Officer Profiles: Short Biographical Sketches of Civil War Officers

The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This page contains a collection of brief biographical profiles of Civil War officers published in the Charger over the years. Most of these profiles are not original to either the Charger or this website but were cobbled together from various sources. The focus of these profiles is on less well-known players in the Civil War drama and not the superstar generals on whom we tend to more often focus our attention.


  • Turner Ashby
  • Nathaniel Prentiss Banks
  • Braxton Bragg
  • Don Carlos Buell
  • John Bell Hood
  • James Hewett Ledlie
  • Irvin McDowell
  • John Pemberton
  • Strong Vincent
  • John Thomas Wilder
  • Henry Wirz
  • Henry Alexander Wise

Turner Ashby

Born: October 23, 1828, Fauquier County, Virginia

Died: June 6, 1962, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Pre-war profession: Planter and businessman

Fought for: The Confederacy

Turner Ashby

Turner Ashby was a Confederate general whose death in combat seemed to typify the doomed gallantry of the South’s military efforts.

Ashby was from an old Virginia family. His grandfather had fought in the Revolution and father had fought in the War of 1812. Turner was opposed to secession in principle, but, as a planter and grain dealer, he defended the practice of slavery.

He personally organized a troop of mounted volunteers to ride to Harpers Ferry when he heard of John Brown’s raid, but he arrived too late to take action. When Virginia seceded, Ashby immediately organized another troop of horsemen that, incorporated into the 7th Virginia Cavalry, he led in the early operations in the upper Potomac.

In the spring of 1862, Ashby helped cover Jackson’s retreat to Swift Run Gap, but by late May he was pursuing the retreating Federals under Banks. On May 27, Ashby was commissioned a brigadier general, by which time he was commanding a cavalry brigade that was fighting rearguard actions to protect Jackson’s army as it retreated from the Shenandoah Valley.

On June 6, 1962, Ashby was killed by federal troops.

Taken from The Civil War Almanac.

Nathaniel Prentiss Banks

Born: January 30, 1816, Waltham, Massachusetts

Died: September 1, 1894, Waltham, Massachusetts

Pre-war profession: Massachusetts state congressman, US congressman, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governor

Fought for: The Union

Nathaniel Banks

Nathaniel Prentiss Banks had little formal education. At the age of twenty-three he was admitted to the bar, but failed seven times to become a member of the Massachusetts legislature before winning a seat. He was speaker of the Massachusetts house, presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1853, and the same year was elected to Congress—the first of ten terms under five different party affiliations. Elected Speaker of the House of Representatives after 133 ballots in 1856, Banks showed moderation in deciding among factions during the bitter slavery debates.

In 1858 he was elected governor of Massachusetts, serving until January, 1861, when Lincoln appointed him a major general of volunteers after Banks proffered his services. Many West Point officers could not be made to understand that. However substandard Bank’s qualifications were for the job of a field commander, he contributed immeasurably in recruits, morale, money, and propaganda to the Federal cause.

He was expelled from the Shenandoah with the loss of 30 per cent of his force during Stonewall Jackson’s celebrated Valley Campaign and, in August 1862, was again defeated by Jackson at Cedar Mountain.

Banks was responsible for costly assaults at Port Hudson, which was compelled to surrender anyway after the capitulation of Vicksburg, and was the commander, if not the author, of the ill-fated Red River Campaign of 1864. After the evacuation of Alexandria during the retreat of the expedition, Banks was superseded by General E. R. S. Canby.

Having received the thanks of Congress for “the skill, courage, and endurance which compelled the surrender of Port Hudson,” General Banks was mustered out of military service in August 1865 and was almost immediately elected to Congress—his first of six terms in the postwar years—five as a Republican and one as a Democrat. During the same period he was elected once to the Massachusetts senate and served nine years as United States Marshal for the state.

Before the end of his last term in the House, he retired to his home in Waltham where he died on September 1, 1894.

Braxton Bragg

Born: March 22, 1817, Warrenton, North Carolina

Died: September 27, 1876, Galveston, Texas

Pre-war profession: Graduated West Point in 1837 (fifth in his class), Seminole War, Mexican War, Lt. Col, resigned 1856, planter

Fought for: The Confederacy

Braxton Bragg

Bragg, a North Carolinian, graduated from West Point in 1837, fought in the Seminole War and saw distinguished service in Mexico, where he won acclaim for the performance of his battery at Buena Vista in February 1847. He resigned from the army in 1856 to become a planter in Louisiana.

Appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate army in February 1861, he commanded the coastal defenses between Mobile and Pensacola. He helped Albert Sidney Johnston reorganize the Army of Tennessee in northern Mississippi in the early spring of 1862 and led Johnston’s right wing at Shiloh in April. Promoted to full general shortly after the battle, he took charge of the Army of Tennessee in June. In late August, Bragg launched his invasion of Kentucky, with the political aim of drawing the state into the Confederacy. After the drawn Battles of Perryville (October 1862) and Stones River (December 1862-January 1863) he withdrew to Tullahorna, the campaign a failure.

Federal forces under William S. Rosecrans maneuvered Bragg out of Tullahoma, and then out of Chattanooga, in the summer of 1863. Bragg attacked Rosecrans along Chickamauga Creek on September 19 and 20, driving the Federals back to Chattanooga with heavy losses. This was potentially a great victory, but Bragg failed to exploit his initial advantage. Instead of pressing the attack, he drew his army up into the hills above Chattanooga and besieged the city.

U.S. Grant reopened a supply line into Chattanooga in October and launched an
attack on Missionary Ridge, forcing Bragg to retreat into north Georgia. Joseph E. Johnston relieved him of command of the Army of Tennessee on December 2, 1863.

Bragg’s difficult personality compounded his lack of battlefield success. Irritable, disputatious, dyspeptic, he made many enemies among the senior officers and inspired little affection in the ranks. Senior subordinates such as James Longstreet, D. H. Hill, and William Hardee had no confidence in him. “The tone of the army among its higher officers toward the commander was the worst conceivable,” Longstreet’s aide, G. Moxley Sorrel, wrote of the period after Chickamauga. “Bragg was the subject of hatred and contempt, and it was almost openly so expressed.”

Bragg served as an adviser to President Jefferson Davis through most of 1864. He returned to the field toward the war’s end and fought his last battle against W. T. Sherman’s forces in North Carolina in March 1865. He joined Davis in his attempt to escape Union forces; taken prisoner on May 9, he was paroled shortly thereafter.

He worked as a civil engineer in Texas and Alabama after the war, served a four-year term as Alabama’s commissioner of public works, and supervised a harbor improvement scheme at Mobile. He died in Galveston, Texas.

Don Carlos Buell

Born: March 23, 1818, Marietta, Ohio

Died: November 19, 1898, Rockport, Kentucky

Pre-war profession: Graduated West Point in 1841 (32nd in his class), served in the Seminole War, the Mexican-American War, and from 1848 to 1861 performed various staff duties, chiefly as Assistant Adjutant General.

Fought for: The Union

Don Carlos Buell

Don Carlos Buell was born near Marietta, Ohio, on March 23, 1818. He graduated from West Point in 1841 and, as a company officer of infantry, took part in the Seminole War of 1841-42. He fought in the Mexican War, during which he was present at almost all the battles fought by Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, winning the brevet of captain at Monterey and that of major at Contreras-Churubusco, where he was wounded. From 1848 to 1861 he performed various staff duties, chiefly as assistant adjutant general.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was appointed lieutenant colonel on May 11, 1861, brigadier general of volunteers a few days later, and major general of volunteers in March of 1862. He aided efficiently in organizing the Army of the Potomac, and, at the insistence of General George B. McClellan, in November of 1861 was sent to Kentucky to succeed General William T. Sherman in command. Here he employed himself in the organization and training of the Army of the Ohio (subsequently of the Cumberland), which to the end of its career retained a standard of discipline and efficiency only surpassed by that of the Army of the Potomac. In the spring of 1862, Buell followed the retiring Confederates under Albert Sidney Johnston and appeared on the field at Shiloh at the end of the first day’s fighting. On the following day, aided by Buell’s fresh and well-trained army, Ulysses S. Grant carried all before him.

