W W Rich was born in Habersham County, Georgia on June 3rd, 1823, the eldest son of eight children born to James William and Charlotte Wofford Rich. The Rich and Wofford families of Habersham County had been united by the marriage of Charlotte Wofford to James Rich. The two families lived near each other and moved together to what was then known as Cass County, Georgia around 1827. W W Rich grew up with his cousin William Tatum Wofford who would become a highly regarded Confederate Brigadier General in the Army of Northern Virginia.
W W attended school in Cassville and then is believed to have attended Gwinnett Manual Labor Institute In Lawrenceville, Georgia at the age of thirteen. He may also have later attended Franklin College in Athens, Georgia.
W W was practicing law in Cassville with his cousin William in 1846 when the War with Mexico broke out. In 1847, William Wofford raised a company of mounted infantry which became Company E of the First Battalion, Georgia Mounted Volunteers under command of Lt Colonel J P Calhoun. William T Wofford became the Captain of Company E and W W Rich was commissioned 1st Lieutenant of the company on August 8th, 1847.
In mid September Company E rode to New Orleans where they boarded the transport "Beaufort District" bound for Matagorda, Mexico. The company arrived in Mexico at the beginning of November 1847 after Mexico City had fallen to General Winfield Scott's army in September and would spend the ensuing months as part of the American occupation force as the peace treaty between the United States and Mexico was negotiated. During this time, Captain Wofford's company was engaged twice; once shortly after their arrival, against Mexican lancers and again in February 1848 against a large force of Mexican guerrillas. The company mustered out of service in August 1848. Of the original eighty six men in Company E, twelve had died from disease or wounds, five had been discharged due to disability, two had deserted and one was missing in action. Young Lieutenant Rich had gotten his first tastes of military life and combat. In September 1850 he was awarded a bounty land grant of 160 acres of land near Fairfield Iowa for his war service.
At the age of twenty nine, W W married seventeen year old Bashaba E Sisson from Franklin County, Ga. Although her name was spelled with an "a", it was pronounced BashEba. W W's father had now passed away and he brought his young bride home to live on the family plantation with his widowed mother and seven younger brothers and sisters.
As the eldest son, W W was charged with the responsibility of operating the plantation following his father's death. He and Bashaba reportedly found the manor house a bit crowded so they built themselves a separate home on the plantation. Later on he would build a second home for them in the growing village of Cassville. With the assistance of his two oldest brothers and four slaves, owned by his mother, he engaged the plantation in the lucrative cotton trade of the day. He also returned to his position as an attorney in the office of his cousin, William T Wofford.
During the decade of the 1850s, W W enjoyed the life of a southern planter as well as the company of his growing family and friends. One friend in particular was John Fielding Milhollin who served as the Clerk of Court in Cassville and would later be a Captain and Major in the Phillips Legion's Cavalry arm. W W and Bashaba had two children born to them during this period. Savannah was born on December 3rd, 1856 and Florence was born June 26th, 1859.
As war clouds gathered in 1860, we find that W W had also become the Assistant U S Marshall in Cass County and was regarded as one of the prominent men in the county.
At the outbreak of the Civil War he was offered a position with the Federals based upon his service in the Mexican War and his position as a U S Marshall. W W resigned his Marshall's position and immediately offerred his services as a private in the cavalry of the Army of Georgia. Upon the formation of a cavalry company (known as the Johnson Rangers) from the Cassville area, he was elected Captain and his old friend John Milhollin was elected 1st Lieutenant.
