William Dudley Chipley

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William Dudley Chipley

Colonel William Dudley Chipley (June 6, 1840December 1, 1897) was a railroad tycoon and statesman. He created two railroads in the Florida Panhandle and served many terms as mayor of Pensacola, as well as in the Florida State Legislature.

Early life[edit]

Chipley was born in Columbus, Georgia, the son of Doctor William Stout Chipley and Elizabeth Fannin Chipley. Chipley's grandfather, the Reverend Stephen Chipley, was one of the founding citizens of Lexington, Kentucky. William Stout Chipley was renowned for his work relating to brain diseases and held two jobs: a professor of medicine at Transylvania University and the warden of the Eastern Asylum for the Insane in Lexington.

Chipley moved with his parents back to Lexington when he was four years old, and was raised for all of his formative years in Kentucky. He graduated from the Kentucky Military Institute and Transylvania University.

Military service[edit]

Chipley in the 9th Kentucky Infantry

After graduation from Transylvania, he enlisted in 9th Kentucky Infantry, fighting for the Confederacy. He was elevated to the position of lieutenant colonel and was wounded at the battles of Shiloh and Chickamauga before being taken prisoner at the Battle of Peachtree Creek near Atlanta. As a prisoner of war, Chipley was transported to Johnson's Island on Lake Erie in Ohio, and served time there until the war was over. In mid-1865, he settled in Columbus, Georgia and married Ann Elizabeth Billups, the daughter of a prominent Phenix City, Alabama planter.

Participation and Subsequent Arrest for Role in the Assassination of G. W. Ashburn[edit]

On 6 April, 1868, Chipley was arrested and jailed for his role the bedside assassination of G. W. Ashburn, a member of the Constitutional Convention of Georgia. In 1868, while the state of Georgia was undergoing Congressional Reconstruction, General Thomas Ruger was assigned the role of temporary military governor (from January to July 1868).

Chipley and nine other men stood trial for murder under the auspices of the Military Commission. Witness testimony was given identifying Chipley as the leader and organizer of Ashburn's murder, along with testimony describing the planning of the murder, the distribution of masks to the participants, and descriptions of the types of weapons used in the murder. Several of the accused men appeared as witnesses for the prosecution, identifying Chipley as the architect of the murder and as a powerful member of the KluKluxKlan.

The former vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, represented the defense. At the start of the trial, Stephens put forward a claim that the defendants did not recognize the authority of trial proceedings under military commission, as none of the defendants were part of a military at the time of the murder. Furthermore, the defendants asserted their right to a civil trial with a jury of their peers. The trial was brought to a halt before a verdict could be rendered, owing to the conclusion of military supervision in Georgia. No civil charges were subsequently brought against Chipley.

Railroad executive[edit]

Chipley became fascinated with the railroad industry shortly after his trial for the murder of G. W. Ashburn. He built what would become the Columbus and Rome Railroad, and later became involved with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from 1873 to 1876. It was at this time that he moved to Pensacola, Florida, where he built the town's first railroad (this line would eventually become a part of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad). He also built the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad, linking the Atlantic coast of Florida with the Gulf Coast states for the first time.

His achievements in the railroad industry inspired the residents of Orange to name their town Chipley in 1882.


Chipley created the Democratic Executive Committee in Muscogee County, Georgia in the late 1860s, and was its first director. He later served as director of the Florida Democratic Executive Committee.

After opening the two rail lines in Pensacola, he parlayed his industrial success into numerous terms as the mayor of the town. He also served in the Florida State Legislature from 1895 to 1897, and lost his bid for United States Senator in 1896 by one vote.

While on a trip to Washington, DC, Chipley died on December 1, 1897. He was in the middle of a trip to lobby lawmakers to base more industrial endeavors in Florida. He was buried in Columbus, while the townspeople of Pensacola erected an obelisk in the Plaza Ferdinand VII in his honor. Directly across from the obelisk is the Pensacola Museum of History: formerly known as the T. T. Wentworth Museum, the name of the museum was changed following the documented revelation that Wentworth was an "exalted cyclops" of the Klu Klux Klan. Chipley's title within the Klu Klux Klan is still unknown.

Other images[edit]


  • Biographical Notes, Memoirs of Florida, Volume 1, 481–483, 1902 ([1])

The Ashburn Murder Case In Georgia Reconstruction, 1868 by Elizabeth Otto Daniell The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 59, No. 3 (Fall, 1975), pp. 296-312

Report on the Ashburn Murder by George Gordon Meade 1868

New Georgia Encyclopedia Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era

New York Times Archives

Pensacola News Journal Archives

New Georgia Encyclopedia

Preceded by:
Albert Lord Avery
Mayor of Pensacola
Succeeded by:
Albert Lord Avery