Buell subsequently served under Henry W. Halleck in the advance on Corinth, and in the autumn commanded in the campaign in Kentucky against Braxton Bragg. After a period of maneuvering in which Buell scarcely held his own, this virtually ended in the indecisive Battle of Perryville. The alleged tardiness of his pursuit, and his objection to a plan of campaign ordered by the Washington authorities, brought about Buell’s removal from command. With all his gifts as an organizer and disciplinarian, he was haughty in his dealings with the civil authorities and, in high command, he showed, on the whole, unnecessary tardiness of movement and an utter disregard for the requirements of the political situation. Moreover, as McClellan’s friend, holding similar views adverse politically to the administration, he suffered by McClellan’s displacement. The complaints made against him were investigated in 1862-63, but the result of the investigation was not published. Subsequently he was offered military employment, which he declined. He resigned his volunteer commission in May and his regular commission in June of 1864.

After the war, he was president of Green River Iron Company (1865-70) and subsequently engaged in various mining enterprises. He also served (1885-89) as pension agent at Louisville. He died at his home near Rockport, Kentucky on November 19, 1898. He is buried in St. Louis, Missouri.

John Bell Hood

Born: June 1 or 29, 1831, Owingsville, Kentucky

Died: August 30, 1879, New Orleans, Louisiana

Pre-war profession: Graduated West Point in 1853 (44th in his class), served in California and later transferred to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Texas, where he fought Comanches.

Fought for: The Confederacy

John Bell Hood

Lacking neither courage nor fighting skills, John Bell Hood’s deficient strategic abilities and ill-suitedness to high command helped cause the destruction of the Confederacy’s Army of Tennessee late in the war. The tall and imposing Kentucky native graduated in the bottom fifth of his class at West Point, and his early military service included a stint in the elite 2nd Cavalry, during which he had already begun to demonstrate bold, if reckless, tendencies.

Leaving the U.S. Army in April 1861 to join the Confederacy, he and his famed brigade of Texans made noteworthy showings in the Seven Days Battles, Second Bull Run, and Antietam, where they sustained heavy casualties breaking the Union’s initial attack. A gunshot wound at Gettysburg crippled Hood’s left arm, but the injury did not slow his military advancement.

As Joseph E. Johnston’s chief officer in the 1864 defense of Atlanta against William T. Sherman’s invading Union army, Hood roundly criticized his superior’s cautious strategy. In July, he was given the chance to do better when Jefferson Davis, eager for a hard fighter, appointed Hood to take over the Army of Tennessee from Johnston in the middle of the campaign.

Within two days of gaining command, Hood went on the offensive, playing into Sherman’s hands. His three attacks against the Union army—at Peachtree Creek, near Decatur, and at Ezra Church—cost him 15,000 men, and he was forced to retreat back to Atlanta’s strong fortifications. The city was besieged and a month later fell to the North. Hood still managed an effective withdrawal of his troops and, with help from Nathan Bedford Forrest, attacked Union supply lines in north Georgia and Tennessee.

Hardly halting Sherman’s relentless “March to the Sea,” though, the impetuous Hood conceived a bolder—and hopelessly unrealistic plan: an all-out invasion of Tennessee. Along with forcing Sherman to turn, he hoped to retake the state altogether, advance further northeast, collect reinforcements, and crush Ulysses S. Grant’s forces in Virginia from the rear.