In June 1861, after moving Bashaba and his two young daughters back to the plantation, Captain Rich led his new unit to Big Shanty, Georgia's Camp McDonald where they became a part of the Army of Georgia's 4th State Brigade under command of State General William Phillips. This brigade, the special brainchild of Governor Joseph E Brown, consisted of two heavy infantry regiments, a rifle battalion, a cavalry battalion and a planned artillery battalion. Brown envisioned this unit, trained and equipped at state expense as a force raised to defend Georgia from Federal invasion. Almost immediately, Governor Brown and Confederate President Jefferson Davis became embroiled in a bitter personal dispute over control of the brigade. Finally, after Brown became the target of severe criticism in the press, he relented and sent the two heavy infantry regiments north to Virginia where they became the 18th and 19th Georgia Infantry Regiments and were mustered into Confederate service. W W's cousin William Wofford became the Colonel commanding the 18th Georgia. This left William Phillips at Camp McDonald with a six company rifle battalion and a four company cavalry battalion. After additional wrangling between Brown and Davis, it was agreed that Phillips would command these ten companies in Confederate service as a unit designated as the Phillips Legion. W W Rich's cavalry company became Company H of the Legion. Orders were issued and the command entrained for Lynchburg, Virginia in early August 1861.
Following a month's additional training and outfitting at Lynchburg, the Legion was ordered north into the mountains of western Virginia to join General John B Floyd's army at Big Sewell Mountain. Floyd's army was opposing the advance of an 11000 man army led by Union General William Rosecrans, but it turned out that nature became the greatest opponent in this brutal campaign. Winter came early that year and Colonel Phillips and his men found themselves innundated in mud and freezing rain. Men began to fall ill from the constant exposure and many would die from measles and typhoid. Rosecrans realized that his position at Big Sewell was insupportable in the increasingly bad weather and withdrew over the mountains to Gauley Bridge at the headwaters of the Kanawha River. General Floyd was unwilling to end the campaign, however, and badgered his new commanding officer, Robert E Lee, into letting him pursue Rosecrans with his small 4000 man force. The weather continued to worsen and men continued to die. Arriving at Cotton Hill in Fayette County, overlooking Rosecrans position across the river, Floyd relentlessly pestered Lee and the War Dept for reinforcements. It became increasingly apparent that Floyd's army could not be supplied in it's advanced position and he was fnally ordered to retreat by Lee in November. In the meantime, Rosecrans planned to surround and capture Floyd's men and had it not been for a friendly local who made Floyd aware of the plan, the Legion may have spent some time in a Federal prison that winter. The retreat back to Dublin, Virginia was a brutal nightmare. The cavalry covered the rear of the retreat and was involved in several skirmishes with pursuing Federals. Captain Rich was noted for his coolness and gallantry in these small fights. Finally making it out of the higher mountains to the railroad, it was quickly realized that the troops should be sent south to rest and recruit during the winter months. Initially, at the end of December, the cavalry was sent to east Tennessee to feed and rest their animals and the infantry was sent to the South Carolina coast. The cavalry soon followed arriving in South Carolina at the end of January 1862.
The Legion was scattered along the railroad from Charleston to Savannah to protect it from raids by Federals operating inland from the coast. William Phillips had been back in Georgia recovering from a near fatal bout of typhoid and had used this time to gain approval to increase the size of the Legion with three additional infantry companies and two additional cavalry companies. These new companies began arriving at Hardeeville, SC in April and were soon involved in training at the hands of the experienced companies. Muster rolls indicate that Captain Rich was home in Georgia recovering from, what must have been a severe illness, during April, May and June. In early July, both Lt Colonel Seaborn Jones commanding the infantry battalion and Major John Wilcoxen commanding the cavalry, had resigned their commissions and gone home. General Drayton commanding the brigade, appointed Captain Rich as the commanding officer of the, now six company, cavalry battalion. General Drayton received orders to take his brigade (including the Legion) north to Richmond, Virginia and this movement began at the end of the third week in July 1862.
The Legion's infantry made it to Richmond in time to participate in the Second Manassas and Maryland campaigns and paid dearly for the "privilege", taking heavy casualties at South Mountain and Sharpsburg. The cavalry, however, came up at a slower pace and did not arrive in time to participate in these campaigns.
