William Paul Roberts Bio-Sketch
QUICK FACTS (WPR)
Name: William Paul Roberts
Rank: Brigadier General
Education: Local schools and an academy in Harrellsville, NC
Birth Date: July 11, 1841
Birth Place: Gates County, NC
Death Date: March 27, 1910 (also listed as the 28th)
Death Place: Norfolk, Virginia
The distinction of being the youngest general officer of the Confederacy goes to North Carolina’s William Paul Roberts. Born July 11, 1841 to John and Jane Gatling Roberts in Gates County, North Carolina, Roberts attended local county schools and an academy in nearby Harrellsville. He was teaching school when his home state seceded. At the age of 19, he enlisted in the 19th Regiment North Carolina Volunteers (2nd Regiment North Carolina Cavalry) on June 10, 1861. Early in his service he was an orderly sergeant but was promoted to second lieutenant by September 30, 1861. As a junior officer, Roberts was promoted through all grades from junior second lieutenant to major and held every lower commissioned rank but two.
Roberts initial service was spent in picket and scouting duty in eastern North Carolina. In September 1862, most of the 19th Regiment was ordered to Virginia, however company K and Roberts’s company C remained in the Tar Heel state. During their time away from their regiment they were stationed along the Roanoke River and participated in an attack on the town of Washington, North Carolina on September 6, 1862. Soon after this, companies C and K were recalled to their regiment in Virginia. However, before they could reach the 19th, they were ordered to perform garrison and picket duty at Drewry’s Bluff for General Junius Daniel and then routed to General Longstreet’s command in southeastern Virginia. They finally joined the rest of their regiment in General W.H.F. Lee’s brigade of General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry corps at Brandy Station on May 20, 1863. Roberts and the 19th regiment fought in the battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle of the war on June 9th.
Roberts’s regiment was in General Stuarts reconnaissance during the invasion of Pennsylvania, fought July 3rd at Gettysburg, and performed rearguard duties during the Army’s retreat back to Virginia. They were also active in the Bristoe and Mine Run campaigns during the fall of 1863. He received promotion to Major, with rank to date from February 18, 1864. More action for Roberts came with the Overland campaign of May and June 1864. He sustained a slight head wound at Haw’s Shop on June 3 but returned to duty within a few days. On August 19, he was promoted to Colonel and was given command of the 19th North Carolina. Soon after his promotion he led the regiment in a successful dismounted attack at the second battle of Ream’s Station on August 25, 1864. He continued leading his regiment during the siege of Petersburg suntil he was promoted to Brigadier General on February 23, 1865. At twenty three years of age he was the youngest general commissioned officer in the Confederacy. Tradition has it that General Lee gave Roberts a pair of his gauntlets to commemorate his promotion. His last major combat was at the battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865. Overwhelmed by superior Federal numbers, his line was broken. Roberts followed the army’s westward retreat until Lee surrendered and he was paroled at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th.
Following the surrender, he returned home to farm in Gates County and married Eliza Roberts (of no relation) and had two children, but both died in childhood. In 1868 and 1875 Roberts represented Gates County in state constitutional conventions and was elected to the state legislature in 1876. From 1880 to 1888 he was the state auditor. Afterwards, President Grover Cleveland appointed him consul to Victoria, British Columbia. He held that position for several years before returning to his home in Gates County in the early 1900’s to farm. He died in Norfolk, Virginia on March 28, 1910.