Knoxville, TN 37996, United States
William graduated from the University of Tennessee.
After graduating from the University of Tennessee, William Barksdale studied in Columbus, Mississippi, and started practicing law at the age of 21.
As a young man, William Barksdale moved to Columbus, Mississippi. There, he practiced law and edited a pro-slavery periodical, the Columbus "Democrat."
Barksdale enlisted in the 2nd Mississippi during the Mexican War and was made a captain in 1847. He left the Army and entered politics. When Mississippi passed the secession ordinance, however, Barksdale resigned from Congress.
In 1861, he served as the state quartermaster-general, then joined the Confederate Army as a colonel in the 13th Mississippi. Barksdale was sent east and fought in all the major early battles except the Second Battle of Bull Run. Considered a competent commander, he was recommended for promotion to brigadier general in 1862. After leading his regiment through the Peninsula Campaign, and taking over brigade command when Brigadier General Richard Griffith was wounded; Barksdale was promoted to brigadier general. His command, consisting of his own regiment and three other Mississippi regiments, became known as "Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade." Barksdale was held to be an aggressive and determined officer; who, when in a defensive position, deployed troops efficiently. In 1863, when he was ordered to hold Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, he was able to delay the advance of the Union troops. This helped General Robert E. Lee prepare for the Battle at Chancellorsville. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, and taken prisoner. Barksdale died on July 2, 1863, within Union lines.
William Barksdale was elected to represent the state of Mississippi in Congress, where he quickly became known for his unwavering pro-slavery and state's rights political views. Having become a radical in Congress, he favored secession.
Barksdale was described as being a "radiant wild joy," always far ahead of his troops during charges.
In 1849 William married Narcissa Saunders Smith.