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Townsend, William Parnell (1822–1882)

Aragorn Storm Miller Biography Entry

William Parnell Townsend, planter, businessman, and Confederate officer, was born in Mississippi, on August 7, 1822, to Thomas Townsend and Tabitha Parnell. He fought in the Mexican War before marrying Almira Jennings on March 27, 1856, in Lowndes County, Mississippi. This couple had two sons and three daughters. Townsend settled in Robertson County in 1852 and played a key role in establishing that county as a major source of cotton in Texas. By 1860 he had prospered considerably, increasing the number of slaves he owned over the decade from thirteen to twenty-nine and boasting $13,500 in real estate and $25,750 in personal property. In September 1860 Townsend joined Robertson County's leading citizens in passing a resolution calling for the secession of Texas from the Union in the event of the secession of another Southern state. In May 1861 he raised a company of infantry, called the "Robertson Five Shooters," for service in the Confederacy. This unit trained in Central Texas throughout the summer of 1861. In September of that year, it was sent by rail to Virginia where it was incorporated into the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment as Company C, and Townsend was made its captain. With this unit, Townsend participated in actions at the battles of Gaines' Mill and Second Bull Run and received promotion to major. At Second Bull Run, he was wounded and lost his left foot.

Following his injury, Townsend returned to Robertson County where he contributed to the Confederate war effort by establishing a cotton, wool, and flour factory, known as the Brazos Manufacturing Company, near Hearne. In addition to cash, Townsend pledged fifty bales of cotton. In 1869 Townsend was among several prominent Robertson County men who established the town of Sterling in hopes of taking advantage of the extension of a railroad beyond Hearne. His wife Almira died on November 25, 1873, during a yellow fever epidemic. Townsend died on October 24, 1882, and is buried next to his wife at the Calvert City Cemetery in Robertson County, Texas.

J. W. Baker, A History of Robertson County, Texas (Franklin, Texas: Robertson County Historical Survey Committee, 1970). John Martin Brockman, Port Sullivan, Texas: Ghost Town (M.A. thesis, Texas A&M University, 1968). Calvert Cemetery (, accessed April 9, 2011. Ghost Towns of Robertson County (, accessed April 13, 2011. An Illustrated History of the Fourth Texas Infantry (, accessed April 13, 2011. James A. Mundie, Jr., with Bruce S. Allardice, Dean E. Letzring, and John H. Luckey, Texas Burial Sites of Civil War Notables: A Biographical and Pictorial Field Guide (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill College Press, 2002). Lawrence Ward St. Clair, History of Robertson County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1931).

Time Periods:

  • Civil War

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

Aragorn Storm Miller, “Townsend, William Parnell,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 26, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: