Sunday, July 24, 2011

Honorable William Mahone of Virginia

Hon. William Mahone, "Little Billy"

William Mahone (December 1, 1826 – October 8, 1895) was a civil engineer, teacher, soldier, railroad executive, and a member of the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress. Small of stature, he was nicknamed "Little Billy".

Educated at Virginia Military Institute, Mahone helped build Virginia's roads and railroads in the antebellum period. In 1855, he married the former Otelia Voinard Butler of Smithfield. Local tradition notes that they were each colorful characters. Based upon Ivanhoe, a novel she had been reading, the naming of several railroad towns in Southside Virginia is credited to Otelia and "Little Billy". The name of Disputanta was allegedly created after the couple had a "dispute" over an appropriate name.

During the American Civil War, as a leader eventually attaining the rank of major general of the Confederate States Army, Mahone is best known for turning the tide of the Battle of the Crater against the Union advance during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864. His wife served as a nurse in Richmond. Although the Mahone family had owned several slaves before the war, biographer Nelson Blake has noted that during the War and after, Mahone accorded the African Americans under his leadership and generally with considerably more respect than many of his peers. Still, many African American leaders complained that Mahone was relegating them to the lower rung political positions, and he was affected by public sentiments against African Americans. To elevate them could diminish his white support and needed both public and white support.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, he returned to his pre-war position heading the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, working to rebuild it, and the two trunk lines west of Petersburg to Bristol, Virginia, at the Tennessee border. He successfully united the three in 1870 to form the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (AM&O), which was headquartered in Lynchburg. As he and Otelia made their home there, the pundits were already claiming that AM&O really stood for "All Mine and Otelia's".

Even while still serving in the Confederate Army, Mahone had also become involved in politics. In the post-war years, he helped form and lead a coalition of blacks, Republicans, and Conservative Democrats that became known as the Readjuster Party (so-named for a position regarding Virginia's troublesome post-War public debt issues). Partially owned by the state, the AM&O went into receivership several years after the Financial Panic of 1873. When it was sold to northern interests who formed the Norfolk and Western (N&W) in 1881, Mahone working with African American members of the Readjuster Party helped arrange for a portion of the proceeds to be used to fund a teacher's school and collegiate institute to educate Virginia's large African American population, now known as Virginia State University, and also to build a mental hospital for blacks nearby, long known as Central State Hospital.

Mahone's hand-picked candidate, William E. Cameron, won the election as Governor of Virginia as a Readjuster, and Mahone himself subsequently won a term as a U.S. Senator. With his status as an independent, he held an important swing vote in the evenly divided upper house in the U.S. Congress, which became especially important after the assassination of President James A Garfield. However, he tended to caucus with the Republicans, and was defeated for reelection by the candidate of Virginia's Conservative Democrats, who were also assuming the other political control in Virginia they would later hold until the 1960s under the Byrd Organization.

Despite eventually losing control of both the AM&O railroad and the political power that went with the Readjuster Party, Mahone accumulated substantial wealth, partially through the foresight of valuable personal investments in bituminous coal lands in the western regions of Virginia where he had hoped to extend the AM&O. When Mahone died in 1895, followed by his widow Otelia in 1911, they were each interred with other family members in Petersburg's Blandford Cemetery. Their former residence formed a portion of a new Petersburg Public Library.

text from Wikipedia page on William Mahone.

Library of Congress PHOTO INFO:

  • Title: Mahone, Hon. Wm. of Va. (General in Confederate Army)
  • Date Created/Published: [between 1865 and 1880]
  • Medium: 1 negative : glass, wet collodion.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-cwpbh-04359 (digital file from original neg.)
  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
  • Call Number: LC-BH832- 666 [P&P]
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Notes:
    • Title from unverified information on negative sleeve.
    • Annotation from negative, inked on emulsion: 666; scratched into emulsion: 799 [crossed out], Mahone.
    • Forms part of Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).
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