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This Day in Richmond History: August 6, 1900

William Roane Aylett after the Civil War
William Roane Aylett after the Civil War

On this day in 1900, Colonel William R. Aylett passes away at the age of 67.

William Roane Aylett was born on May 14, 1833 in King William County, just outside of Richmond. Part of the Aylett family with roots going back to colonial days in the county, William grew up on the family estates of "Fairfield" and "Montville" in King William. From 1850 to 1854 Aylett attended law school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. After graduation, William returned to King William County and practiced law.

Just prior to the Civil War, William married Alice Brockenbrough in July of 1860. They would be married for 35 years and have 12 children together, 7 of which survived childhood.

When Virginia entered the Civil War in 1861, William joined and raised a company of troops, the "Taylor Greys". This would later become Company D of the 53rd Virginia Infantry regiment in 1862, with Aylett as their captain.

William Aylett and the 53rd Virginia took part in most of the major battles that took place in the eastern theater of the war. During the first two years of the war (1861 thru 1863) the 53rd was engaged in the battles of Seven Pines, Seven Days, Second Manassas, the capture of Harper's Ferry in 1862, Sharpsburg (or Antietam), Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. By the time of Gettysburg in July of 1863, William Aylett had moved up the ranks from Captain of Company D all the way up to Colonel of the whole regiment. It was during that famous battle at Gettysburg that the 53rd gained its glory. On the third day of the battle, on July 3, 1863, Aylett and the 53rd Virginia, part of Lewis Armistead's Brigade of George Pickett's Division, made the most famous attack of the war. During Pickett's Charge, Armistead's Brigade was the primary unit that made it the furthest in that doomed attack. Members of the 53rd Virginia were among those that temporarily broke the Union line. The attack was not sustained though and ended in failure. Colonel Aylett, though wounded during the attack, was one of the few officers of the Division that was available after the repulse. He rose to temporary command of what remained of the brigade after the battle and during the retreat to Virginia.

Colonel Aylett and his regiment took part in many other engagements before the war was over, including campaigns in North Carolina and around Petersburg during the Siege. In April of 1865 the 53rd was part of two major Confederate disasters. On April 1, 1865 the Battle of Five Forks took place in Dinwiddie County. This Union victory effectively eliminated the last supply line to Petersburg. This loss, in combination with Union attacks around Petersburg on April 2, forced General Lee to withdraw his army to the west. During the chase, the Battle of Saylor's Creek took place on April 6. The majority of Colonel Aylett's regiment was killed or captured during this battle. He too was captured, and would stay in a Union prison until July of 1865, two months after Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

After the war, William Aylett returned home to King William County. He would recover from the ruin that befell the South, rebuilding his wealth. He eventually became Commonwealth's Attorney for King William County, a post he held for 17 years.

In late July of 1900, Colonel Aylett suffered a paralytic stroke. He appeared to rally after a few days, but eventually things started to turn for the worse. On the evening of August 6, around 7p.m., Colonel Aylett passed on at his home "Montville", joining his wife who had passed away in 1895. He left behind a proud family and a community that respected the old warrior and servant of King William County and his state of Virginia.

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