Instead, Hood’s outnumbered men wound up confronting John Schofield’s entrenched troops in Franklin. (Ironically, Schofield graduated seventh in the same West Point class of 1853 in which Hood graduated 44th.) On November 30, over the furious objections of his lieutenants, Hood ordered a massive assault on the fortified Union line. After over a dozen valiant but futile charges, Hood lost a quarter of his army. Losing the confidence of the survivors as well, he nevertheless proceeded north to Nashville, this time encountering George H. Thomas.

With his depleted force camped outside the city, Hood ran out of ideas and waited, first for reinforcements that never arrived and then for Thomas’ inevitable attack. When it came, an overpowering two-day onslaught in mid-December, the Army of Tennessee virtually disintegrated. Retreating deeper and deeper south with what was left of his force, Hood resigned his command in January.

After the war, he went into business in New Orleans, where he, his wife, and eleven children died in a yellow fever epidemic four years later.

James Hewett Ledlie

Born: April 14, 1832, Utica, New York

Died: August 15, 1882, Staten Island, New York

Pre-war profession: Civil Engineer

Fought for: The Union

James Ledlie

James Hewett Ledlie was born in New York, was educated at Union in Schenectady and became an engineer engaged in railroad construction. Shortly after the outbreak of war he became major of the 19th New York Infantry, subsequently named the 3rd New York Artillery. This regiment, at the expiration of its original term of service, mutinied, and 23 of the original 206 offenders were sentenced to the Dry Tortugas. Ledlie was promoted lieutenant colonel, colonel, and then brigadier general on December 24, 1862; the latter rank expired on March 4, 1863, for lack of Senate confirmation. He was reappointed on October 27, 1863, and in due course confirmed.

Meantime, Ledlie had served unexceptionally on the Carolina coast, commanding an artillery brigade under John G. Foster, and in district and post command at various points in the Federal Department of Virginia and North Carolina. In the course of the fierce fighting around Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864, Ledlie joined the Army of the Potomac and was assigned to the command of a brigade in Ambrose E. Burnside’s IX Corps.

The following month, after Petersburg was invested, he became commander of the 1st Division of the corps. At the end of July his division was selected to lead the Federal assault upon the Confederate works after the explosion of the celebrated Union mine. At 4:45 A.M. on the morning of July 30, 170 feet of Confederate entrenchment was disintegrated, creating a “crater” 60 feet across and 30 feet deep. While Ledlie’s men struggled to get over their own parapet, because no provision had been made for ladders or steps, and while the possession of Petersburg and the end of the war may have rested in the palms of their hands, Ledlie huddled “in a bombproof ten rods in rear of the main line.”

In September he was criticized by a court of inquiry, and in December he was virtually read out of the service by George G. Meade on U. S. Grant’s orders. He resigned on January 23, 1865. After the war he continued his career as a railroad engineer in the West and South. Ledlie died at New Brighton, Staten Island, on August 15, 1882, and was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Utica.

Irvin McDowell

Born: October 15, 1818, Columbus, Ohio

Died: May 10, 1885, San Francisco, California

Pre-war profession: Graduated West Point in 1838 (23rd in his class, in which P.G.T. Beauregard graduated second), initially posted to the 1st U.S. Artillery, served as tactics instructor at West Point and aide-de-camp to General John E. Wool during the Mexican-American War. He was brevetted captain at Buena Vista and then served in the Adjutant General’s department after the war and was promoted to major in 1856.

Fought for: The Union

Irvin McDowell

Irvin McDowell was one of several Union generals who were fine administrative officers but ineffectual in the field and thus saw their careers tainted by the war. Ohio-born and a West Point graduate, McDowell had a career typical of an army officer of his time, including service in the Mexican War. By the time the Civil War broke out, he was well-regarded by members of the new Republican administration.

In May of 1861, he was given the most crucial command, that of the Army of the Potomac and the Department of Northeastern Virginia. As a very meticulous administrator, McDowell knew that the Union troops were not ready for battle when they met the Confederates at First Bull Run, so he accepted the loss. The government and public in the North, however, were not so detached, and McDowell was replaced in the top command by General George McClellan and demoted to head a division.

