Early in 1861, Montgomery and several friends went to South Carolina to enlist for one year as privates in the Palmetto Guards, Second South Carolina Volunteer Regiment of Bonham's Brigade. A reminiscence left by Lucinda Hardage states that they did so because they were afraid that the war would be over before they would have a chance to fight. In retrospect, young William and his friends would find that they would have more than their share of war and fighting over the next four years.
William would see his first combat at Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia on July 17th 1861. This was soon followed by the first battle of Manassas where the south scored it's first major victory of the war.
Serving out his enlistment with the 2nd SC, Montgomery returned to Marietta and enlisted in newly formed Company L of the Phillips Legion's Infantry Battalion as 1st Sgt in April 1862. Sent north in July 1862, Montgomery's unit would fight at Second Manassas (8/29-30/1862), South Mountain (9/14/1862) and Sharpsburg (9/17/1862) before staggering back across the Potomac having lost 80% of the Legion Infantry to battle casualties, disease and straggling. Montgomery left a postwar reminiscence which is a bit fanciful in that it places him in a number of actions where he could not possibly have been present, but there is little doubt that he was in the battles mentioned above. He comments that after Sharpsburg "All of us bout gone up".
Montgomery would next see action at Fredericksburg on December 13th 1862. He penned a letter to his Aunt on December 17th 1862 which provides a thorough description of the key role of the Phillips Legion in this action. They were posted in the famous sunken road at the foot of Marye's Heights. Montgomery states, "Our beloved Col Cook (Lt Col Robert T Cook commanding the Legion's Infantry Battalion) was killed before the engagement was fairly commenced. His presence in camp as an officer as well as an associate is greatly missed for he was loved by all. Capt Johnson (Captain James M Johnson commanding Company L) who had only been with us a few hours (having just returned from recovering from his South Mountain wound), being Sen Officer had to take command of the Legion but had only gone a few steps until he was wounded in the foot. Lt Peak (Lt Julius A Peek, Legion Adjutant) was then ordered to act as Maj but he had hardly taken command when he was wounded badly in the throat. Our line of battle was about 8 to 10 miles long & the fight was genrl along the whole line. In front of where our Legion fought was buried over 1100 Yankies besides what was carried off; also the wounded. I have been in amany engagements before, but I never saw in my life such a slaughter. Our loss was only 14 killed and 59 wounded in the Legion."
Sgt Montgomery's next fight would be the battle of Chancellorsville but he would not be in action there as part of Company L. General Wofford had informally established a Sharpshooter Battalion in late April of 1863 and Sgt Montgomery would go into action as the, yet to be approved, 1st Lt of one of the sharpshooter companies. He describes the part played by the new sharpshooter battalion on May 2nd and 3rd in a letter to his mother dated may 7th, 1863. William tells her, "I tell you our little Battalion won quite a name in the 6 days fight. Perhaps you don't know what our duty is. Well, I will tell you. We are always in front of the Brigade, about 300 to 400 yards, to clear out the way & I tell you we done it too, to perfection. You ought to hear Gen Wofford praise us. Saturday evening our little Battalion charged the Yankies breast work, one whole Brigade behind it, charged three times but the fire was hot from the enemy. We had to fall back. Our loss was quite heavy. Soon Sunday morning, the Gen sent us in again. We charged again under the most deadly fire. Got within a few feet of the works, but it was fixed with brush that we could not climb then & had to fall back. Our loss was again more. Lost our Col Patten. P Ardis Co lost Capt and 2nd Lt (not killed but badly wounded)(also 8 men). Our Co lost 2nd Lt and one man killed dead & 8 badly wounded. Other companies lost in proportion. Our 3rd Lt was also wounded. Only Bill ( William Anderson) and myself in command of our company & I am acting commissary for the Batt in the bargain & if we do not fail to get our commissions & everything works out well I will get the position of commissary - hope we will not fail. Old Gen Wofford sent up great recommendation to old Jeff. (President Jefferson Davis) But I must finish about the battles. When we fell back Sunday morning we only fell back under a hill only a few yards. About 12 o'clock Gen Jackson began to drive them in & set them to mining so we thought it a good time to charge again. So at them we went like so many wild Indians. Fired only two or three rounds when they showed a white flag. We all rushed forward & found that about 800 or 900 men had surrendered to only a small Batt of "Sharp Shooters" (one whole Reg 27th Connecticut & many more). We sent them to the rear and pushed forward. Met Gen Stone wall's Corps and soon had Gen Hooker and his Grand Army in full rout."
Sgt Montgomery and General Wofford would get their wish and the informal sharpshooter battalion was officially formed and designated as the 3rd Ga Sharpshooter Battalion on June 9th 1863. Sgt Montgomery was promoted to 1st Lt of the new unit's Company F.
He would fight through the remainder of the war with the 3rd Sharpshooters, in action at Gettysburg on July 2nd and 3rd 1863, during the siege of Chattanooga in September and October 1863, at the attack on Fort Sanders at Knoxville November 29th 1863, throughout the Overland Campaign in May and June 1864 (where he took a slight head wound June 1st 1864 at Cold Harbor), in the trenches at Petersburg, in the Valley with Early at Front Royal and Cedar Creek, and then back into the works around Petersburg. Lt Montgomery would obtain a 30 day furlough in February 1865 and returned home to Georgia. After Lee's surrender, he learned of a regiment that was still fighting in South Carolina and walked the entire distance from Marietta only to discover when he arrived that that regiment had also just surrendered.
After the war, Montgomery would marry to Miss Emma Jane Northcutt in 1866. They had six children, only three of whom lived beyond four years of age. In 1868, they moved to Hickory Flat in Cherokee County, returning to Marietta in 1874. William was active in public service, serving as Clerk of the Superior Court and County Treasurer. He also managed a dry goods and grocery business. On July 21st 1894, his wife Emma died suddenly. Shortly thereafter he married Anna Towers, daughter of Colonel John Towers of Marietta. Montgomery would live on until November 30th 1906 when he passed away from natural causes at his home at the corner of Cherokee and Montgomery Streets in Marietta. His son George F Montgomery wrote that his father "had no disease whatever except a broken heart because of his absent wife." He was laid to rest next to his beloved Emma at Marietta's Citizens Cemetery.
William R Montgomery was the epitome of the southern soldier. Early on, he was anxious to get into the fight but learned, as the war went on, just what a terrible business he had gotten himself into. Nonetheless, he faithfully soldiered on, holding true to the cause and ideals he beleived in.
A story handed down to us, provides a bit of insight into W R Montgomery's scrappy nature. Sometime after 1891, an auditor from Washington traveled to Marietta. The auditor visited the courthouse and asked to see the county clerk, a war veteran named William Rhadamanthus Montgomery. The auditor received full compliance from Mr Montgomery and had much success in confirming the records in the courthouse. The only problem, however, was that the auditor could find no records prior to the war. He told the clerk that all the records were 100% in order except that he could find no records prior to 1865 and could the clerk explain this. Montgomery , with firm consternation, replied that "Yes, there was an explanation." Montgomery continued, "that was the date that General Sherman , the son of a bitch, came through Marietta burning our homes, city buildings, and records, and confiscating our food and stock. He is now dead and in Hell and I'm glad of it." The auditor asked if that could be put in writing, and so it was.