Yes, sah," replied Jim, hesitatingly,
"Except what, you d--d rascal?" yelled
"Uh uh uh," stammered Jim, guiltily, "Yo'
coffee-pot's done got ram-jammed, mighty bad, I'm 'feared, General."
"Who in the h--l ram-jammed my
coffee-pot?" roared Mahone in a fury. And the entire wagon train was
halted, until the head-quarters coffee pot was released from its
perilous state of "ram-jam."]
After the surrender he went first to
Charlottesville where he assisted in nursing his brother Edward. From
the hospital in Charlottesville he went with his brother Edward back to
the Valley and there they together rented one of the biggest farms in
Clarke County. Here, William established the Cool Spring school, while
Edward managed the big farm. Many of the students who entered were
ex-Confederate soldiers whose education had been interrupted by the war,
and it was no light task to get them into the traces again, but he was
phenominally successful from the start.
Coming out of the war with only his horse
and side arms, he said, that but for the gift of a dozen pairs of socks
from a kind lady in Charlottesville, he didn't know how he would have
reached home. He found the socks a happy medium of exchange. To use his
own expression, he ate socks, he had his horse shod with socks, he slept
on socks, besides putting a few pairs to their legitimate uses.
It was while he lived at Cool Spring that
he wrote, in conjunction with Professor John S. Blackburn, the first
Southern School History of the United States. It was published at their
own expense and reached the twentieth edition, having still a wide
In August, 1867, he was married to Miss
Catherine S. Gray, of Loudon County, Virginia, and shortly after that
received from the Trustees of the Louisville High School—several of whom
had been his former pupils—an offer of his old position as Principal,
with a salary almost double that which he had originally received. This
broke up the dear home at Cool Spring, where "Ed and Will," "Sue,"
"Flora" and "Allan," with frequent visits from other members of the
family had found a safe and happyharbor after the four turbulent years
of the war.
Ile was installed as Principal of the
Louisville Male High School for the second time, September 29th, 1868,
and an extract from his inaugural address on that occasion shows that
his mind was still dominated with the same lofty aspirations which
characterized his youth and early manhood: "The mental without the moral
development, even in a worldly sense, avails but little, and with regard
to those interests that survive this life, the subject admits of no
In substantiation of the principles by
which he was governed, and in a measure, verifying his efforts to
instill the same high ideals into his pupils, I find in a letter from
one of his old pupils, later, Professor of Greek at Vanderbilt
University, the following tribute: "I quite fail to be able to describe
the profound and abiding impression which his method and expositions in
teaching Butler's Analogy, for example, have had upon my thought, faith
In 1872, he resigned his position as
Principal of the Male High School and established, in conjunction with
his brother Allan, the Louisville Rugby School, and for the next fifteen
years this was conceded to be the largest and most successful private
school for boys west of the Alleghanies. During this time he, with his
brother Edward, established the Southern Bivouac, which he edited with
great success for several years.
Finally, his health being much impaired,
the old longing for his native heath caused him to give up his position
as head of the Rugby and he returned to Virginia in 1887 and there
opened at Berryville, Virginia, the Shenandoah University School, which
he maintained in successful operation up to the time of his death on
January 4th, 1898. He was at the time of his death a candidate for the
office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of
Virginia, with every chance of success in his favor.
Besides his wife he left three sons and
five daughters—two daughters, Flora and Fannie, having died in infancy.
His body lies in Green Hill Cemetery, near Berryville, Virginia, and a
nobler type of Christian manhood never lived! Possessed to an unusual
degree with the genius of energy, he gave his best efforts to whatever
enlisted his interests, and as a teacher, in the language of one of his
old pupils: "He inspired his boys with an enthusiastic interest in
whatever he taught them, making that a delightful pleasure which
ordinarily is an irksome task."
He undertook, at General Rosser's urgent
instance, to write a history of the Laurel Brigade and the little
leisure he found, during the Iatter years of his life, was chiefly
devoted to collecting data and material for that history. Professor
Hurt, of Tulane University, said of him: "His knowledge is profound. his
methods of exposition clear and his taste incomparable."
His genial, sympathetic nature made him
much sought after and his friends were numbered by the score. In 1879,
while still a resident of Louisville, be was invited by Governor
Matthews of West Virginia to make him a visit at the White Sulphur
Springs, and his letters home, tell how his Virginia friends toasted and
feted him. At one of the dinners given him he speaks of meeting again "Roony
Lee, General Robertson, Dulaney and several others with whom I had been
in battles. And how they spoke of my father! Ran. Tucker, for the
especial benefit of a New York heiress who was present, began telling of
my father's capture by the Yankees. I mildly remarked that the young
Iady, being a Yankee, might no relish the recital, whereupon she
indignantly disclaimed being a Yankee, said that she was a true
descendant of Virginia, whereupon Ran. Tucker proposed a toast to all
true descendants of Virginia, and then resumed the story in his most
eloquent strain. At its conclusion, Matthews exclaimed: `By heavens, I
would rather be the son of such a man than Czar of the Russias.' "
When he attended the Confederate reunion,
held in Richmond for the first time, he wore the Confederate uniform,
which had not been seen in public since soon after the surrender. He
stopped to see the writer on his way home and almost as soon as he got
inside the house he exclaimed, "Let me take off this uniform! I feel
like a pauper! No one has allowed me to pay for anything since I put it
on to go to Richmond." But whether it was altogether because of the
uniform, I have always had my doubts.
He was a member of the Protestant
Episcopal Church and a vestryman and in addition to teaching all the
week he also taught regularly in the Sunday School. The children who
survived him were: William Naylor, Ellen Douglas, Craig Woodrow (since
deceased), Nannie Gray, Hugh Marshall, Catherine, Leacy Naylor and Mary.