North American Scholar

PETERS, William Elisha

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  • Date of Birth: 1829-08-18
  • Born City: Bedford Co.
  • Born State/Country: VA
  • Parents: Elisha & Cynthia Turner P.
  • Date of Death: 1906-03-22
  • Death City: Charlottesville
  • Death State/Country: VA
  • Married: Margaret Sheffey, 1858; Marian Sheffey, 14 July 1873.
  • Education:

    B.A. Emory & Henry Coll., 1848; study at U. Virginia, 1850-3; Berlin, 1856-8.

  • Professional Experience:

    Tchr. priv. sch. (Lynchburg, VA), 1848-50; prof. Lat. & Gk. Emory & Henry Coll., 1852-6, 1858-66; prof. Lat. U. Virginia, 1866-1906.

  • Publications:

    Outlines of Lectures Delivered to the Latin Classes of the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, 1875, 1885, 1894); Notes on Latin Case-Relations (prepared for classes at University of Virginia) (Charlottesville, 1882); Syntax of the Latin Verb (Charlottesville, 1898).

  • Notes:

    William E. Peters was the author of Syntax of the Latin Verb and longtime Latinist at the University of Virginia, where he was for three years a student of Gessner Harrison. He was called "Colonel Peters" for his distinguished service in the Confederate army, rising from the rank of private to colonel of cavalry. His greatest moment may have been during Early's invasion of Pennsylvania in August 1864, when he was ordered to burn the town of Chambersburg for its refusal to pay financial reparation for Union plundering of the Valley of Virginia. Peters refused Early's order on the grounds that he would not endanger non-combatants and he was immediately arrested, only to be released by General Lee himself. After the war, he was named to fill the Latin post at the University of Virginia made vacant by the death of Lewis Minor Coleman and thus became the colleague of the university's other noble veteran, Gildersleeve. Peters served the university for 40 years, and by stressing precise syntactical study made a fine complement to Gildersleeve's mastery of Greek syntax. Of him his colleague Milton Humphreys said, "Colonel Peters trained more men in Latin than any other Southern teacher, and exercised an enormous influence through the men who went from here to teach Latin or Greek elsewhere." His principal contribution lay in the influence of his noble and courageous character and his high and exacting standards upon successive generations of Virginia students for whom he often seemed the model man of action and of learning.

  • Sources:

    Charlottesville-Albemarle Historical Coll.; The University of Virginia; Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics, ed. P. B. Barringer et al. (New York, 1904), 2:3-4; P. A. Bruce, History of the University of Virginia 1819-1919 (New York, 1921), 4:29-32; George J. Stevenson, Increase in Excellence: A History of Emory & Henry College (New York, 1963); Lewis Preston Summers, History of Southwest Virginia 1746-1786; Washington County 1777-1870 (Richmond, 1903), 779; WhAm 1:747.

  • Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.