The Vagabond- Sergeant William Alfred Williams Escort of Emma Sansom


The Etowah Historical Society is conducting valuable research work in connection with local history and persons who helped make it, and already the research has brought to light some interesting things that otherwise been forgotten.

The society recently learned something of the history of the young Confederate Army sergeant who was detailed by General Nathan Bedford Forrest to give Emma Sansom safe escort to her home after she had pointed a ford by which the general and his army might cross Black Creek in Gadsden and continue pursuit of Colonel A.D. Streight and his Union Army bent on the destruction of the Confederation munitions works at Rome, Ga.

That sergeant was William Alfred Williams, who was born in Jefferson County near Porter, Ala., on May 24, 1841. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, 

Williams enlisted in Company C of the 20th Alabama Regiment. This is according to a brief history of Sergeant Williams by his daughter, Miss Nattie Williams of Birmingham.

It is interesting to note that Emma Sansom said that the sergeant who saw her home safely was “a young, handsome and dashing soldier of Forrest’s famous cavalry company and she said he had brown eyes, dark-haired and bronzed from many months of life in the saddle.”

A picture for the local society’s records was copied from an original photograph taken years after the war while Williams was attending a Confederate Army reunion and when he was wearing his Confederate uniform. 

The copy was made by the late Rodney Copeland, who was once president of the Etowah Historical Society.

Legend has it that Sergeant Williams was an escort to Mrs. Jefferson Davis from Greenville, S.C. to Montgomery, Ala., when Jefferson Davis and his staff were forced to leave Richmond.

William Alfred Williams was the eldest son of James Henry Williams and Nancy Cannon. He married Emily Eleanor Jones. 

While serving in the 20th Alabama, Williams fought at Vicksburg, where he had to make his mark of oath to the United States in order to go back to fighting again. Williams could write but the Yankees were not too smart. He was in Company C and mustered in at Montgomery on Sept. 12, 1861. Company C saw action at the battles of Atlanta, Fort Gibson, Bakers Creek, Missionary Ridge, Jonesboro, Marietta and Lookout Mountain, among many others. 

Williams was wounded at Vicksburg and Lookout Mountain.

After the war, Williams operated a planning mill near 78th Street and 1st Ave. North in Birmingham. He also owned and operated East Lake Cemetery (where he is buried) from 1900 -1931. 

Williams also donated land where Howard College was originally established before becoming Samford University and moving to Lakeshore Drive. He was a member of the East Lake Masonic Lodge No. 480 and the Ruhama Baptist Church.

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