Early Life and Education
William Wing Loring was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, on December 4, 1818. He was the son of Reuben and Hannah (Kenan) Loring. The elder Loring moved his family to St. Augustine in the recently established Florida Territory in 1823. A builder by trade, Reuben Loring founded a construction business that flourished.
Historians know little about William Loring’s youth other than that he developed an early fondness for military life. In 1832, at age fourteen, he joined the 11th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, of the Florida territorial militia and took part in skirmishes between white Florida settlers and resident Seminole Indians, earning him the nickname “boy soldier.” When the skirmishing escalated to more substantive warfare during the Second Seminole War (1835–1842), Loring fought in the Battle of Withlacoochee (December 31, 1835), at the age of seventeen.
After the Fall of the Alamo (March 6, 1836), Loring may have run away from home to join the Texas Revolution (October 2, 1835–April 21, 1836). Reportedly, Loring’s father followed him to Texas and forced his zealous son to return to Florida. If the account is true, the change in venue did not diminish Loring’s appetite for combat. Later that year he was back on the battlefield, waging war against the Seminoles at the Battle at Wahoo Swamp (November 21, 1836). The young soldier’s valor won him a promotion to sergeant in the Florida territorial militia at the tender age of seventeen and a commission to second lieutenant on June 16, 1837, before he reached his nineteenth birthday.
The same year that Loring received his commission, he left Florida to complete his secondary education at Alexandria Boarding School in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1839, Loring moved on to Georgetown College in Washington, DC, but he stayed only one year before returning to Florida to study law and work in the office of territorial representative (and future U.S. Senator) David Levy Yulee. Following two years of study, Loring passed the required exams and joined the Florida bar in 1842.
Lawyer and Politician
After being admitted to the bar, Loring opened a law practice in St. Augustine, and he became active in politics. In 1843, voters elected him to a two-year term in the Florida House of Representatives. He served from 1843 to 1845, just prior to Florida achieving statehood on March 3, 1845.
U.S Army Officer
Following an unsuccessful bid for a seat in Florida’s senate in 1845, Loring’s enthusiasm for military life rekindled when Congress authorized the formation U.S. Army’s Regiment of Mounted Riflemen. When the unit began forming the next year, Loring abandoned civilian life and used his connections to secure a commission as captain on May 27, 1846. Originally organized to protect settlers traveling to the Oregon Territory, army officials deployed the Riflemen to Mexico in early 1847, after the start of the Mexican-American War (April 25, 1846–February 2, 1848).
While serving with General Winfield Scott’s Army of Invasion, the army promoted Loring to major on February 16, 1847, three weeks prior to the invasion of central Mexico. As a regimental commander, he took part in all the major engagements of the Central Mexico Campaign, including the Siege of Veracruz (March 9–28, 1847), the Battle of Cerro Gordo (April 18, 1847), the Battle of Contreras (August 19–20, 1847), the Battle of Churubusco (August 21, 1847), the Battle of Chapultepec Castle (September 12–13, 1847), and the occupation of Mexico City (September 14, 1847).
During the storming of Chapultepec Castle, a Mexican bullet shattered Loring’s left arm. Unable to save the damaged appendage, Dr. H.H. Steiner had to amputate. Steiner later recalled that “Loring laid aside a cigar, sat quietly in a chair without opiates to relieve the pain, and allowed the arm to be cut off without a murmur or a groan. The arm was buried on the heights by his men, with the hand pointing towards the City of Mexico.” In recognition of Loring’s valor during the war, the army brevetted him to lieutenant colonel on August 20, 1847, and to colonel on September 13, 1847.
At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, Loring remained in the army. On March 15, 1848, officials promoted him to the rank of lieutenant colonel. A year later, he and the Mounted Riflemen guided a large group of settlers to the Pacific Northwest in what was the longest march by a U.S. Army unit to that date. Upon Loring’s arrival at the Oregon Territory, army officials placed him in command of the 11th Military District, comprising much of the Pacific Northwest, from 1849 to 1851.
