John H. Winder

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John Henry Winder
Col. John Winder.jpg
John Henry Winder, Confederate Army brigadier general
Born(1800-02-21)February 21, 1800
Somerset County, Maryland
DiedFebruary 7, 1865(1865-02-07) (aged 64)
Florence, South Carolina
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States United States of America
Confederate States of America Confederate States of America
Service/branch United States Army
 Confederate States Army
Years of service1820–23, 1827–61 (USA)
1861–65 (CSA)
RankUnion army maj rank insignia.jpg Major (USA)
Union Army LTC rank insignia.png Bvt. Lt. Colonel (USA)
Brigadier General (CSA)
Unit4th U.S. Artillery
U.S. Rifle Regiment
3rd U.S. Artillery
1st U.S. Artillery
Commands heldConfederate Bureau of Prison Camps
Battles/warsMexican–American War American Civil War

John Henry Winder (February 21, 1800 – February 7, 1865) was a career United States Army officer who served with distinction during the Mexican–American War. He later served as a Confederate general officer during the American Civil War.

Winder was noted for commanding prisoner-of-war camps throughout the South during the war, and for charges of improperly supplying the prisoners in his charge.

Early life and career[edit]

Winder was born at "Rewston" in Somerset County, Maryland, a son of U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William H. Winder and his wife Gertrude Polk.[1][2] Winder's father fought in the War of 1812, most notably, as the American commander, in the disastrous and rallying defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg and was a second cousin to future Confederate general Charles Sidney Winder.[3]

Winder as a U.S. Army captain

In 1814, Winder entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, and graduated 11th of 30 cadets in 1820. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the artillery,[3] and served first at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, and then in Florida.[1]

During the early 1820s, Winder went through numerous transfers, going from the U.S. Rifle Regiment in 1820, to the 4th U.S. Artillery.[4] Winder resigned his commission on August 31, 1823, and would not return to the Army for almost four years.[3]

Later in 1823, he married Elizabeth Shepherd. The next year his father died, placing him in deep economic strain, and his mother was forced to turn her home into a boardinghouse. Winder failed to manage his father-in-law's plantation successfully, and he was unable to help his mother. In 1825, Winder's wife died, leaving him to raise their young son William, which forced him back into the U.S. Army.[4]

On April 2, 1827, Winder was reinstated as a second lieutenant, and he served in the 1st U.S. Artillery. He was promoted to first lieutenant on November 30, 1833.[3] He taught tactics at West Point in 1837,[5] but lost his position after one year after he lost his temper with a cadet.[4] Winder served as the 1st Artillery's regimental adjutant from May 23, 1838, until January 20, 1840. He was promoted to captain on October 7, 1842.[3]

Mexican-American War[edit]

Winder fought with distinction in Mexico, winning brevet promotions to major on August 20, 1847 (for his conduct at the Battle of Contreras and for the Battle of Churubusco), and to lieutenant colonel on September 14 (for the Battle for Mexico City.) He was wounded in an encounter near the Belén Gate, which guarded an approach into Mexico City, that same day. He was promoted to major on November 22, 1860.[6]

American Civil War[edit]

Winder chose to follow the Confederate cause and resigned his U.S. Army commission on April 27, 1861. He was appointed a colonel in the Confederate Army infantry on March 16. He was then promoted to brigadier general on June 21 and the next day was made Assistant Inspector General of the Camps of Instruction that were in the Confederacy's capital of Richmond, Virginia, a post he would hold until October 21.[3] In addition to his duties involving prisons, he was responsible for dealing with deserters, local law enforcement, and for a short time setting the commodity prices for the residents of a city dealing with a doubled population.[7] During this time, he commanded Libby Prison in Richmond as well.

Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia

In April 1864, Winder appointed Captain Henry Wirz commandant of a new prison camp in Georgia called Camp Sumter, better known as the infamous Andersonville Prison. Winder commanded the Department of Henrico for much of the war, until May 5, 1864. He then commanded the 2nd District of the Department of North Carolina & Southern Virginia from May 25 until June 7.[4] Ten days later, he briefly commanded Camp Sumter himself, until July 26. Winder then was given command of all military prisons in Georgia as well as those in Alabama until November 21, when he was put in charge of the Confederate Bureau of Prison Camps, a post which he held until his death on February 7, 1865.[3]

The assignment to run prisons in the South during the Civil War was a difficult job at best, hampered by the Confederacy's poor supply system combined with diminishing resources. In their post-war writings, some of the high level leaders of the Confederate government voiced the difficulties of Winder's assignment, saying:[8]

...President Davis, Secretary Seddon, and Adjutant Cooper declared that he was a much-maligned man. He was set to perform a task made impossible by the inadequacy of supplies of men, food, clothing, and medicines.[8]

During the war, Winder was frequently derided in Northern newspapers, which accused him of intentionally starving Union prisoners. Military historian Ezra J. Warner believes these charges were without merit, saying, "Winder adopted every means at his command to assure that the prisoners received the same ration as did Confederate soldiers in the field, scanty as that allotment was."[7]

However, John McElroy's eyewitness account in his 1879 book Andersonville appears to contradict this. McElroy quotes Winder as allegedly saying, "I am killing off more Yankees than twenty regiments in Lee's army." On July 27, 1864, McElroy claims Winder issued order No. 13, saying that if Union troops came within seven miles of Andersonville, the guards were to "open upon the stockade with grapeshot [using the numerous cannons that were trained on the prisoners] without reference to the situation beyond these lines of defense."

The major causes of the high mortality rates in Andersonville, Florence, and other prisons overseen by Winder were scurvy, (which is easily avoided with inexpensive food sources of vitamin C), and exposure. Most prisoners had to sleep on the ground, even in freezing weather. The camp was in a wilderness area surrounded by forest, but the prisoners generally were not permitted to build huts or make campfires to cook their daily ration - about a pint of poorly ground corn meal. At the post-war trial of Captain Henry Wirz, who was in charge of Andersonville, dozens of nearby residents testified that there was plenty of food available in that part of Georgia at the time. Sherman also found enough food on his march through the state in late 1864 and 1865.[citation needed]

Death and legacy[edit]

Winder died on duty in Florence, South Carolina, of a heart attack in 1865.[9][10] His body was brought back to Maryland and interred at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.[3]

Winder appears as a character in MacKinlay Kantor's 1955 novel Andersonville, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He is glimpsed briefly in Chapter III; beginning in Chapter XV, his character comes fully into focus, an angry and bitter man who "preferred to sit brooding silently on whatever foul nest he'd constructed with the beak and claws of his hatred."

During the Civil War, Camp Winder and the Winder Hospital in Richmond were named after him.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wakelyn, p. 442.
  2. ^ Gertrude Polk was a 1st cousin about 4 times removed to Colonel Ezekiel Polk grandfather of US President James Knox Polk. See Polk family genealogy
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Eicher, p. 757.
  4. ^ a b c d Blakey's p. 76.
  5. ^ Warner, p. 340.
  6. ^ Blakely, p. 76; Eicher, p. 575.
  7. ^ a b Warner, p. 341.
  8. ^ a b "PDDOC biography of Winder". Retrieved 2008-10-17.
  9. ^ PDDOC biography of Winder. possible cause of death "...from disease contracted while visiting the prison stockade at Florence."
  10. ^ Wakelyn, p. 443. Attributes death to "anxiety and fatigue"
  11. ^ Winder Hospital, Civil War Richmond,


External links[edit]