Confederate General Charles Sidney Winder found himself smack in the middle of the Jackson-Garnett feud.
When Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson abruptly removed Brigadier General Richard Garnett from command of the Stonewall Brigade on April Fool’s Day, 1862, he inadvertently made Brigadier General Charles Sidney Winder the most unpopular man in the Shenandoah Valley. The ill-fated Winder’s subsequent tenure as commanding officer of the famous brigade would prove to be as stormy as it was brief.
Winder was 32 and a brand-new brigadier general when Jackson chose him to command the Stonewall Brigade. In so doing, Jackson pointedly passed over the brigade’s five existing regimental colonels, all of whom had sided with Garnett in his controversial decision to retreat at the Battle of Kernstown one week earlier. The appointment of an outsider had a predictable effect on the brigade. Winder was openly hissed at as he rode into camp, and more than one soldier threatened to shoot the newly arrived general.
Winder, a native of Maryland, probably deserved better. Although comparatively young, he had a solid military background. His older brother had been killed in the Mexican War, and his uncle, John H. Winder, had taught at West Point before becoming a Confederate general. Other relatives included Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan, Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman and Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Winder himself had graduated from West Point in 1850. Four years later, his courageous actions during a hurricane in Panama had led to his promotion as the youngest captain in the entire Army. He added to his reputation in campaigns against the Yakima Indians in Washington Territory before resigning his commission two weeks before the firing at Fort Sumter.
Tall and lean with a long, sharp nose and a bushy beard, Winder bore a passing resemblance to Stonewall Jackson. He also shared Jackson’s inflexible approach to soldiering. Upon assuming his post as head of the Stonewall Brigade, Winder told his officers in no uncertain terms that he expected the discipline within the command to improve. To underscore his point, he had 30 straggling soldiers bucked and gagged, leading a number of men to desert and causing Jackson to personally prohibit such harsh punishment in the future.
It was the first of a series of clashes between Winder and his new commander. A member of Jackson’s staff, Major Henry Kyd Douglas, attributed this to the fact that the generals “were too much alike.” Winder quickly requested a transfer to another command and then threatened to resign when Jackson curtly refused him a brief furlough. Cooler heads prevailed, and Winder remained with Jackson’s army, although he never warmed to his brusque commander.
Personal differences aside, Winder impressed Jackson with his valorous behavior during combat. Unlike Garnett, he showed a taste for aggressive fighting. At Port Republic, he was at the forefront of the fighting–his horse was hit three times by enemy bullets–and Jackson made it a point to personally shake Winder’s hand before the Battle of Cedar Mountain, when the obviously ill Winder refused to stay in the rear, away from the fighting. A less impressed member of the brigade, Private John Casler of the 33rd Virginia, found Winder “very tyrannical, so much so that he was ‘spotted’ by some of the brigade; and we could hear it remarked by some nearly every day that the next fight we got into would be the last for Winder.”
Casler’s prediction came true at Cedar Mountain, although it was not friendly fire that killed Winder but a Union cannonball. While personally and needlessly directing the gunners in the Rockbridge Artillery, Winder was struck by a shell that tore through his side and nearly severed his left arm. Carried to the rear on a stretcher, he worried aloud about his family. “My poor darling wife and little pets,” he gasped. “What will become of them?” He died an hour later.
Informed of Winder’s death, Jackson raised his right hand and bowed his head in silent prayer. After the battle, Jackson delivered an uncharacteristically heartfelt bit of praise: “Richly endowed with those qualities of mind and person which fit an officer for command and which attract the admiration and excite the enthusiasm of the troops, he was rapidly raising to the front rank of his profession….His loss has been sorely felt.”
Jackson added a personal note to his wife a few days later. “I can hardly think of the fall of Winder without tearful eyes,” he wrote. It was not an emotion in which Jackson frequently indulged. Perhaps Kyd Douglas was right, and Jackson saw something of himself in his doomed young protégé. As for the rest of the Stonewall Brigade, Winder’s death evoked little mourning. He may have succeeded Richard Garnett, but in the men’s minds, at least, he had never replaced him.
Roy Morris, Jr., Editor, America’s Civil War