Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary

By Charles F. Ritter; Jon L. Wakelyn | Go to book overview

LOUIS TREZEVANT WIGFALL (April 21, 1816–February 18, 1874)

Clayton E. Jewett

As a Confederate States senator from Texas, Louis T. Wigfall served in the Richmond government throughout the Civil War. In his capacity as chairman of important committees, he helped to make important political decisions in behalf of the Confederate war effort. As a close friend of leading generals Pierre G. T. Beauregard (q.v.) and Joseph E. Johnston (q.v.), Wigfall supported their careers throughout the war. He had been one of the slave states’ most radical secessionists before the war. But during the war, he turned against the administration of President Jefferson Davis (q.v.) and, some thought, hindered the war effort. Why such a powerful public figure’s onetime loyal convictions turned to opposition requires careful assessment of his political life and his Civil War career.

Louis Wigfall was born on April 21, 1816, in Edgefield, South Carolina, a place that many historians have called a breeding ground for extreme Southern conservatism. Wigfall came from an elite family. The Trezevants, his mother’s side, descended from the French Huguenots and established themselves as part of the Tidewater aristocracy. Wigfall bolstered his ties with the Trezevant line in 1841 by marrying his second cousin, Charlotte Maria Cross. Likewise, the Wigfalls resided as one of the region’s elite families. Louis’s father, Levi Durand Wigfall, did well as a merchant in Charleston and bought a plantation in Edgefield, where Louis was born.

As a young man, Louis Wigfall did not have the guiding influence of his parents. His father died when Louis was just two years of age, and his mother passed away when he was thirteen years old. This proved a major factor in shaping Wigfall’s course of life and his character. Without his parents’ guiding hand, Wigfall became a product of his surroundings, mostly influenced by the words of John C. Calhoun, James Hamilton, and other nullifiers and state’s righters, a result of growing up in Edgefield, South Carolina.

At age eighteen, Wigfall attended Rice Creek Springs School, a private mil-

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