Civil War Confederate Army Officer, US Congressman, 29th Alabama Governor. A lawyer from Abbeville, Alabama pre-Civil War, when that conflict began he enlisted in the Confederate Army in July 1861, and was commissioned as a Captain of Company G in the 15th Alabama Infantry regiment, which served in the Army of Northern Virginia. He eventually rose to Colonel of the unit, and was in command during the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There, on July 2, as part of Brigadier General Evander Law’s Brigade, Hood’s Division, Longstreet’s Corps, his regiment took part in the Confederate assault on the Union’s Army of the Potomac’s left flank, which took them up Little Round Top, where Colonel Oates’ men faced the Union soldiers of Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry. The clash between the two regiment, which eventually resulted in the Maine men repulsing the Alabamians several times then sweeping them away with a bayonet charge, became legendary in Civil War lore, and is one of the most written about and explored events of the engagement at Gettysburg. Colonel Oates survived the battle, which resulted in over 300 casualties for the 15th Alabama, and led his men through the September 1863 Battle of Chickamauga and the Spring 1864 Overland Campaign in Virginia. Transferred to command the 48th Alabama Infantry in June 1864, that August he received a gunshot wound to his right arm outside Petersburg, Virginia. That arm had to be amputated, and he was then mustered out of service. He returned to his law practice in Abbeville, and after the war rose in politics, serving first in the Alabama State Legislature. He was then elected as a Democrat to represent Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1881 until he resigned to assume the Governorship of Alabama, having been elected to the office in 1894. He served a two-year term as the state’s 29th Governor, leaving office in 1896. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, he offered his services, and was commissioned as a Brigadier General of Volunteers in the United States Army. Stationed at Camp Meade in Pennsylvania, the war ended before he could be called to combat duty. His last years were spent with his law practice, and in an unsuccessful campaign to have a monument erected to his regiment where they fought the 20th Maine on Little Round Top in what became the Gettysburg National Military Park. He passed away in Montgomery, Alabama in 1910. In 1905 he published a memoir of his war service called “The War Between the Union and the Confederacy and Its Lost Opportunities”. In 2005 historian Glenn W. LaFantasie published the work “Gettysburg Requiem: The Life and Lost Causes of Confederate Colonel William C. Oates”.
Bio by: RPD2
Sarah Toney Oates