William Paul Roberts: The Youngest Confederate General

by | Jun 7, 2015 | Confederate affiliation, Gates

In 1861, 19-year-old William Paul Roberts, a Gates County native, enlisted in Company C, 19th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, which would later be designated 2nd Regiment, NC Calvary. Having served with distinction during regimental operations in the state, but with no formal military training, he was promoted to 3rd lieutenant on Aug. 30, 1861. On Sept. 13, 1862, Roberts was promoted to 1st lieutenant. The 2nd Regiment was transferred to Virginia in the fall of that year and took part in several major actions, including Fredericksburg, Suffolk, and Brandy Station. Roberts was promoted to captain on Nov. 19, 1863 and then to major before the spring of 1864, when he fought in the North Carolina brigade in William Henry Fitzhugh Lee’s division. He was promoted to colonel in June of 1864 and, during the Petersburg Campaign, was given command of the 2nd Regiment, NC Cavalry. Roberts especially distinguished himself during the fierce fighting at Ream’s Station on Aug. 25, 1864 when he led a charge, dismounted, against Union breastworks, overtaking the rifle pits and capturing several Union soldiers. On Feb. 23, 1865, at the age of 23, William Paul Roberts was promoted to brigadier general, backdated to Feb. 21, and became the Confederacy’s youngest general officer. According to tradition, General Robert E. Lee presented Roberts with his personal gauntlets in recognition of Roberts’ distinguished service and gallantry. Roberts continued his command of his brigade, avoided capture against numerically superior Union forces at Five Forks, and eventually surrendered with General Lee and the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean at Appomattox Court House, Va. on April 9, 1865. After four years of fighting in a war that saw approximately 630,000 deaths and more than a million casualties, Roberts returned to his home in Gates County, married, and engaged in farming. He entered state politics as the representative for Gates County at the Constitutional Convention in 1875. In 1876 he was elected to the state legislature. He eventually became a state auditor and served in that capacity from 1880-1888. Roberts died March 28, 1910 and is buried in his home county at Gatesville.

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