William Henry Parsons
William Henry Parsons was born on
April 23, 1826, in New Jersey (probably around Elizabeth), the son of Samuel and
Elizabeth (Tompkins) Parsons. When very young his father removed to Montgomery,
Alabama, where he operated a shoe and leather factory. Young Parsons was sent to
be educated at Emory College in Georgia, but left school in 1845 to fight in the
Mexican War. He enlisted in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons and fought in General Zachary
Taylor's army. After the war Parsons remained in Texas, settling near Tyler.
There he farmed and edited a newspaper, the Tyler Telegraph. Parsons moved to
Johnson County in 1855, Hill County in 1858, and Waco in 1859. In Waco he
practiced law and in 1860 founded the Southwest, a Waco newspaper. Active in
Democratic party politics, Parsons was chosen an alternate delegate to the 1860
Democratic National Convention.
At the start of the war Parsons was appointed a colonel and aide-de-camp to the governor. In July, 1861, he was authorized to raise a mounted regiment for service against the Indians of western Texas. Parsons, known as "Wild Bill," organized the 12th Texas Cavalry in 186,1 from Ellis and Hill County volunteers. In the spring of 1862 the 12th was ordered to Arkansas, where it helped defend Little Rock from Brigadier General Samuel Curtis' Federal army. By October Colonel Parsons had command of a brigade of three Texas cavalry regiments: his own 12th, the 19th, and the 21st. His brigade was stationed along the west bank of the Mississippi Rivet and performed outpost duty, scouting, raiding, and occasionally fighting. However, for much of the war the 12th was stationed in Texas, where Parsons commanded his regiment and occasionally the brigade. It was said of Parsons, a renowned prewar secessionist orator, that "no commander west of the Mississippi could deliver more fiery, colorful, and enthusiastic speeches from the saddle," which along with his courage made him "more popular with his regiment than any Colonel in America." In the 1864 Red River campaign Parsons led the 12th with "uniform steadiness," winning praise for his conduct during engagements at Blair's Landing and Yellow Bayou. In March, 1865, Parsons, still a colonel, was in charge of a brigade of Texas cavalry stationed in northeast Texas.
At war's end Parsons fled the United States for British Honduras, but soon returned to Texas. Active in railroad promotion, newspapers, and politics, Parsons became a noted "scalawag," or southern-born Reconstructionist. He served as a Republican in the Texas Senate from 1870 to 1871, running unsuccessfully for senate president. Subsequently President Grant appointed him to the U.S. Centennial Commission, based in New York. While in New York Parsons also served as an immigration agent for the state of Texas. Later he received an appointment to the U.S. Customs Office in Norfolk, Virginia. In the 1880s and 1890s Parsons lived, for the most part, in New York City and Baltimore, Maryland, practicing law and selling real estate. Becoming more radical in politics, the former southern secessionist became a pamphleteer for the Knights of Labor and served as Maryland chairman of the Greenback-Labor party. General Parsons died on October 2,1907, in Chicago, Illinois, where he had lived with his son Edgar for several years. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Parsons is listed as an "acting" brigadier general in SHSP. Though repeatedly recommended for promotion, and in actual command of a brigade for years, Parsons never made brigadier. For much of the war Parsons and a subordinate, Colonel George W. Carter of the 21st Texas Cavalry, bickered over who was the senior colonel and thus entitled to command Parsons' brigade. Although Parsons was commissioned colonel months before Carter, the latter maintained that Parsons' original commission was as colonel of a twelve-months regiment; that Parsons' commission as colonel of a permanent, enlisted-for-the-war regiment, was later than Carter's. The government eventually decided in Carter's favor (Carter had a great deal of political influence in addition to his legal claim), but by then Carter and his regiment had transferred to another brigade. Parsons "claimed the rank of brigadier after the war and liked to be addressed as such," and was appointed major general of Texas militia during the Reconstruction era.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.