Saturday, April 20, 2013

Louis Trezevant Wigfall, born April 21, 1816

Louis Trezevant Wigfall was born on April 21, 1816, on a plantation near Edgefield, South Carolina, to Levi Durant and Eliza Thomson Wigfall.  His father, who died in 1818, was a successful Charleston merchant before moving to Edgefield.  His mother was of the French Huguenot Trezevant family.  She died when Louis was 13 years old. 

Edgefield, South Carolina
An older brother, Hamden, was killed in a duel. Another brother, Arthur, became a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

Tutored by a guardian until 1834, he then spent a year at Rice Creek Springs School, a military academy near Columbia, South Carolina, for children of the Southern elite.  He then entered the University of Virginia. A perceived insult by another student prompted the first of many dueling challenges he would make, but the affair was resolved peaceably.

University of Virginia
In 1836 he entered South Carolina College to complete his studies, but his attendance was erratic. He developed an interest in the law, participated in debating clubs, and wrote epistles on student rights. Most of his time however, was spent at off-campus taverns rather than at his studies.

South Carolina College
He abandoned academics altogether for three months to fight in the Third Seminole War in Florida, achieving the rank of Lieutenant of volunteers. 

Seminole Wars, Florida
He managed to graduate from college in 1837.  A fellow graduate considered to be his closest friend was John Lawrence Manning, who would later become a governor of South Carolina.

John Lawrence Manning

He was 45 years old when the Civil War began.

Edgefield, South Carolina

In 1839, Wigfall returned to Edgefield and took over his deceased brother's law practice. Having squandered his inheritance, and with a proclivity for drinking and gambling, he accumulated debts.  He borrowed from friends to maintain a freewheeling lifestyle, including from his second cousin and future bride, Charlotte Maria Cross, whom he married in 1841. She was the daughter of the prominent Charleston lawyer and former South Carolina State Controller Col. George Warren Cross. 

Charlotte Maria Cross Wigfall
"Mere office business" as a country lawyer did not suit his temperament and sense of purpose, nor prove to be as profitable as he had hoped.

In the South Carolina gubernatorial election of 1840, Wigfall actively supported the candidacy of John Peter Richardson over the more radical James Henry Hammond, which led to public exchanges of arguments and insults. In a five-month period, Wigfall managed to get into a fistfight, two duels, three near-duels, and was charged, but not indicted, for killing a man. 
James Henry Hammond
This outbreak of political violence culminated in 1840 on an island in the Savannah River near August, Georgia, where Wigfall took a bullet through both thighs while dueling with future Congressman Preston Brooks.  Although Hammond lost the race for Governor, he attempted to mediate the dispute between the two hot-headed young men.  Wigfall received an aide-de-camp and Lieutenant Colonelcy on Governor Richardson's staff.

Preston Brooks

This initial foray into politics and the Brooks affair destroyed his law practice. He was elected delegate to the South Carolina Democratic convention in 1844, but his violent temperament and behind-the-scenes meddling had already doomed his youthful political ambitions. He piled up medical bills because of a sickly infant son who eventually died. Sheriff sales followed, swallowing up his Edgefield estate. 

James Hamilton, Jr.

A cousin, James Hamilton, Jr., a former governor of South Carolina, arranged a fresh start and a law partnership for him in Texas.  Wigfall joined William Ochigree's  law practice at Nacogdoches, then settled in Marshall.  He quickly dove back into politics, serving in the Texas House of Representatives from 1849 to 1850, and in the Texas Senate  from 1857 to 1860. 

He became a staunch political opponent of  Sam Houston,  When Houston ran for governor in 1857, Wigfall followed him on the campaign trail, attacking his congressional record at each of Houston's stops, and accused Houston of being a traitor to the South.

The Texas legislature elected Wigfall to the United States Senate in 1859 as a Democrat to the 36th United States Congress.   Wigfall served until March 23, 1861, when he withdrew. 

After Abraham Lincoln was elected president, Wigfall coauthored the "Southern Manifesto," declaring that any hope for relief in the Union was gone and that the honor and independence of the South required the organization of a Southern Confederacy. Wigfall helped foil efforts for compromise to save the Union and urged all slave states to secede. 

Texas seceded on February 1, 1861 and was admitted to the Provisional Confederate Congress on March 2, 1861. He served as a member of the Texas delegation to the Provisional Confederate Congress, which selected Jefferson Davis as its president.  

Envelope with cartoon featuring Wigfall, Wise and Davis
During this time in Washington, Wigfall spied on Federal preparations for the coming conflict and secured weapons for delivery south.  He was expelled from the Senate on July 11, 1861 for support of the rebellion.  

He went to Baltimore, Maryland and recruited soldiers for the new Confederacy before traveling to the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. 

In the days leading up to the start of hostilities, Wigfall advocated an attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina and Fort Pickens in Florida.  He arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, as the siege of Fort Sumter commenced.  According to diarist Mary Chesnut, he was the only "thoroughly happy person I see." 

Mary Chesnut

Bombardment of Sumter

P.G.T. Beauregard

While serving as an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard during the bombardment of Fort Sumter, and without authorization, he rowed a skiff out to the island fort and demanded its surrender from Major Robert Anderson.  

