William Mahone was born in Virginia in 1826. the son of a tavernkeeper, Mahone worked as a mailboy before eventually becoming chief engineer and a railroad superintendent.
On the outbreak of the American Civil War he joined the Confederate Army. He was soon promoted to the rank of colonel and participated in the capture of the Norfolk Navy Yard. He also commanded the Norfolk Military District before being forced to retreat from the area.
Mahone fought at 2nd Bull Run (August, 1862), Fredericksburg (December, 1862), Chancellorsville (May, 1863), Gettysburg (July, 1863) and the Wilderness (June, 1864). After taking part in the fighting at Petersburg in July, 1864, Robert E. Lee promoted Mahone to the rank of major general. Lee described Mahone as the commander of "the most renowned shock troops of the Army."
After the war Mahone returned to the railroad industry. He also joined the Republican Party and served in the US Senate (1880-82).
William Mahone died in 1895.