William Wallace Robinson was born on December 14, 1819 in Fairhaven, Vermont. His father, John Robinson, descended from the Mayflower Pilgrinms, had served and been been wounded in the the War of 1812.
William attended Rutland and Castleton Academies and Norwich Military Academy, going on to become a teacher in New Jersey and in 1840 opening his own academy in Cleveland, Ohio. While in Cleveland he married Sarah Jane Fisk.
He headed west seeking gold but returned to Ohio and become a lieutenant in Company G of the 3rd Ohio Infantry Regiment during the Mexican War. By the end of the war he had been promoted to Captain for distinguished service.
In 1852 he set out for the gold rush in California, selling mining equipment, then returned to Minnesota where he founded the town of Winton. He moved to Sparta, Wisconsin, in 1858, becoming a farmer and a colonel in the state militia.
On August 18, 1861 he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 7th Wisconsin Infantry, which became part of the legendary Iron Brigade. He was promoted to colonel in January of 1862 when the regiment’s Hungarian born Colonel Vandor resigned to become U.S. Representative to the island of Tahiti.
Robinson was wounded in the leg at the Batle of Ganesville on August 28, 1862. He recovered from his wound in time to lead the regiment at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. During the Battle of Gettysburg he took over command of the Iron Brigade when Brigadier General Solomon Meredith was wounded and led it during the last part of its action on Seminary Ridge and the retreat to Cemetery Hill.
Robinson continued to command the brigade through the rest of 1863 and off and on through the Overland Campaign of 1864. Worn out, he resigned on July 9, 1864 after a period of over 30 days where he had not been able to remove his clothing or sword.
He returned to his farm in Sparta, Wisconsin, but in 1873 moved to be with his daughter and son-in-law in Chippewa Falls. Robinson’s second son, William, attended West Point after his father was offered the choice of a brevet brigadier generalship or a West Point appointment for his son, and unhesitatingly chose the scholarship.
In 1875 Robinson was appointed United States Counsul to Madagascar, where he spent twelve years. He returned to Wisconsin in 1886 and went into partnership with his son Herbert Fisk Robinson in the coal business. He was also active in the Grand Army of the Republic.
Robinson eventually moved to Seattle to live with his other son, and died there on April 27, 1903. He is buried in Fort Lawton Cemetery along with his grandson Edward, who also graduated from West Point.