Robert Anderson
The incident was widely reported in the newspapers furthering his celebrity. When the authorized emissaries arrived at the fort, they were dismayed upon learning that Wigfall had granted terms to Anderson which Beauregard had already rejected.

Confederate Flag flying at Fort Sumter

With his newfound celebrity, Wigfall secured an appointment to full Colonel of the 1st Texas Infantry Regiment, and a rapid promotion to Brigadier General of the "Texas Brigade" in the Confederate Army. 

Texas Brigade

Charlotte Wigfall  made her wedding dress into a Lone Star Flag for the Regiment, and presented this flag that she had sewn by hand to the regiment in the summer of 1861. Carried by the 1st Texas Infantry of General John Bell Hood's Brigade, the flag was captured during the Battle of Sharpsburg – September 17, 1862 – after nine of the men who carried it had fallen.Wigfall took up residence near his encamped troops in a tavern at Dumfries, Virginia, during the winter of 1861–1862, where he would frequently call the men to arms at midnight, imagining a Federal invasion.  His nervousness was blamed on his fondness for whiskey and hard cider. He appeared visibly drunk, on and off-duty, in the presence of his men on more than one occasion. 

He resigned his commission in February 1862 to take a seat in the Confederate Senate.  At the beginning of the war, Wigfall was a close friend of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  He would first support, then split with Davis as the war progressed. Davis supported an increasingly strong national government, while Wigfall, forever an advocate of  states rights, , moved to block the creation of the Confederate Supreme Court, fearing Davis' appointments would rule against the states. 

Jefferson Davis
Wigfall also challenged Davis on many of his military-related policies.  Wigfall was a close friend of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, and frequently proposed legislation on the general's behalf. 

Joseph Johnston

Louise "Luly" Wigfall had been born in Rhode Island in 1846 (Charlotte Wigfall was visiting her mother, Frances Maria Halsey Cross, before the family went to join Wigfall in Texas) and was raised in Texas.  She was 16 years old when the war began, and lived in the Confederate capital of Richmond during the war.  She is mentioned frequently in Mary Chestnut's famous "Diary from Dixie" where she was briefly linked romantically with General John Bell Hood. 

Louise "Luly" Wigfall
Louise was the middle child of three living children in the Wigfall family, two sons having died in their first year of life. The oldest child was their only surviving son, Francis "Halsey" Wigfall, who was actively involved in all four years of the War Between the States. The youngest child was another daughter, Mary Frances (Fanny) Wigfall, who had been born in Texas and was a child of eight at the onset of the war.

Francis Halsey Wigfall, born in South Carolina on July 19, 1844. When the war broke out, Halsey was a boy of sixteen and enrolled in a prep school in Virginia. In October of 1861 he was appointed a cadet under General Orders Number 173 and assigned to the Washington Artillery. He served as Lieutenant in Bachman's Battery as well as Breathed's Battery of Stuart's Horse Artillery, as aide-de-camp with the rank of Major on the staff of General John B. Hood and later with General Joseph E. Johnston. 
Mary Chesnut, in her Diary from Dixie, alluded to Wigfall's kind heart when she spoke of his "defense of the weak", and described him as the "very best husband I know, and the kindest father," even as she spoke of "how aggravating he can be." 

At the conclusion of hostilities, Wigfall escaped back to Texas in the company of Texas troops with a forged parole.
London, England
He went to London, England in 1866, where he intrigued to foment trouble between Britain and the United States. He remained abroad for six years, then returned when he learned that he would not be arrested.  Wigfall's wife returned first, obtaining a house in Baltimore close to her daughters, and Wigfall himself followed soon afterwards.

Mrs. Wigfall
Louise Wigfall married a Confederate veteran, Daniel Giraud Wright in 1871. She was a founding member of the Maryland chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy, and a staunch defender of the "Lost Cause." 

Wigfall traveled to Galveston, Texas in January, 1874; a month later he died suddenly and unexpectedly of "apoplexy".  He was 57 years old. 

He was buried in the Episcopal cemetery in Galveston.

Wigfall Grave
After the death of her husband, Charlotte Wigfall lived in Baltimore until July of 1893, giving her the opportunity to be involved in twenty years of her grandson's life and twelve to fifteen years of her two granddaughters' lives. She was buried in Lorraine Park Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

Fanny Wigfall
 In 1905, Louise Wigfall Wright published a well-received best-selling memoir of her war experiences titled A Southern Girl in '61." 

She made a speech to a group of United  Daughters of the Confederacy in late 1905.  The speech begins, "It will be forty-one years on the 9th of next April since the flag of the Southern Confederacy was furled. That we are gathered here today, as a chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy, proves that our love for that sacred banner, though hopeless, is as ardent as in the days of our youth when we watched its starry cross floating over our gallant hosts in grey; and the principles it embodies, and for which was shed the priceless blood of the men of the South, are today as true and as worthy of our faith and loyalty as then." And the closing comment was, "The Cause of the South was the love of my youth and I shall love it to the end!"

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