William H.C. Whiting

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Major General
William H.C. Whiting
Nickname(s) Little Billy
Born (1824-03-22)March 22, 1824
Biloxi, Mississippi
Died March 10, 1865(1865-03-10) (aged 40)
New York City
Buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina
Allegiance  United States of America
 Confederate States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
 Confederate States Army
Years of service 1845–61 (USA)
1861–65 (CSA)
Rank Union army cpt rank insignia.jpg Captain (USA)
Confederate States of America General-collar.svg Major General (CSA)
Battles/wars American Civil War
Spouse(s) Katherine Davis
William H. C. Whiting, standing
William H. C. Whiting Gravesite
Digitized and Colorized Image of W.H.C. Whiting

William Henry Chase Whiting (March 22, 1824 – March 10, 1865) was a United States Army officer who resigned after 16 years of service in the Army Corps of Engineers to serve in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. He was wounded at the Second Battle of Fort Fisher by a musket ball to his leg, and died in prison camp on March 10, 1865 of dysentery.

Early life[edit]

William Whiting was born on March 22, 1824, in the coastal community of Biloxi in southern Mississippi. At the age of twelve, he was an outstanding student and graduate of English High School of Boston in Boston, Massachusetts. At sixteen, he graduated from Georgetown College (now University) in Washington, D.C.. The son of Lieutenant Colonel Levi Whiting, a respected officer in the 1st Artillery Regiment, and Mary A. Whiting, he continued to impress his instructors at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, from which he graduated first in the class of 1845.

Appointed Second Lieutenant of Engineers, Whiting was involved in constructing seacoast defenses in Maryland and Florida and surveying military routes and frontier forts in west Texas. Whiting served at Fort Davis, Texas. He was the first to survey the Big Bend area for the U.S. Army. Promoted to First Lieutenant in 1853, Whiting was sent west, erecting harbor fortifications in San Francisco, California, and serving on the board of engineers for Pacific coast defenses until 1856. Lt. Whiting spent the five years before the Civil War improving rivers, canals, and harbors in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. He was promoted to Captain in the Corps of Engineers in 1858.

Civil War[edit]

In January 1861, Captain Whiting was an engineer responsible for US Army installations in Georgia and Florida. As Georgia and Florida state militia seized these sites by force, Whiting took no discernible action. On January 3, Whiting received information that Georgia was moving to take Fort Marion, but he made no effort to warn the garrison there or its commander. By the end of the month, more than half a dozen U.S. Army forts, arsenals, and barracks had fallen to state forces without any action by Whiting.[1]

Whiting resigned his commission February 20, 1861, in the weeks before Fort Sumter. He was appointed Major of Engineers in the ACSA, the regular Confederate States Army, on March 16. While improving the defenses of Charleston harbor he was also named Brigadier and Inspector General of the North Carolina Militia. During the first Battle of Fort Sumter he served on the staff of General P.G.T. Beauregard, who praised his work.[2] Later Whiting served under General Joseph E. Johnston as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Shenandoah and at the First Battle of Bull Run. After a brief service as Inspector General he was promoted to Brigadier General on July 21, 1861, and became a brigade commander serving in the Aquia District under Major General Theophilus H. Holmes.

On December 19 Whiting sent a letter to President Jefferson Davis declining his assignment to command five fresh Mississippi regiments and instead gave unsolicited advice and criticism to his superiors. Davis, himself a Mississippian, ordered the suspension of Whiting from his rank and position, effectively demoting him to Major of Engineers again. It was only due to General Joe Johnston's hearty requests and protests that Whiting was reinstated to his rank.

Despite the earlier controversy, Whiting was elevated to division command in early 1862, though Johnston's promotion request was denied. He led his strong division, consisting of the brigades of Hood, Hampton, Law, Pettigrew and Hatton, in the Battle of Seven Pines. Stationed in the center of the Confederate line he led his force into the flanks of Keyes's IV Corps, but was repulsed due to Union reinforcements in form of Sedgwick's division. Despite the repulse and heavy losses (including 3 of his brigade commanders) Whiting was praised by General Joe Johnston. Whiting rapidly redeployed with 11 regiments to support Stonewall Jackson in his second Valley Campaign. Afterwards he returned southward by rail to arrive in time for the Peninsula Campaign, leading his division in the battles at Gaines' Mill and Malvern Hill. Whiting's division having suffered over 1000 casualties during the Seven Days Battles without any significant success General Robert E. Lee was not satisfied with Whiting's performance and replaced him with Brigadier General Hood.[3][4]

Whiting was assigned to command the more peaceful Military District of Wilmington, North Carolina. Finally promoted to Major General on February 13, 1863, Whiting was assigned command of the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia, briefly taking over the Petersburg Defenses in May 1864. By late 1864, Whiting found himself defending the district against forces under Maj. Gen. Alfred Howe Terry in the Wilmington Campaign. Wounded in the right thigh and hip he was captured in the Second Battle of Fort Fisher. Angry that his superior, General Braxton Bragg, failed to use the division of Maj. Gen. Robert Hoke to attack the Federal rear while the fort was under assault, Whiting requested an investigation of his superior's actions from his prison cell.

Taken prisoner with the rest of fort's defenders, and weakened by war service and the injuries suffered at Fort Fisher, Whiting died of dysentery at the Union military hospital at Fort Columbus on Governors Island in New York City on March 10, 1865. He was buried a few miles distant at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His widow, Kate, had his body exhumed in 1900 and moved to Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Whiting's brother, Major Jasper Strong Whiting, died of scarlet fever on December 25, 1862.[5] Another brother, Robert Edward Kerr Whiting, was later in charge of Woodlawn Cemetery in Westchester County (now the Bronx).

Whiting is posthumously credited with the authorship of several works, which are:

  • Diary of a March from El Paso to San Antonio (1902)
  • Whiting Diary: March from Frederickburg to El Paso del Norte (1905/1906)
  • Exploring the Southwestern Trails, 1846 - 1854 (1938, other posthumous co-authors are François Xavier Aubry and Philip St. George Cooke)

On July 23, 2012, the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington unveiled Whiting's uniform for exhibition.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William H. C. Whiting to General J. G. Totten, 7 January 1861, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883, Vol. 1, p. 318; [1]
  2. ^ The War of the Rebellion : a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies 1-I, pp. 30-35.
  3. ^ The War of the Rebellion : a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies 1-V, pp. 1011-1012, 1015-1016.
  4. ^ The War of the Rebellion : a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies 1-XI-2, pp. 562-566.
  5. ^ Krick, Robert E.L. (2003). Staff Officers in Gray: A Biographical Register of the Staff Officers in the Army of Northern Virginia. University of North Carolina Press. p. 302. ISBN 0-8078-2788-6. 
  6. ^ "Cape Fear Museum unveils Confederate general's uniform, July 23, 2012". wwaytv3.com. Retrieved July 24, 2012. 


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