When the First Georgia marched into the works at Laurel Hill, Colonel William B. Taliaferro (pronounced TOL-li-ver) of the Twenty-Third Virginia was more impressed with their uniforms than with their martial bearing. Born December 28, 1822, Taliaferro was educated at Harvard University and William and Mary, and served in the Eleventh and Ninth U.S. Infantry during the Mexican War. He was a member of the Virginia legislature from 1850 to 1853. After John Brown’s raid in 1859, Taliaferro was assigned as commander of Virginia militia at Harper’s Ferry, and following Virginia’s secession was promoted to major-general of the state’s militia. Appointed as colonel of the Twenty-Third Virginia Infantry in May of 1861, Taliaferro was assigned to General Garnett’s Army of the Northwest. Friction quickly developed between Taliaferro and the Georgians, partially due to the fact that, even though Ramsey’s military experience was miniscule compared to Taliaferro’s, Ramsey’s commission predated the Virginian’s. After General Garnett was killed at Corricks Ford, Ramsey was ill and unable to take charge, so Colonel Taliaferro directed the army’s retreat until Colonel Ramsey recovered enough to assume command.
During the Battle of Greenbrier River, Taliaferro commanded General Henry R. Jackson’s center, and upon Jackson’s departure from the army, Taliaferro was given his brigade. Friction continued between Taliaferro and the Georgians – at one point the colonel was assaulted by a drunken Georgia soldier.
Late in 1861, Taliaferro’s brigade, along with two others from the Army of the Northwest, were ordered to Winchester to join General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson command. On January 1, 1862, Jackson embarked on his Romney Campaign, during which his soldiers suffered greatly during prolonged marches in snow and ice. After Romney was occupied on January 14, Jackson decided to leave the three brigades of the Army of the Northwest to garrison the town, and returned with his “Stonewall” Brigade to Winchester. This led to hard feelings among the officers and men of the Northwestern army.
Fed up with the squalid conditions in Romney, most of the officers of the Army of the Northwest signed the infamous “Romney Petition,” which declared that the town was exposed and indefensible, and to implore the leadership to order the army’s removal. Obtaining leave, Taliaferro traveled to Richmond to plead the army’s case directly to Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens and Judah P. Benjamin. The Petition, Taliaferro’s politicking and other factors convinced Davis that Romney should be evacuated, so he instructed Benjamin to order Jackson to withdraw the troops to Winchester. Jackson did so, but incensed over having his authority overridden, submitted his resignation. (He was persuaded later to relent) The ill will between Jackson and Army of the Northwest commander General William W. Loring led the authorities in Richmond to break up the Northwestern army, sending some units west, and added all the Virginia units, including Taliaferro’s troops, to Jackson’s Valley Army.
Promoted to Brigadier General in March of 1862, Taliaferro continued to command a brigade under Jackson, and was wounded at the Battle of Second Manassas. After a period of convalescence, he returned to army prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg. Following that campaign, Taliaferro was transferred to District of Savannah, then later Eastern Florida. He led a division at the Battle of Bentonville, and finished the war in command of South Carolina forces.
Returning home, Taliaferro was appointed to a judgeship, and reentered politics as a member of the Virginia legislature. He also served on the boards of visitors of the College of William and Mary and VMI. Taliaferro died on February 27, 1898, and is buried in Gloucester County, Virginia.