Cadmus Wilcox was born on May 29, 1824 in Wayne County, North Carolina, but grew up in Tipton County Tennessee. Wilcox's mother was a North Carolina beauty and his father was a Connecticut Yankee. Perhaps this lent him the genial nature that made him probably the most likable general on both sides. As Henry Heth put it, "I know of no man of rank who participated in our unfortunate struggle on the Southern side, who had more warm and sincere friends, North and South."
After spending time at the University of Nashville, Wilcox attended West Point, graduating near the bottom of the famous class of 1846 and numbering amongst his classmates such luminaries as George McClellan, Stonewall Jackson, and A.P. Hill, who graduated with the class of 1847. Wilcox saw action in Mexico, earing a brevet for gallantry at Chapultepec. He was nearly wounded there by a bullet that struck his colt revolver. Wilcox also was the author of a text about rifles and rifle practice, publishing the work in 1859, and he also translated an Austrian manual on infantry tactics. Wilcox served as the best man at the wedding of U.S. Grant and attended McClellan's marriage to Miss Ellen Marcy after McClellan won her hand away from A.P. Hill.
Wilcox resigned from the US Army on June 8, 1861, and became the colonel of the 9th Alabama, serving with it at First Manassas. He was promoted to general on October 21, 1861. Wilcox had been passed over for promotion by Longstreet in favor of his junior, George Pickett, and had petitioned for a transfer, but Lee refused to grant it. Finally, he was made a major general, and given a division on August 3, 1863 after the death of Dorsey Pender. It is said he had really won his star at Chancellorsville.
Wilcox became one of Lee's most reliable, though not spectacular, commanders. He served in every major battle that the Army of Northern Virginia fought in and led a charmed life, not missing any major engagements because of illness or wounds. His best days were at Chancellorsville where, alone at Salem Church, he held off the Union army attacking him virtually alone and at Fort Gregg where his last ditch defense of Petersburg on April 2, 1865 enabled Longstreet to get into position to cover the retreat.
His soldiers called him "Old Bill Fixing" because he was nervous and fussy. He was a precise and exacting soldier, though his manner was friendly, generous, and informal. He wore a short round jacket into battle and a broad-brimmed straw hat and prodded his mount, an old white pony, with a long hickory switch.
Wilcox suffered only occasional ill health during his career, and never was wounded in battle, though a veteran of many heavy fields of Mexico and the War Between the States.
Wilcox's brother, John, was a Congressman from Texas. When his brother died suddenly in February of 1865, Wilcox worked to get a transfer to the Trans-Mississippi theater to help care for the widow and the orphaned children. In this he was unsuccessful. Wilcox himself was a life-long bachelor.
After surrendering with Lee at Appomattox, Wilcox settled in Washington. In 1886, President Cleveland appointed him land chief of the railroad office of the Land Office, the position he held until his death on December 2, 1890. So universally esteemed was Wilcox that at his funeral his eight pallbearers included four Confederate and four Union generals.
From a speech, "Leadership" given by esteemed Southern writer Douglas Southall Freeman:
Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox and his observation of a string over the shoulder of the Federals in that same battle of Chancellorsville.
Remember Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox? What a name. Cadmus had his orders, You move when the Federals do. You've got one little brigade here; you are holding Banks Ford and when they move, you move. Cadmus went out the next morning early.(Every good seaman ought to be out early. People talk about what you ought do for the redemption of the American people. American people need nothing in this world more than they need to get up earlier and go to bed earlier.) Cadmus Marcellus got up earlier than most men, and he went out and looked, which a great many people never do, and over Banks Ford he saw that Federal sentinel walking his post, another and another down the line, in plain view. Well is there is nothing uncommon about a sentinel walking his post, is there? But Marcellus wasn't content with that; Marcellus took his glasses and he looked at that sentinel who have been thinking about anything under the sun other his military duties; and Marcellus observed that over the sentinel's shoulder there was a string, and behind that sentinel?s left hipas he looked at the end of the string was his haversack. And Marcellus looked at the next sentinel and he had on his haversack and the next and the next and Marcellus said to himself, Those birds are getting ready to move because if they were simply in camp they wouldn't have on their haver-sacks and their haversacks wouldn't be full. They have got their rations on them because they are getting ready to move. He ordered his artillery hitched, got his infantry in position and within 15 minutes after those Federals started their withdrawal, Marcellus was in the road and he hadn't gone three miles before he had the great opportunity of his career to stop a Federal offensive.