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Casebook: The War of 1812
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Brig. Gen. William H. Winder
Brig. Gen. William H. Winder
 Brig. Gen. William H. Winder 
Winder, Brig. Gen. William H.
b. 1775 - d. 1824

Nationality: American

Allegiance: American

Category: Soldier

Summary:

   Born in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, William H. Winder became a brilliant Baltimore lawyer. When the war started, he was given the rank of colonel and sent to the Niagara frontier under Brigadier General Alexander Smyth. Within a year, he was appointed a brigadier general, and took part in General Henry Dearborn’s invasion of Canada at Fort George in May 1813. Winder was ordered to take eight hundred men to pursue the British army, which was retreating toward Burlington Heights in Upper Canada. Winder was joined by five hundred troops under Brigadier General John Chandler. Shortly before dawn on June 6, 1813, the British counter-attacked. During the ensuing Battle of Stoney Creek, both Winder and Chandler stumbled into the British lines and were captured. Winder was eventually exchanged back to the United States. In July 4, 1814, as rumors of a British invasion buzzed in the U.S. capital, Winder was given the command of the Tenth Military District, which included Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. The appointment in truth was more a political appointment than a good military choice on the part of President Madison. The general's uncle was the Federalist governor of Maryland, Levin Winder, and the president hoped that in appointing William Winder, the Maryland governor would free up militia troops for the defense of the capital. Secretary of War John Armstrong objected strongly to Winder’s appointment. When Winder wanted to mobilize the militia, Armstrong opposed him on grounds that the militia fought better when called up at the last possible moment. When the British landed at Benedict on August 19-20, 1814, Winder was finally allowed to mobilize the militia. However, he remained confused about the British plans, which prevented him from putting in place any cohesive defensive plan. He was unable to make up his mind whether the British were aiming for Washington, Annapolis, or Baltimore. His response was to split his forces and send more than half of them to Baltimore. When it became obvious that the British objective was Washington, the remaining troops were sent to Bladensburg to stop them. Winder was late in arriving at the Battle of Bladensburg. In his absence, Secretary of State James Monroe arranged the militia forces in such a way that they couldn’t support each other. The Secretary of War was also on the battlefield, and although the secretary, General John Armstrong, by no means a patron of Winder, was the author of a book called Hints for Young Generals he proved devoid of device for the younger man. When the British fired their Congreve rockets and charged, the Americans panicked and ran in what would later become known as the “Bladensburg races.” The British entered Washington the same evening. Winder suffered the brunt of the blame for the burning of Washington, but Secretary of War Armstrong also received a large share of it and had to resign. Winder went on to serve in the defense of Baltimore on September 12-14, but was thrust into a subsidiary role by Baltimore commander-in-chief Major General Samuel Smith. After the battle, Winder returned to the northern frontier for the remainder of the war. After the war, Winder returned to legal practice, having never lived down his less than brilliant performance in the defense of Washington. He died in 1824 at age forty-nine. His son, General John Henry Winder, C.S.A. (1800-1865), became a notorious prison camp commandant during the Civil War. Both men are buried in Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery.

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Related pages:
  Baltimore, Battle of
       Battles: Battle of Baltimore 
       Dissertations: 'Chastising Jonathan': British Views of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake 
       Dissertations: 'The Hour of Peril ... is not yet past': Fall 1814 Baltimore Defense Plans 
       Documents: Brig. Gen. John Stricker to Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith: Report on the Battle of North Point 
       People: Francis Scott Key 
       People: Lt. George R. Gleig 
       People: Mary Young Pickersgill 
       People: Rear Adm. George Cockburn 

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