In 1852, the army transferred the Mounted Riflemen to Texas and placed Loring in command of the Rio Grande frontier. Loring and his men spent the next five years campaigning against American Indians. On December 30, 1856, officials promoted Loring to the rank of full colonel, making him the youngest officer of that grade in the army, at age thirty-eight. Soon after his promotion, the army sent Loring and the Mounted Rifles to New Mexico where they took part in the mostly-bloodless Utah War (1857–1858) against the Mormons.
In 1859, Loring embarked on an extended trip to Europe and Egypt to study military tactics at the conclusion of the recent Crimean War (1853–1856). When he returned to the U.S., the army placed Loring in command of the Department of New Mexico in March 1861.
After traveling to Santa Fe to assume his new post, Loring learned that the Civil War had erupted. Siding with the South, Loring resigned his commission in the U.S. Army on May 13, 1861, and he accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the Provisional Confederate Army on May 20.
Army of the Northwest, Romney Expedition, and Loring-Jackson Incident
Shortly after Loring joined the Rebel army, Union forces mortally wounded Brigadier General Robert S. Garnett during the Battle of Corrick’s Ford (July 13, 1861). Garnett’s Army of the Northwest had been battling with Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans’ Union forces for dominance of western Virginia. Following Garnett’s death, the Confederate War Department issued Special Orders, No. 227 on July 20, 1861, announcing that “Brigadier General W. W. Loring, Provisional Army, C. S., is assigned to the command of the Army of the Northwest, and will proceed as soon as possible to Monterey (Virginia).” Loring arrived at Monterey the next day and assumed his new command. Throughout the rest of the summer, Loring struggled to prevent Union forces from taking control of the area.
In early September, General Robert E. Lee joined Loring’s 11,000-man Army of the Northwest. The two Confederate generals planned an offensive against the federal forces at Cheat Mountain. The plan called for three Rebel brigades to attack Cheat Summit Fort on September 12, 1861. Bad weather and rugged terrain created poor communication between the three brigades, resulting in an uncoordinated and ineffective assault. After probing the federal positions at Elkwater and on Cheat Mountain for the next three days, Lee ended the offensive and withdrew, leaving the area in Union control.
On October 22, 1861, the Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin issued General Orders, No. 15 placing Major General Thomas J. Jackson in command of the Valley District of the newly created Department of Northern Virginia. Jackson quickly devised plans for a winter campaign against Union forces in the lower Shenandoah Valley. On November 20, 1861, Jackson wrote to Benjamin “requesting that at once all the troops under General Loring be ordered to this point.” The next day, General Joseph E. Johnston, Jackson’s and Loring’s superior, approved the request. On November 24, 1861, Benjamin advised Loring “If upon full consideration, you think the proposed movement objectionable and too hazardous, you will decline to make it and so inform the Department. If, on the contrary, you approve it, then proceed to execute it as promptly and secretly as possible . . .”
Loring chose to join Jackson, but their relationship proved to be strained at best. Loring chafed at the prospect of losing his independent command and having his army reduced to divisional status under Jackson’s command. He got off on the wrong foot with Jackson by taking a month to move the Army of the Northwest to Jackson’s headquarters at Winchester.
Jackson’s expedition finally got underway on January 1, 1862. Meeting little resistance, the Rebels captured the town of Romney on January 14, but Jackson decided that the severity of the January weather prevented any further advances. Instead, he ordered Loring and the Army of the Northwest to remain in Romney while he returned to Winchester with the bulk of his forces.
As the winter weather worsened, disgruntled officers in Loring’s under-provisioned army petitioned the Secretary of War on January 25 to have their exposed forces recalled. Loring endorsed the petition the next day and sent it up the chain-of-command to Jackson’s headquarters. Secretly, however, he also forwarded a copy to one of his brigade commanders, General William B. Taliaferro, who was on furlough at Richmond. Taliaferro received an audience with Jefferson Davis and delivered the petition to the sympathetic Confederate President. Davis then ignored military protocol and instructed Secretary Benjamin to break the chain-of-command and countermand Jackson’s directives. On January 30, 1862, Benjamin wired Jackson that “our news indicates that a move is being made to cut off General Loring’s command. Order him back to Winchester immediately.” Jackson promptly complied with the order and then submitted his resignation on January 31, stating, “With such interference in my command I cannot expect to be of much service in the field.”
