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William Booth Taliaferro (who pronounced his Italian surname as "tah'-liver") was born in Gloucester County, Virginia, to a prominent family of English-Italian origin who settled in Virginia in the 17th century. He was the nephew of James A. Seddon, who would become Secretary of War for the Confederate States of America under Jefferson Davis. Taliaferro attended Harvard University and William and Mary College, graduating from the latter in 1841.
Taliaferro joined the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War, fighting in both the 11th and 9th U.S. Infantry regiments. After the war, Taliaferro entered public life, serving as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and as a prominent backer of James Buchanan's presidential campaign in 1856. He also continued his military service as commander of a division of the Virginia state militia; he commanded at Harpers Ferry following the raid of that town's arsenal by John Brown.
Taliaferro became commander of Virginia's state militia following Virginia's secession in 1861; he later took command of the 23rd Virginia Infantry as a colonel. He fought several engagements in 1861 and by the end of the year had ascended to brigade command, where he led Confederate forces at the Battle of Greenbrier River, in what is now West Virginia.
Taliaferro's Brigade came under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's command at the end of 1861. He remained with Jackson for some months, rising to division command in 1862. Taliaferro was seriously injured at the Battle of Second Bull Run (Second Manassas), but returned to the field in the time for the Battle of Fredericksburg, his last battle under Jackson.
Taliaferro was a strict and aloof commander who alienated many of his troops. There is at least one known circumstance when one of his troops actually assaulted him, though Taliaferro was unscathed. Taliaferro chafed under the command of General Jackson, complaining to his political colleagues in Virginia about Jackson's tactics and treatment of the men. Jackson later protested Taliaferro's promotion to brigadier general, while Taliaferro was still under Jackson's command; however, Jackson respected Taliaferro's leadership and military ability and did not continue to stand in his way. Jackson later would select Taliaferro for temporary divisional command in specific engagements.
After Fredericksburg, Taliaferro was given command of the District of Savannah. In this capacity he led troops at the Battle of Fort Wagner on Morris Island, a battle that has since been depicted in the movie Glory. Taliaferro was commended for his service in that battle.
In 1864, Taliaferro was given command of all forces in the Eastern district of Florida, which made him the overall commander at the Battle of Olustee that February. He subsequently returned to South Carolina, where he was made commander of all forces in that state. Taliaferro was still in command when Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman entered the state from Savannah. Taliaferro returned to Virginia when the Army of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida surrendered later that year.
After the war, Taliaferro lived in Gloucester County. He served again in the state legislature and as a judge and sat on the board of the College of William and Mary and the Virginia Military Institute. He died at his home, "Dunham Massie", aged 75, and is buried in Ware Church Cemetery, Gloucester County, Virginia. His collected papers are located at the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary.
Bartholomew Taliaferro (1530 Venice, Italy - September 1601, London, England) married Joane Lane, January 1, 1583, at St. Michael's, Cornhill, London, England. The couple are the common ancestors of cousins Brig. Gen. William Booth Taliaferro and Maj. Gen Dabney H. Maury (May 21, 1822 – January 11, 1900).
Both generals are descendants of Francis Taliaferro, b. c.1589, London, England.
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