William Joseph Franks was born about 1830 in Pittsboro, North Carolina. He enlisted in the United States Navy September 16th 1863. While serving on the USS Marmora on March 5th 1864 Franks and his shipmates James Stoddard and Bartlett Laffey landed a 12 pound howitzer with its crew at Yazoo City, Mississippi. The city was under attack by a strong Confederate force. Franks and his group found themselves in the middle of the fighting, but refused to leave the cannon. Their action helped to hold the Union position.
Franks would receive the United States Medal of Honor for his action at Yazoo City. He would also be promoted to Acting Master’s Mate.