The American Civil War Erupts: The Attack on Fort Sumter
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Louis Wigfall

Title: Louis Wigfall
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The son of Levi Durand Wigfall and Eliza Thompson Wigfall, Louis Wigfall was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina. He was educated at the University of Virginia and South Carolina College. Upon his graduation from the latter institution, Wigfall studied law and opened a practice in Edgefield. Taking a keen interest in politics, Wigfall from the beginning of his political career became a strong proponent of disunion as the best way to protect Southern rights. He served briefly in the Second Seminole War and gained a small amount of military experience whose importance he would later exaggerate. Upon his return from Florida, he became a colonel in the South Carolina militia. Wigfall's political career also took a controversial turn that cast him in several duels, including one with Preston Brooks that left both men wounded.

In 1848 Wigfall moved to Marshall, Texas, where he continued his crusade for Southern independence. During the crisis that resulted in the Compromise of 1850, Wigfall served in the Texas legislature. He urged that the state secede rather than accept the compromise measures. In 1859 he took his crusade for Southern rights to the U.S. Senate.

After the election of Abraham Lincoln in the fall of 1860, Wigfall helped write the "Southern Address," calling for the unity and secession of the South. Against the strong opposition of Sam Houston, Wigfall worked hard to secure the secession of Texas. To advance his secessionist cause, in early 1861 he helped to block the Crittenden Compromise. He also wrote to South Carolina officials, strongly urging them to take Fort Sumter by force if necessary.

Even after the secession of Texas, Wigfall remained briefly in the U.S. Senate to report to the Confederacy on the Senate's actions. He resigned his seat on March 13, 1861 and immediately traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, where he recruited soldiers for the Confederate army, urging General P. G. T. Beauregard in Charleston to take the men he had recruited. In early April, Wigfall himself traveled to Charleston to offer his services to the Confederate military.

During the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, Wigfall impetuously—though some labeled it bravery—rowed out to the fort to demand Major Robert Anderson's surrender. Wigfall gained a national reputation throughout the Confederacy for this bit of bravado. Soon he was made lieutenant colonel of the Texas Battalion, and later that fall he became the colonel and commander of the 1st Texas Infantry. He participated in an action against Union gunboats at Dumfries, Virginia, in September 1861. In October 1861, he was promoted to brigadier general and became the commander of the Texas Brigade. Throughout the remainder of 1861, Wigfall served between Richmond and Washington, though he did not see much action. While serving in the army, Wigfall also held a seat in the Provisional Confederate Congress, where he initially developed a close relationship with Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

During the fall of 1861, Wigfall was elected as one of Texas's Confederate senators, and in February 1862 he resigned his commission to take his seat. He served in the Confederate Senate for the remainder of the war.

Once permanently ensconced in the legislature, Wigfall quickly joined the opposition to the Davis administration. Davis was not prosecuting the war with sufficient vigor, Wigfall complained. He also believed that Davis did not adequately support his most competent officers, particularly Joseph E. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard. That Wigfall supported these two contentious officers fueled a growing animosity with the president.

Wigfall did support such Davis measures, however, as conscription—requiring citizens to serve in the armed forces—impressment—requiring citizens to serve in the naval forces—and the suspension of the writ of —habeas corpus. Anything that would strengthen the military Wigfall believed was necessary for the survival of the Confederacy. Yet he opposed such measures that he believed would permanently strengthen the Confederate central government at the expense of the states. For example, he successfully opposed the creation of a Confederate supreme court.

By the summer of 1863, Wigfall became so disillusioned with Davis's management of the war that his opposition became strident. Blaming Davis for the loss at the Battle of Vicksburg, Wigfall worked in the Confederate Congress to limit the president's war-making power. As a member of the Senate's Military Affairs and Foreign Affairs Committees, Wigfall also exerted considerable influence over Confederate policy. His growing power in the senate was revealed by the direct communication Robert E. Lee maintained with him, particularly on the issue of recruiting within Texas. Wigfall in turn supported a more important role for Lee in directing Confederate strategy and was partially responsible for Lee's elevation to overall Confederate commander in early 1865.

After the war, Wigfall fled to Texas and from Galveston to Great Britain rather than submit to Federal imprisonment. He lived there for seven years, returning to the United States in 1872. He lived briefly in Baltimore before returning to Texas. He died in Galveston on February 18, 1874.

David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler
From ABC-CLIO's Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, editors


Further Reading
King, Alvy L. Louis T. Wigfall, Southern Fire-Eater. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970.
 

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