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08/01/2021 07:12 PM
Pennsylvania State Senate

William Franklin Small

Photo credit:

Portrait: Col. William F. Small, RG98S-CWP26.57, USAMHI



Session Position District Party
1847 2 Democrat
 Counties   Philadelphia


1820 - 1877

Senator William F. Small was born in Montgomery County in 1820. Moving with his parents to Philadelphia at an early age, he attended common schools, studied law, joined the bar, and developed an interest in the military, commanding the Monroe Guards during the 1844 Philadelphia riots. In December 1846, Captain Small recruited members of the unit for service in the Mexican War as the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers after his election to the Senate of Pennsylvania six weeks previously. Small requested and received a leave of absence for the 1847 session and embarked for Mexico via New Orleans, returning for the 1848 session, again resuming his military career with the rank of captain. Small closed his Senate service at the end of the 1849 session, remaining a member and rising to Brigadier General in the Pennsylvania Militia, while practicing law and working as a legal reporter for the Philadelphia Public Ledger.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Col. Small requested and was granted permission to proceed with his Washington Guards, 1st and 2d Regiments, in defense of the nation’s capital – promised arms and equipment upon arrival. Traveling by night rail on April 19, 1861, Small’s two unarmed regiments were ambushed by Confederate sympathizers at Baltimore, who killed one Philadelphian and scattered others of Small’s troop, who retreated to Pennsylvania. Critics excoriated Small for transporting the city regiments without a means of defense until the Col. eventually vindicated himself. By May 25, 1861, Small’s two regiments were designated the 26th and 27th  PVI, the Colonel commanding the former. His regimental battle flag bore the city and date – “Baltimore, April 19, 1861.” He was dispatched to Bladensburg; saw action at Fair Oaks, First Manassas; White Oak Swamp; Seven Pines; Malvern Hill; Bristoe station and Yorktown before encountering turbulent times. In early 1862, five charges with seven specifications were proffered against the Colonel at court martial, ranging from producing a false muster list to illegally flogging a private, culminating with insubordination. At one point, Col. Small threatened an enlisted subordinate, whose only sin was delivering bad news, with “I’ll pull your nose on Dress Parade.” Found guilty on several charges, Gen. McClellan disapproved the court’s verdict and returned Small “to the sword.” Col. Small was shot through the right calf at Williamsburg, May 5, 1862; subsequently discharged on June 30th for unstated reasons; and returned to Philadelphia and organized the 60th Emergency Militia of 1863 during the Gettysburg campaign.  Col. Small resumed the practice of law after the war and served as Clerk of the Philadelphia Common Council. He passed away at his home in Philadelphia on June 13, 1877, 57 years old.
Bio: Thomas P. Lowry, Tarnished Eagles, 50 Court Martials of Union Lt. Colonels and Colonels (Mechanicsburg, Pa: Stackpole, 1998); also: Philadelphia Public Ledger, June 14, 1877.