Williams Carter Wickham (September 21, 1820 – July 23, 1888) was a lawyer, judge, politician, and an important Confederate cavalry general who fought in the Virginia campaigns during the American Civil War. After the war, he held various political posts and was the President of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway company.
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"The Hanover Dragoons
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History of the Hanover Dragoons
Brigadier General Williams Carter Wickham
and The Hanover Dragoons
Brigadier-General Williams Carter Wickham was the son of William Fanning Wickham and Anne Carter, and the great-grandson of Gen. Thomas Nelson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the commander-in-chief of the Virginia Line in the Revolutionary army. He was born at Richmond, Va., September 21, 1820, moved with his parents to Hanover county in 1827; was educated at the university of Virginia, and admitted to the bar in 1842. He practiced in a country circuit for a few years, and then
gave up the law for the life of a Virginia planter.
On January 11, 1848, he married Lucy Penn Taylor, great-granddaughter of John Penn, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence from North Carolina. He was elected to the Virginia house of delegates in 1849; was presiding justice of the county court of Hanover county for many years. In 1858 he was commissioned captain of Virginia. volunteer cavalry, and in 1859 was elected to the State senate from the district composed
of Hanover and Henrico, as a Whig.
In 1861, elected by the people of Henrico to the State convention as a Union man, he was bitterly opposed to the war and voted against the ordinance of secession, but immediately upon the secession of Virginia, he determined to share the fortunes of his people, and took his company,
"the Hanover Dragoons," into active service.
He participated in the first battle of Manassas and the preceding outpost skirmishes, and in September, 1861, was commissioned by Governor Letcher, lieutenant-colonel of the Fourth Virginia cavalry. On May 4, 1862, he received a severe saber wound in a cavalry charge at Williamsburg, which prevented him from participating in the battles around Richmond. While wounded he was taken prisoner at his home on McClellan's advance, paroled, and speedily exchanged by special cartel for his wife's kinsman, Lieut. Col. Thomas L. Kane, of the Pennsylvania "Bucktails." In August, 1862, he was commissioned colonel of the Fourth Virginia cavalry, and in that rank he participated in the battles of Second Manassas, Boonsboro, Sharpsburg and the frequent engagements of the cavalry under General Stuart. During the advance of the army of the Potomac into Virginia, after the battle of Sharpsburg, he was again wounded, by a piece of shell, in the neck, while temporarily in command of Fitz Lee's brigade at Upperville. Recovering from this wound, he regained his command in time to take part in the battle of Fredericksburg, December 12, 1862. When the army went into winter quarters, he was on the picket lines on the Rappahannock river from Fredericksburg to a point above the junction of the Rapidan, and was on those lines when Burnside made his unsuccessful attempt to cross the river again. In the spring of 1863, he and his command participated actively in the outpost conflicts preceding the battle of Chancellorsville, and was posted on the right flank during that battle.
Prior to the opening of the campaign in 1863, while in command of his regiment at the front, he announced himself a candidate for the Confederate Congress from the Richmond district, and without going into the district was elected shortly after the battle of Chancellorsville, by an unparalleled majority. He, however, remained at his post in the army, leaving his seat in Congress vacant until the fall of 1864. On the advance into Pennsylvania Colonel Wickham's command formed a part of the force which Stuart took on his raid around Meade's army, rejoining the army of Northern Virginia on the eve of the battle of Gettysburg, was posted on the extreme left flank during that engagement, and aided in covering the retreat.
On September 9, 1863, he was commissioned brigadier-general, and put in command of Wickham's brigade of Fitzhugh Lee's division. The cavalry of both armies had frequent encounters during the following months, the engagements at Bristoe, Brandy Station and Buckland Mills being the most serious until February, i864, when the fighting to repel Kilpatrick's raid upon Richmond, and Custer's attack on Charlottesville was very desperate. In March and April, 1864, General Wickham and his brigade were again on guard on the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers. He took part in the battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania Court House, and when Sheridan moved on Richmond, he was with Stuart on May 11th at Yellow Tavern. "Order Wickham to dismount his brigade and attack, " was the last order given by General Stuart to a brigade of cavalry. Subsequently he was actively engaged in the battles of Totopotomoy, Cold Harbor, Trevilian's, Reams' Station and
many of the lesser cavalry engagements.
