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529228 - Maj. Gen. William "Little Billy" Mahone Officer of the Confederate Army

529228 - Maj. Gen. William "Little Billy" Mahone Officer of the Confederate Army

"He was every inch a soldier, though there were not many inches of him," was how one soldier described General William Mahone. There was some disagreement about just how tiny "Little Billy" was, but nobody guessed his height at more than five feet six inches, and some said he barely cleared five feet. Estimates of his weight were 125 pounds at most; some swore he weighed less than 100.

He was so thin that after the Battle of Second Manassas, when his wife was told that he had received a flesh wound, she said, "Now I know it is serious, for William has no flesh whatever." One young Confederate officer wrote that Mahone was "the sauciest little manikin imaginable" and "the oddest and daintiest little specimen" he ever saw.

He was always a bundle of nervous energy, and subordinates gave him a wide berth out of respect for his quick temper and famous cussing fits. His men retaliated when they got the chance. Never one to deny himself any comfort, Mahone kept a flock of turkeys fattening in a pen outside his tent. On Christmas morning of 1862, when he stepped outside to select the fattest for his Christmas dinner, all the turkeys had disappeared. "Who stole Mahone's turkeys?" was a question his brigade laughed over for the rest of the war.

On July 30, 1864, during what became known as the Battle of the Crater, Union troops blew up a tunnel under Confederate lines creating a massive explosion. Mahone rallied the Confederate forces to repel the attack. Instead of reaping the benefits of an innovative attack, the Union suffered a terrible loss. Mahone was promoted to Major General for his quick and effective actions and it was a rare cause for celebration for the war weary occupants of Petersburg.

In 1927, the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected an imposing monument to his memory. It stands on the preserved Crater Battlefield, a short distance from the Crater itself. The monument states:

To the memory of William Mahone, Major General, CSA, a distinguished Confederate Commander, whose valor and strategy at the Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864, won for himself and his gallant brigade undying fame.