William B. Bate, lawyer, Confederate general, governor, and U.S. senator, was born at Castalian Springs in Sumner County on October 7, 1826, the son of James H. Bate and Anna Weathered Bate. His education was limited to a few years in a log schoolhouse known as the Rural Academy. Following his father's death, Bate secured a job as second clerk on the steamboat Saladin, which traveled between Nashville and New Orleans. At the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846, Bate volunteered for service in a Louisiana regiment; at the expiration of his enlistment, he reenlisted and served as lieutenant of Company I, Third Tennessee Infantry.
At the end of the war, Bate returned to the family farm in Sumner County and established a Democratic newspaper, the Gallatin Tenth Legion. In 1849 he was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly. After graduation from the Cumberland Law School in Lebanon in 1852, Bate opened law practice in Gallatin. He served a term as district attorney general. In 1856 he married Julia Peete, daughter of Colonel Samuel Peete of Huntsville, Alabama, a distinguished lawyer and veteran of the War of 1812. In 1859 Bate declined the Democratic nomination for Congress.
A strong believer in states' rights and secession, Bate volunteered for service as a private in the Second Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. Elected colonel, he served with his regiment, first in Virginia and later in campaigns which included Stones River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Franklin, and Nashville. Before the end of the war, he attained the rank of major general. Bate was wounded on three different occasions, most severely at Shiloh. While with the army at Wartrace in 1863, he declined the Tennessee gubernatorial nomination.
After the war Bate opened law practice in Nashville and continued to be involved in Democratic Party politics, becoming identified with the “Bourbon” wing of the party. In 1868 he became a member of the State Democratic Committee and the National Democratic Executive Committee. Elected governor in 1882, he was reelected two years later. Under Bate's administration, the state debt controversy, which had divided the party since 1877, ended with a compromise agreement that funded the debt at fifty cents on the dollar with 3 percent bonds. In 1886 he was elected to the United States Senate to succeed Washington C. Whitthorne, and Bate remained in that office until his death on March 9, 1905.
In the Senate, Bate supported legislation to reduce taxation, create a Weather Bureau, improve the efficiency of the Army Signal Corps, and provide support for common schools. He voted in favor of the admission of Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico to statehood and secured the passage of a resolution for the erection of a Government Building at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897.