Ryan, William A. (ca. 1840–1886)

By: Matthew K. Hamilton

Type: Biography

Published: January 9, 2013

William A. Ryan, Confederate military officer, was born about 1840 in Alabama to Martin K. and Nancy O. Ryan of South Carolina and Alabama, respectively. William’s father was a wealthy merchant and slaveholder in Travis County, Texas, in 1860. It is not clear when the Ryans arrived in the Lone Star State.

Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Ryan did not immediately enlist in the Confederate army. However, on March 15, 1862, he joined the Eighteenth Texas Cavalry Regiment, then forming in Dallas. By the recommendation of that unit’s commanding officer, Col. Nicholas H. Darnell, Ryan was appointed the regiment’s adjutant. On May 26, 1862, Ryan’s unit was reorganized, and he was elected to the rank of major upon the discharge of the unit’s previous major. Ryan’s regiment saw action at the battle of Arkansas Post where, on January 11, 1863, he and a large portion of the unit were surrendered to Union forces. In April 1863 Ryan’s captured regiment was exchanged and combined with the Seventeenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-fifth Texas Cavalry regiments and placed under the command of James Deshler’s, J. A. Smith’s, and later Granbury’s Texas Brigade of the Army of Tennessee, where it served in the Western Theater of the war. Ryan and his unit saw action in all the major battles of the Western Theater including Chickamauga, Chattanooga, the Atlanta campaign, Franklin, Nashville, and defensive actions against Gen. William T. Sherman’s Carolinas campaign. On October 29, 1863, Ryan was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, a rank he would hold until the regiment was surrendered on April 26, 1865. There is some confusion over whether Ryan was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel, but a letter stating so is found within his service record. Additionally, he is often confused with a “William Ryan” of Caldwell, Burleson County, Texas.

After the war, Ryan returned to Travis County where in 1870 he operated a mercantile with the help of his father. It is not clear whether William Ryan ever married, but the 1870 census does list Rosine Ryan (possibly William’s wife) in the household. Ryan died on July 15, 1886, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

Joseph H. Crute, Jr., Units of the Confederate States Army (Midlothian, Virginia: Derwent, 1987). Stewart Sifakis, Compendium of the Confederate Armies: Texas (New York: Facts on File, 1995).

Time Periods:

  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Matthew K. Hamilton, “Ryan, William A.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 05, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ryan-william-a.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 9, 2013

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