In the ensuing months, McDowell was shifted from one command to another; by the Second Bull Run Campaign in August of 1862, he was in command of the III Corps, Army of Virginia. Although the Union forces were generally beaten, McDowell was particularly singled out for his failures and was removed from command. He demanded an official inquiry and was eventually exonerated, but he was never given another field command.

McDowell retired from the army in 1882 and spent his last years in San Francisco.

Totally dedicated, with no interest in political or popular considerations, McDowell simply lacked the inspirational and decisive qualities required of a leader at a certain time in history.

Taken from The Civil War Almanac.

John C. Pemberton

Born: August 10, 1814, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: July 13, 1881, Penllyn, Pennsylvania

Pre-war profession: Graduated West Point in 1837 (27th in his class, two spots ahead of Joseph Hooker), served with the artillery against the Seminoles, the Mexicans (earning two brevets), the Mormons, and on the frontier.

Fought for: The Confederacy

John C. Pemberton

Though born in Pennsylvania, John C. Pemberton married a Virginia belle and, when secession came, he went with his adopted state. His first positions were with Virginia infantry, but he was back with the artillery by June 1861. In December 1861 he was moved to a more active coastal sector in South Carolina. The Union had seized Port Royal Island as a blockading base, and it also threatened landings up and down the Atlantic coast. Robert E. Lee organized the whole coastal area, and Pemberton was one of the sector commanders. He took over from Lee in March 1862 and held the position until late September.

In October 1862 Pemberton was transferred to Mississippi, commanding the forces there and in Louisiana east of the Mississippi River. This was a much bigger challenge, since it was in the middle of the defense of Vicksburg. Grant was a more energetic commander than Pemberton, and did what was considered impossible. Pemberton had a dual responsibility, garrison Vicksburg and keep his army intact. He split his effort, and did neither well. He sent too few troops to defeat Grant and then withdrew the battered forces into Vicksburg. The result was more prisoners for Grant when Pemberton finally had to surrender.

Pemberton was vilified in the South. He was not Southern by birth and had surrendered an Army rather than fight to the death for glory. The Union eventually exchanged him in May 1864, and Jefferson Davis had to figure out what to do with a competent but unpopular officer. There was no chance of giving him high command; few trusted him or would serve under him. He offered to serve as a private, as a way of regaining respect. Pemberton was finally put back into the artillery, as a lieutenant colonel (demoted from lieutenant general) and put in charge of Richmond’s artillery during the long siege.

He lived on a Virginia farm after the war, loved by neither his adopted country nor his home state.

Strong Vincent

Born: June 17, 1837, Waterford, Pennsylvania

Died: July 7, 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Pre-war profession: Graduated from Harvard, class of 1859, and practiced law in Erie, Pennsylvania

Fought for: The Union

Strong Vincent

Strong Vincent became a hero at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was mortally wounded defending Little Round Top. When hostilities erupted in April 1861, Vincent left the law to become an officer in the Erie Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. He mustered out with the regiment in July 1861 and into the U.S. Army on September 14, 1861. When the regiment commander, Col. McLane, was killed at Gaines’ Mill on June 27, 1862, Vincent was promoted to colonel. He served in several campaigns with the Army of the Potomac, fighting at Yorktown, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Prior to Gettysburg, Vincent was given command of the Third Brigade, First Division, of the V Corps.

On the night of July 1, 1863, Vincent and his men were hurrying toward the battlefield under a bright moon. When the soldiers passed through a small town near Gettysburg, the regiment bands began to play and residents came to their doors to cheer the Yankee troops. Vincent remarked to an aide that there could be a worse fate than to die fighting in his home state with the flag overhead.

The next day, as Vincent and his brigade were arriving behind the Union lines, General Gouverneur K. Warren frantically summoned Vincent’s force to the top of Little Round Top, a rocky hill at the end of the Federal line. Warren observed that the Confederates could turn the Union left flank by taking the summit, which was occupied by only a Yankee signal corps at the time.

