In the Dark Ages bodily vigor, united with physical courage, evidenced by personal bravery, was the essential qualification of a hero. Such were the heroes of the remote past. But in modern times the true hero wears no feathered hat or caballero cloak, but is clad in the education and culture of the age in which he lives and of the courage that mounteth with occasion. In this latter order of heroes is to be classed the late Col. William C. Richards, who departed this life in Columbus, Miss., on Thursday morning July 6, 1916.
Colonel Richards was born in Shelby County, Ala., August 31, 1828. His father, David C. Richards, moved with his family to this city when William was but a lad and continued his residence there until his death. In youth and early manhood William Richards was rather delicate, but outdoor life and amstemious habits prepared him for the more active life of four years of war which during its progress made the tall but lithe young soldier strong and rugged. Indeed, at the close of the war his frame had become well knit and vigorous and reenforced by a constitution virtually perfect. He was studious and stood well in his classes both in primary and collegiate courses, and in the pursuit of learning he early took up the profession of school-teaching, which he took up the profession of school-teaching, which he followed until a short time prior to the War between the States.
At the first call of President Davis for fifteen hundred troops from each of the ten Confederate States, except Florida, which latter, owing to its comparatively small population, was asked to furnish only one thousand troops, William Richards promptly tendered his services and became a private in Capt. William B. Wade's company of "Lowndes Southrons," it being one of two companies then being raised here under that call, the other company, bearing the name of "Southern Avengers," being raised and to be commanded by Capt. George H. Lipscomb. On the organization in this city of these companies W. C. Richards was elected second lieutenant, but was later promoted to first lieutenant on the Southern Avengers. A week later, on the 27th of March, 1861, both companies left Columbus under orders for mobilization camps at Mobile, Ala., and a few days later marched under orders with the other eighteen companies from Blakely, Ala., to Pensacola, Fla., to become part of the army assembling there under the command of Gen. Braxton Bragg.
During the eight months' soldiering at Pensacola no opportunity was presented the individual soldier to display heroism. The first oportunity offered W. C. Richards was on July 1, 1862, when a volunteer aid-de-camp on the staff of Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers, then temporarily commanding the cavalry of General Beauregard's army in its retreat from Corinth to Tupelo, Miss. Chalmers had a small skirmish on the Blackland Road near Booneville with a brigade of Federal cavalry under command of Col. (later Gen.) Phil Sheridan, and in that skirmish Lieutenant Richards was the only member of Chalmer's troops who was wounded; none were killed. He was dangerously wounded by a pistol ball passing through his chest.
Napolean, in defining history, said it was "fable agreed upon." Apply that definition to Sheridan's report of that insignificant skirmish, appearing on pages 19 and 20 of Serial No. 24, "War of the Rebellion," which report made him a brigadier general, and we realize how much fiction there is in recorded incidents of the War between the States. To the contrary of statement in said report-namely, that Chalmers "left a large number of his dead and wounded officers and men on the field. * * * Among the wounded that fell into our hands are two lieutenants who will die"-I repeat that the wounding of Lieutenant Richards was the only casualty in Chalmer's Cavalry. Were it not too much of a digression, I would record here how I, Colonel Richards, and others here, who knew the facts to be contrary to what is stated by Colonel Sheridan, on the appearance of thevolume of the "War Records" containing his report, besought General Chalmers, the a Republican nominee for Congress, ignored our request, presumably for the reason that he feared it would inflame the prejudices of the Rebublican party and impair his chances for election.
Sufficiently recovered from his wound, and having been designated by General Chalmers for appointment as major to command the recently organized battalion of sharpshooters for his brigade. Major Richards reported to Tupelo for duty just prior to Genral Bragg's transference by rail of his army to the vicinity of Chattanooga, preparatory to making his Kentucky campaign. In this latter campaign and while the sharpshooters in the early morn of September 15, 1862, had developed and were driving in the Federal pickets in front of the uncalled-for and disastrous battle field of Mumfordville, Ky., Major Richards was again dangerously wounded and was left behind with other wounded of the brigade that could not be transported on Chalmer's retreat to Cave City, thus becoming a prisoner in the hands of the enemy. Subsequently exchanged, he reported for duty with his command and thenceforward to the close of the war did valiant service with his battalion through all the engagements of the Western Army until April 10, 1865 (the army being at Smithfield, N. C.), when the regiments of Sharp's Brigade were consolidated under the name of the 9th Mississippi, and Major Richards was promoted to command it with the rank of colonel. Sixteen days thereafter, receiving his parole on the surrender of General Johnston's army, Colonel Ricahrds returned to his home and soon thereafter engaged in planting in Noxubee County, Miss. Later he resumed his residence in Columbus, where he soon became a factor in its financial and other business enterprises.
His scholarly attainments, united with a mastery of matters in which be became concerned, were comprehensive and served him well. Altogether systematic, prudent, methodical, efficient, and devoid of all elements or the plunger and even of the spirit of speculation in business, Colonel Richards accumulated a handsome competency and became a safe counselor to those seeking his advice. In every position of trust or responsibility, respectivly as mayor of Columbus, President of the Board of Supervisors or Lowndes County, a director and President of the First State Bank of Columbus, member of the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1890, director in sundry financial corporations, senior vestryman of of St. Paul's Episcopal Church of this city, he proved himself exceptionally effcient.
On Febraury 1, 1870, he was united in marriage to Miss Sarah Francis Evans, the accomplished daughter of Mr. Richard Evans, the accomplished daughter of Mr. Richard Evans, a distinguished chancery lawuer of this city. She, with one daughter and three sons, survives him.
This historical tribute to a lifelong friend is written by one who from his youth knew Colonel Richards intimately and who from the commencement of the War between the States to his death was closely associated with his as intimate friend and neighbor, Hence what is written in this tribute is from personal knowledge and truthfully, without adornment or the least exaggeration, represents the character of his deceased friend.
[E. T. Sykes, late Adjutant General and Chief of Staff of the Army of Tennessee Deartment, U. C. V.]
SOURCE: Confederate Veteran Magazine, September, 1916.
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