The infantry and cavalry battalions would never serve together again as a single unit. Colonel Phillips would resign his commission in January 1863 due to the continuing effects of typhoid and Lt Colonel Rich and his cavalrymen were reassigned to the Army of Northern Virginia's Cavalry Corps under General JEB Stuart where they became an integral component of this legendary arm. The Cavalry Battalion was reorganized in 1863 and the various companies were "relettered" starting with "A". Rich's old Company H was redesignated Company B and was now under command of his friend Captain Milhollin. W W Rich and his troopers would take part in all of the great battles of 1863, including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and in the 1864 Overland Campaign. In addition, they were involved in innumerable smaller actions and skirmishes common to effective cavalry in it's mission as the "eyes and ears" of the army.
Service records show that Lt Colonel Rich became seriously ill in October 1864 and was furloughed home to Georgia to recover. By late 1864, W W had returned to his command and was applying to the Confederate Secretary of War on December 24th for approval to raise an additional three companies in north Georgia to be added to the Legion Cavalry. Unfortunately, his illness turned out to be hepatitis and it forced W W to resign his commission on January 27th, 1865.
After the war W W resumed his life in Bartow County (the renamed Cass County) where he returned to a devastated land. His plantation and home in Cassville had been burned to the ground and almost all his property was taken for back taxes. In a quirk of fate, W W, who miraculously remained unscathed during the war, was attacked by three freed slaves on his way home. In escaping this attack, he was kicked in the knee by a mule, rendering his leg lame for the remainder of his years.
A man of lesser character might have thrown in the towel. W W, however, gritted his teeth and went to work, successfully farming the small amount of land his mother was able to salvage from the turmoil. He later bought a much larger parcel of land on what is now the Cleveland Highway northwest of Cartersville, Georgia. He was twice elected County Tax Collector and was later elected to two terms as Sheriff. In 1869 he sold his farm to the county on which the county built a poorhouse, which stands to this day. W W's brothers, James and Nathaniel moved to Weston Pass, Colorado after the war and became wealthy owning and operating a silver mine.
By 1869 Bashaba had given birth to three more children. Sarah "Sallie" Lee was born in 1863, James Tatum was born in 1866 and William was born in 1868. Tragedy would also strike as Daughter Florence died in her teens on December 26th, 1877 and baby William died on June 25th, 1870.
W W also opened a mercantile store on the square in Cartersville while serving his second term as Sheriff as well as being employed as the Railroad Agent for Cartersville. Once again he wore several occupational hats and once again he had become one of the counties more prominent citizens. During these years, W W took in two young, orphaned black children, Savina Johnson and Charles Gresham. He educated them and raised them to maturity with his own children.
On December 19th, 1885, Bashaba passed away and was buried in Cartersville's Oak Hill Cemetery next to daughter Florence and little William. W W then remarried to Rebecca Jennie Loveless of Cartersville. They moved to Gadsden, Alabama in 1886 where W W financed a charcoal production facility that produced this material for the Birmingham, Alabama steel mills.
Lt Colonel Rich passed away in Gadsden on April 16th, 1892 and was returned to Cartersville to be buried next to his beloved Bashaba. A prominent monumnet was raised there to his memory in 1997. His portrait (painted by his great great grandson, Darryl Starnes of Mechanicsville, Virginia) hangs in the office of the Etowah Valley Historical Society in the old County Court House at Cartersville. In this portrait, W W is wearing his red satin lined cape made for him by Bashaba when he had admired a similiar one worn by his famous commander, JEB Stuart.
Lt Colonel Rich's granddaughter once told Mr Starnes of an incident involving W W Rich which occurred on the streets of Cartersville many years ago. At this time W W was serving as Sheriff and had casue to arrest a young man who blurted out that "if the Colonel and others had fought harder that we would have won the war." To this W W replied, "We did the best we could with what we had to do it with, but you shall not be my judge. My children and my grandchildren who come after me will judge me." His family has judged him and found him truly worthy to be the role model for his family forever. This grand Bartow Cavalier remains deeply entrenched in the hearts of his family.
Phillips Georgia Legion