|On the reverse of this image, a notation reads, "Trooper Geo. Williams, |
12th Va Cavalry, killed Fleetwood, June 9, 1863." (Library of Congress)
By Clark B. Hall
Just 17 years old in 1861 and a student at Mossy Creek Academy in the Shenandoah Valley, George Henry Williams pleaded with his widowed mother to grant him permission to enter the army. Finally relenting, Sarah Williams hugged George when he departed Woodstock, Va., as a private in the 10th Virginia Infantry.
Valued as a good soldier, George fought in several early battles. Throughout his first two years of service, Private Williams dutifully corresponded with “Ma,” and he chastised “Sister Mary” for not writing. In expressing the homesick sentiments of soldiers serving in any war, George emphasized, “You don’t know what pleasure it gives me to hear from home.”
Never growing much taller than the musket he toted, the diminutive Williams longed to be a horse soldier. Getting his wish, he transferred to the 12th Virginia Cavalry. In a brief note to his sister from “Culpeper Court House” on June 6, George relayed two hard facts: “We will have work to do in a few days.” And second, “The Yanks are just across the river.” He signed the letter -- his last -- "Your fond brother, George.”
“ The Yanks ... just across the river” opened the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, by attacking Jeb Stuart’s cavalry division centered at Fleetwood Hill. The 12th Virginia Cavalry was among the first Southern units to respond to the crisis, and Private Williams joined his mates as they slugged it out with Federal troopers on Beverly’s Ford Road.
After several hours of heavy fighting near St. James Church, General Stuart urgently dispatched the 12th Virginia back to Fleetwood, where a Union division threatened to seize the highest ground on the battlefield. Perhaps desiring to convince his new mates that he was a brave soldier, Private Williams charged out ahead of his company.
Arriving on the northern slope of Fleetwood, George quickly unhorsed a Union trooper in a sword fight. Marching his captive to the rear at the point of a saber, the prisoner suddenly pulled a “pocket pistol” and shot Williams between the eyes. Killed instantly, Private George Williams fell hard to the ground.
Following the battle, George’s brother identified his brother’s body from among the scores of slain stretched across Fleetwood Hill. Burying his beloved younger brother on Fleetwood, Lieutenant James Williams wrote that “death so often marks for its own the noble and generous ...” James Williams also noted the obvious when he wrote his fiancé, “The old heart of the widowed mother must bleed again...”
In August 1863, Lieutenant Williams returned to Fleetwood, unearthed his brother’s grave and dispatched the body to Woodstock, where George Williams is interred in Massanutten Cemetery.
Postscript: The youngest soldier that I have found to die in the Battle of Brandy Station was Private Benjamin Warner McKown, 12th Virginia Cavalry, who the Richmond Sentinel asserted was “in the 15th year of his age.”
|Looking south from Fleetwood Hill. Near here the 12th Virginia Cavalry --|
Trooper Williams' regiment -- encountered the attacking 1st New Jersey Cavalry.
George Williams probably was killed near the crest. (Photo: Clark Hall)
|Gravestone for George Williams in Massanutten Cemetery in Woodstock, Va.|
(Find A Grave)
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-- War-time correspondence of George and James Williams.