On August 10, 1864, he and his command were ordered from the south side of the James river to join Early's army in the valley of Virginia, Fitzhugh Lee being in command of the cavalry corps with General Wickham in command of Lee's division. At the battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, General Wickham covered the retreat. Rallying his men with great ability, General Early again sustained a terrific reverse at Fisher's hill, September 22d, and his army was saved from destruction by the successful defense of the Luray valley by Lee's cavalry division under the command of General Wickham, against the advance of Torbert's corps on which Sheridan relied to intercept the retreat of Early at New Market in the main valley. Rejoining General Early at Brown's gap, Wickham was ordered to guard Rockfish gap, and on arriving at the foot of the mountain attacked the Federal cavalry at Waynesboro, driving them back. The next day the enemy retreated down the valley, and the lines of the armies were established at Bridgewater.
General Wickham resigned his commission in the Confederate army on October 5, 1864, transferred his command to General Rosser, went to Richmond and took his seat in Congress when the session opened. It took him but a few days after the assembling of the Confederate Congress to ascertain that the end of the Confederacy was drawing near, and for a brief period he had the hope that reunion could be brought about upon a basis which, while it would in no way tarnish the honor of the armies or people of the South, would save the lives of thousands of noble men, and preserve some of their property from the wreck of war. After the failure of the Hampton Roads conference, he continued at his post in Richmond, awaiting the end.
After the surrender of the armies, General Wickham addressed himself to the effort to restore friendly relations between the sections of the Union; to reorganize on a mutually satisfactory basis the labor necessary for the farming operations of the country, and to induce his
fellow-citizens to accept the situation.
The condition of the South was terrible. General Wickham stood side by side with his old constituents and shared their fate. He had been educated a Whig and a Union man. When the war ended, his political faith remained unchanged, and as the Whig party had disappeared, he adopted the principles of the party which he regarded as its legitimate successor.
On April 23, 1865, in an open letter, he aligned himself with the Republican party. This step estranged very many of his old associates from him. In November, 1865, he was elected president of the Virginia Central railroad company; in November, 1868, president of the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad company, and in 1869 was made vice-president of the company with C. P. Huntington as president, and continued as such until 1875, when he was appointed its receiver, which position he held until July 1, 1878, when he became its second vice-president and so continued until his death.
He was elected chairman of the board of supervisors of Hanover county in 1871, and was continuously re-elected as long as he lived. In 1872 he was a member of the electoral college of Virginia, and cast his vote for General Grant. In 1880 he was honored by a tender of the secretaryship of the navy by President Hayes, but declined on account of business engagements.
In 1881 he was tendered the nomination for governor of the State by the Republican convention, but declined to accept it. Opposing the "readjuster party" in 1883, he again became a member of the State senate, and was the chairman of the finance committee of that body until his death, although he occupied an independent position and declined to go into any caucus. While not an impassioned speaker, he was brave and calm and cool, and possessed in a remarkable degree the capacity to arouse manifestations of enthusiasm and personal attachment.
On the 23d of July, i888, he died in his office in Richmond of heart failure. The men of his old command, from many of whom he had become politically estranged, resolved that "in the camp and on the field of battle, in the fatigue of the march, in the gloom of the hospital, under the depression of the waiting and in the glory of the charge, he was the friend, the comrade, the guardian, the leader of his men, the beau-ideal of a soldier and of a commander, " and they organized to perpetuate his memory in bronze.
In 1890 the general assembly of Virginia provided for a site on the capitol grounds for the statue of General Wickham, which was unveiled on October 29, 1881, the oration being delivered by Gen. Fitzhugh Lee.
Confederate Military History, Vol. III, pp. 685-689.