When the Mexican War broke out, Williams raised a rifle company in Clark County, Prichard said, noting that Williams' "Independent Kentucky Rifles" subsequently were accepted as U.S. Regulars and attached to the 6th U.S. Infantry during Gen. Winfield Scott's advance on Mexico City.
At the Battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847, Williams' company was attached to the 2nd Tennessee Infantry of Gen. Gideon Pillow's brigade, the speaker said. He noted that while Pillow's command was repulsed during a desperate charge under murderous fire, the Americans won the day and Williams would forever be known as "Cerro Gordo" for the way he distinguished himself that day.
After returning home, Williams, a staunch Whig like his father, entered politics and narrowly defeated his Democratic rival and future Confederate general, Roger Hanson in the race for the House of Representatives from Clark County, the speaker said. He noted that Hanson had served as a lieutenant under Williams at Cerro Gordo.
After serving as American military observer during the Crimean War in 1855-56, Williams purchased 4,000 acres in Platt County, Ill., but was reportedly driven out of Illinois because of his anti-Lincoln stance, the speaker said. Prichard said Williams returned to Kentucky, warning in a speech at Mount Sterling that Kentuckians faced ruin unless they supported the South in what he called a struggle between liberty and despotism.
Williams and other Southern Rights leaders fled to avoid arrest, the speaker said. Williams was appointed a colonel in the Confederate Army and by Oct. 19, 1861, had 2,500 men under his command in Prestonsburg, the speaker said. However, only 500 were well-armed, he said, and with Gen. William "Bull" Nelson advancing up the Licking River Valley, Williams' only recourse was to fall back to Pound Gap on the Virginia line, Prichard said, lamenting, "We had nothing on our side, except courage."
On April 16, 1862, Williams was promoted to brigadier general and in June was commanding an infantry brigade in the Army of Western Virginia, Prichard said, playing an active role in the Confederate offensive that won control of the Kanawha Valley that September.
In September 1863, Williams was ordered to assume command of a skeleton force defending the Virginia-Tennessee line against Gen. Ambrose Burnside's Union forces, Prichard said, and fought a series of sharp delaying actions until the Federals fell back at Bristol.
Williams, with a newly organized cavalry brigade of 1,500, was ordered to hold against Burnside's 9,000 troops at Blue Springs, Tenn., the speaker said. Williams, he said, fought Burnside's entire force to a standstill, but when he rode to Greenville to telegraph news of his successful stand, his subordinates retreated under cover of darkness and Burnside subsequently surrounded Williams' force at Henderson's Mill, the speaker said.
Although Williams cut his way out, his unit was overtaken and encircled at Rheatown where he ordered his men to pitch camp while being shelled by the Federals, Prichard said. He added that in 1875 when Williams unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for Kentucky governor, a former officer in his command claimed Williams had been too drunk to exercise command at Rheatown.
Williams eventually was transferred to the Army of Tennessee and led his men in hard fighting in Georgia throughout the summer of 1864. On Oct. 2, 1864, he arrived just in time to repulse a Federal attack on crucial Confederate salt production facilities at Saltville, Prichard said, but was criticized for failing to pursue his retreating enemy.
After the war, Williams briefly relocated to New Orleans, but soon returned to Kentucky and became active in politics, the speaker said. He served a two-year term as state representative for Montgomery County in 1873 and in 1878 was elected to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat but failed to win re-election in 1884, the speaker said.
Williams became a land developer in Florida and helped found the town of Naples, Fla., according to Prichard. He died in Mount Sterling on July 17, 1898, and is buried in the Winchester Cemetery, the speaker said.
Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Kentucky state Extension wildlife specialist and a professor in the Department of Forestry at the University of Kentucky, will speak at the July 10 Second Thursday on Kentucky's Endangered Plants."
All programs are held at the museum, 217 S. Main St., and are open to the public. Refreshments will be served.