THE COLONEL, JUDGE, AND PREACHER
The Civil War Tales
Dr. William L. McDonald
William Basil Wood organized the 16th Alabama Infantry Regiment in Courtland, Alabama, August 8, 1861. A member of a prominent Florence family, his father served as the city's first mayor. A younger brother, Sterling Alexander Martin Wood, was later
promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate Army.
An alumnus of La Grange College, William Basil Wood was elected County Judge in 1844. In 1862, while on active military duty, he was elected Judge of the Circuit Court, an office he held until 1880.
Judge Wood was also an ordained local preacher in the Methodist Church. He is credited with organizing the first Sunday school class in Florence in 1843. One historian wrote that Colonel Wood “often preached in the camps, and at War Trace (Tennessee), he, Colonel Lowry, and Colonel Reid, assisted the chaplain of the regiment in a revival in which several hundred were converted.”
Wood was described as “over the medium size, broad shouldered and portly, and with frank social manners.” In his book, Early Settlers of Alabama, Colonel James Saunders noted that in the Battles of Triune and Murfreesboro, Colonel Wood “led his regiment
gallantly as he had done at Fishing Creek.” Another writer observed that Colonel Wood “was very cool in the battlefield, and was kind to the sick and wounded.” On the retreat from the Battle of Fishing Creek, Wood insisted that his horse be used for the sick and wounded, while “he walked until he wore his feet into solid blisters.” Lieutenant John M. McGee, in remembering the activities of the 16th Alabama, made this statement about its commanding officer: “I know that there was not a colonel in the army, who was more
beloved by his men, and that he could lead them anywhere.”
In November, 1862, following a long and almost fatal sickness from typhoid fever, Colonel Wood was assigned to General Longstreet’s Corps where he was appointed Presiding Judge of the Military Court. In May, 1863, he was transferred to the Army of Northern Virginia as the Presiding Judge of the First Army Corps.
Following the war, Judge Wood devoted much of his time and energy to the promotion and expansion of the economy of Florence. He, more than any other person, is credited with the industrial revolution that came to East Florence during the late 1880’s.
Prior to the Civil War, Judge Wood played a major role in the relocation of La Grange College to Florence. In 1872, he led a victorious campaign to persuade the state to accept the abandoned Florence Wesleyan University facilities so as to establish what eventually became the modern University of North Alabama.
Judge Wood, who was often referred to “Mr. Florence,” died April 3, 1891. A grateful city renamed Market Street, a major thoroughfare, as Wood Avenue in his honor.
His gravestone in the Florence Cemetery has this inscription: “Citizen, Soldier, Christian. A leader in family, state, and church. After the storm and toil of life, he, beloved, rests in peace.” These simple words are as a commentary of the eventful life of William Basil Wood, Confederate Colonel, Lauderdale County Judge, and Methodist Preacher.
The Civil War Tales of the Tennessee Valley
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