Following the intervention of Virginia Governor John Letcher, Jackson reconsidered and withdrew his resignation on February 6, 1862. Jackson’s dislike of Loring, however, did not diminish. The next day he filed charges against Loring for “neglect of duty” and for “conduct subversive of good order and military discipline.” Confederate officials never brought Loring before a court-martial. Instead, President Davis and his war department acted quickly to diffuse the situation. On February 9, 1862, Secretary Benjamin ordered General Johnston to “make such disposal of General Loring’s forces as will render them more immediately effective than if retained in the Valley District.” Benjamin then detailed the reassignment of Loring’s soldiers to other departments. Finally, he instructed Johnston to “order General Loring to report to the Adjutant-General here for orders.” Confederate officials appeased Loring’s injured esteem by promoting him to major general eight days later (February 17, 1862).
Department of Southwestern Virginia Commander
Three months after Loring’s promotion, on May 8, 1862, Confederate officials placed Loring in command of the Department of Southwestern Virginia, with orders to protect Richmond’s rear as Union General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac advanced on the Confederate capital during the Peninsula Campaign (March 17–August 14, 1862). After Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia repulsed McClellan’s offensive, Loring led a campaign into the Kanawha Valley in western Virginia (now West Virginia).
On August 22, 1862, Loring ordered Brigadier General Albert Jenkins to lead a cavalry raid into the Kanawha Valley, south of Charleston. Upon his return, Jenkins confirmed reports that officials had recently cut the Union garrison protecting the valley in half, from 10,000 to 5,000 soldiers commanded by Colonel Joseph A. J. Lightburn.
Sensing an opportunity to restore Confederate control of the valley, Loring led about 5,000 Confederate soldiers northwest from Narrows, Virginia, on September 6, 1862, toward the Kanawha River. Four days, and roughly seventy-five miles, later Loring’s troops engaged the Federals and drove them away from Fayetteville, Virginia.
The next two days, September 11-12, the two sides engaged in several skirmishes as the Rebels continued to drive the Yankees north. On September 13, Loring’s soldiers occupied Charleston, Virginia (now West Virginia) after a spirited artillery engagement. The next day, Loring reported to Confederate Secretary of War George Randolph that “besides inflicting a great loss in men, we have captured immense amounts of wagons and horses, inventories of which we are now taking, and which will doubtless amount to at least $1,000,000.” After pausing in Charleston long enough to enable his supply train to catch up with his soldiers, Loring continued in hot pursuit of the retreating Federals, forcing them across the Ohio River at Ravenswood on September 16, 1862.
Whatever personal acclaim Loring earned from his successful invasion of the Kanawha Valley was short-lived. While occupying Charleston, he became embroiled in disagreements with Virginia state officials regarding recruitment. He also vacillated between maintaining control of the valley and responding to Robert E. Lee’s request for support as the Army of Northern Virginia retreated from Maryland following the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862). As a result, on October 15, 1862, Samuel Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederate Army notified Loring that “You will turn over your command, together with the orders and instructions heretofore communicated to you, to General Echols, after which you will, with the least delay practicable, report in person to this office.” Lee’s patience and Loring’s time in the Eastern Theater had run out.
In December 1862, Confederate officials shipped Loring off to Mississippi to command a division of Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Army of Vicksburg. Events got off well for Loring on March 11, 1863, when his 1,500-man division turned back a Federal force of 4,500 men trying to gain access to Vicksburg through the Yazoo Pass, 300 miles to the north. During the heated Battle of Fort Pemberton, Loring acquired the nickname “Old Blizzards” by shouting to his men to “Give them the Blizzards, boys” when the Yankees attacked.
Despite his initial success, Loring’s relationship with Pemberton soon deteriorated. On May 1, Loring was late coming to the aid of Major General John S. Bowen’s division at the Battle of Port Gibson. The union victory enabled Major General Ulysses S. Grant to establish a beachhead on the eastern side of the Mississippi River and imperil Vicksburg.