So Vincent and his men hurried up the hill, arriving just ahead of the rebels. Vincent placed his brigade in the order of the 16th Michigan, 83rd Pennsylvania, 44th New York, and 20th Maine (under Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain), taking special care to ensure that the 83rd Pennsylvania and 44th New York were side by side. It was brigade tradition that these units, sometimes called “Butterfield’s Twins,” fight next to one another. The brigade held Little Round Top, but just barely. Vincent was mortally wounded in the engagement and died on July 7. He was promoted posthumously to brigadier general.

John Thomas Wilder

Born: January 31, 1830, Hunter Village, New York

Died: October 20, 1917, Jacksonville, Florida

Pre-war profession: Owned foundry and millwright business

Fought for: The Union

John Wilder

John Thomas Wilder was born in Greene County, New York on January 31, 1830 and grew to be six feet, two inches tall. In 1849, Wilder moved to Columbus, Ohio, and was hired as an apprentice in a foundry. Turning down an offer of ownership, Wilder moved to Greensburg, Indiana in 1857 to start his own foundry and millwright business. In four years Wilder became a nationally recognized expert in hydraulics, and his business employed one hundred people in five states.

When the Civil War erupted, Wilder immediately cast two six-pound cannons and raised a unit of men. Governor Oliver P. Morton appointed Wilder lieutenant colonel of the 17th Indiana Volunteer Infantry on June 4, 1861. Under Gen. J.J. Reynolds, his unit took part in the Battles of Cheat Mountain and Greenbriar in West Virginia.

On April 4, 1862, the 17th arrived too late for the battle at Shiloh, Tennessee, but was involved in the siege of Corinth, Mississippi. From September 14-17, at the crucial railroad junction in Munfordville, Ky., Wilder’s outnumbered brigade held up a large part of Bragg’s army under Buckner and thus helped Buell beat Bragg to Louisville. Wilder surrendered, but was later exchanged. He then unsuccessfully pursued Confederate cavalry General John Hunt Morgan, missing the Battle of Murfreesboro.

As a result of this experience, Wilder sought and received permission to provide horses for his infantry. He planned to use the horses for transport with the men fighting on foot. It was a complete unit, building its own wagons and shoeing its own horses. Each man carried a hatchet with a two foot handle and, for that reason, was first called the “Hatchet Brigade.” Wilder trained his men to fight from behind cover and, in the spring of 1863, he also equipped his men with Spencer repeating rifles.

The brigade fought with distinction at Hoover’s Gap, Tennessee, where his mounted infantry was instrumental in securing the gap and outflanking Hardee’s corps, thus forcing Bragg’s eventual withdrawal to Chattanooga and earning the sobriquet “Lightning Brigade.”

At the Battle of Chickamauga, Wilder’s Brigade saved the Union Army from almost certain destruction on two occasions. On September 18 at Alexander’s Bridge, the 17th Indiana, the 98th Illinois, and two sections of Lilly’s Battery along with Minty’s Cavalry made a valiant stand to hold off an entire Confederate Army corps under Cheatham, preventing Rosecrans from being cut off from Chattanooga. Two days later, his brigade was the only one on the Union right to not be driven from the field. While the rest of the right flank was fleeing to Chattanooga, the Lightning Brigade repulsed the charges of an entire Confederate infantry division and then counterattacked. Wilder was preparing to cut his way through to Thomas, but was told by the panicked assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana that Rosecrans was either captured or killed, and he instructed Wilder to bring him back to Chattanooga. Wilder assigned some scouts to accompany Dana and slowly withdrew to Rossville, collecting material and stragglers.

By retarding the beginning of Longstreet’s attacks on Thomas, the brigade contributed to the success of Thomas’ famous stand at Snodgrass Hill, where Thomas earned the name “The Rock of Chickamauga.” Wilder withdrew only the next morning and was the last commander to leave the field.

From October 1-10, Wilder, under Gen. Crook, harried Wheeler’s cavalry, which was raiding middle Tennessee and, on the 7th, Wilder defeated Wheeler at the Battle of Farmington. He led his brigade during parts of the Atlanta Campaign, and Thomas unsuccessfully tried to have him put in charge of the Union cavalry.

On August 7, 1864, Wilder was brevetted brigadier general, but he was compelled to resign on October 4 because of recurring typhoid fever from which he had been suffering since the Corinth Campaign. Other considerations were his dissatisfaction with the progress of his military career and the financial difficulties of his foundry back home.

In 1866, Wilder moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee in search of a more healthful climate and because of the business opportunities the area offered. He founded the Roane Iron Works in 1867, then built and operated two blast furnaces, the first in the South, at Rockwood, Tennessee. In 1870, he established a rail mill in Chattanooga. From 1890 to 1892, he was active in the promotion and construction of the Charleston, Cincinnati & Chicago Railroad. He briefly served as mayor and then postmaster of Chattanooga, pension agent at Knoxville, and commissioner of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park.

Wilder died while vacationing in Jacksonville, Florida on October 20, 1917 and was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Chattanooga. At the Chickamauga battlefield there is a monument to him which consists of a white 85-foot tower. A spiral staircase leads to the top of the tower where visitors can view almost all of the field of battle.

Henry Wirz

Born: 1822, Zurich Switzerland

Died: November 10, 1865, Washington, D.C.

Pre-war profession: Medical doctor

Fought for: The Confederacy

Henry Wirz

Henry Wirz was the Confederate officer who commanded the infamous Andersonville Prison where many Union prisoners died. After the war, Wirz was executed for his role there.

Wirz was born in Switzerland and emigrated to the United States in 1849, taking up the practice of medicine in Louisiana. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a private and saw early service as a clerk in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia.

In the Peninsula Campaign, Wirz was seriously wounded at Seven Pines in May 1862. Promoted to captain, he was then sent to Europe as a Confederate dispatch bearer and purchasing agent.

In January, 1864, he returned and was assigned to head the newly formed military prison in Georgia that became known as Andersonville, although its formal name was Camp Sumter. A log stockade originally enclosing some 17 acres, then later 26, Andersonville quickly grew to take in some 33,000 Federal prisoners – all enlisted men – by the summer of 1864. Although they were given the basic rations of Confederate troops, there was such overcrowding and poor sanitation that the inadequate diet plus exposure to the elements soon led to the spread of disease.

There would eventually be some 13,000 identified graves there, but it was estimated that many others died. As General Sherman drew near in September 1864, the Confederates transferred the healthy prisoners to Charleston.

Wirz was later taken prisoner and charged with committing specific crimes, even conspiracy to kill prisoners. In November 1865, after being found guilty by a special court martial, he was executed.

Taken from The Civil War Almanac.

Henry Alexander Wise

Born: December 3, 1806, Drummondtown, Virginia

Died: September 14, 1876, Richmond, Virginia

Pre-War Profession: Lawyer, Congressman, Diplomat, Governor of Virginia

Fought for: The Confederacy

Henry Wise

Henry Alexander Wise served as a general in the Confederate army, but it was as governor of Virginia that he laid his claim to history.

Born in Virginia, he practiced law and served as a US Representative from 1833-44. Between 1856-1860, he served as governor. Aware that Virginians living along the northern and western borders of the state tended to be non-slaveholders, he urged that John Brown be put to death as an example.

When war broke out in 1861, Wise took a commission as brigadier general in June and led the forces that tried to hold western Virginia to the Confederate cause. He failed and then fought to hold Roanoke Island, North Carolina, in February, 1862. He was again defeated , losing his own son and some 2,000 prisoners.

Wise returned to fight in the final defense of Richmond and Petersburg and in the retreat leading to the surrender at Appomattox. Wise practiced law after the war and refused to ask pardon from the federal government. He was George Meade’s brother-in-law.

Taken from The Civil War Almanac.

Click on any of the book links on this page to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.