Two weeks later, when Pemberton led his forces out of Vicksburg to attack Grant’s supply lines, Loring failed to reinforce Pemberton’s left flank, during the Battle of Champion Hill (May 16, 1862), as Pemberton had ordered him to do. When Loring’s division became separated from Pemberton’s main army during the fight, Loring moved away from Vicksburg and joined General Joseph Johnston’s forces in central Mississippi.
In his after-action report, Pemberton lamented that “Had the movement in support of the left been properly made when first ordered, it is not improbable that I might have maintained my position, and it is possible that the enemy might have been driven back. . . .” Instead, Pemberton returned to Vicksburg where Grant bottled up his army, along with the city’s civilian population, throughout the Union siege that ended with Pemberton’s surrender on July 4, 1863.
Loring’s insubordination may or may not have cost the Confederates a victory at the decisive battle of Champion Hill, but it saved his division to fight another day. Nonetheless, it also solidified his growing reputation as a loose cannon in the Rebel army.
As a divisional commander in Joe Johnston’s Army of Mississippi for the next two months, Loring took part in Johnston’s retreat from central Mississippi after the fall of Vicksburg. On December 16, 1863, following the fall of Chattanooga, President Jefferson Davis transferred Johnston to command the Army of Tennessee in Dalton, Georgia. Davis gave command of the Army of Mississippi to Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk. Serving under Polk, Loring could not prevent Major General William T. Sherman’s raid against Meridian, Mississippi (February 14–20, 1864). In fairness to Loring, Sherman’s forces outnumbered his two-to-one, and there was little he could have done to stop Sherman.
In May 1864, Major General William T. Sherman launched his Atlanta Campaign (May 7–September 2, 1864). In anticipation of Sherman’s offensive, on May 4 Jefferson Davis ordered Polk to bring his Army of Mississippi east to help defend Georgia. On the same day, Polk ordered Loring to move his command as quickly as possible to Rome, Georgia. By May 12, 1864, all of Loring’s men had arrived in Georgia in time to take part in the Battle of Resaca, the first major engagement of the Atlanta Campaign.
For the next four months, Loring played a leading role in trying to halt Sherman’s relentless drive south. Confederate officials reduced Polk’s Army of Mississippi to a corps in Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. When a Union artillery shell killed Polk on June 14, 1864, Loring assumed temporary command of the corps. Confederate officials deeply disappointed Loring a week later when they selected Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart to replace Polk as the corps commander, effective June 23, 1864.
Following Stewart’s promotion, Loring loyally returned to his duties as a divisional commander, now serving under Stewart. A little more than a month later, Loring took a bullet to the chest at the Battle of Ezra Church (July 28, 1864). The wound was severe enough to keep Loring out of action for forty-three days. By the time he returned to his division in September, Sherman had captured Atlanta and General John Bell Hood had replaced Johnston as commander of the Army of Tennessee.
After evacuating Atlanta, Hood reorganized his forces and met with Confederate President Davis on September 25, 1864. Davis and Hood devised plans for a campaign to have Hood’s 39,000 soldiers move north into Tennessee, destroying Sherman’s supply lines along the way.
Loring returned as a divisional commander in Stewart’s Corps during the ill-fated Franklin-Nashville Campaign. At the Battle of Franklin (November 30, 1864) Loring’s Division suffered substantial casualties when pinned down by heavy artillery fire. During the disastrous engagement, Hood lost over 6,200 soldiers (1,750 killed), including fourteen generals (six killed, seven wounded, and one captured), plus fifty-five regimental commanders.
Loring escaped unscathed to lead his division during an even more cataclysmic encounter two weeks later at the Battle of Nashville (December 15–16, 1864). Hood lost another 4,500-6,000 soldiers before he called off the battle and the campaign and headed south with his beaten army. Upon returning to Tupelo, Mississippi, Hood resigned his command of the Army of Mississippi on January 23, 1865.
While Loring was off with Hood during the ill-fated Franklin-Nashville Campaign, William T. Sherman was cutting a sixty-mile-wide swath of destruction across Georgia during his notable March to the Sea, which culminated with his occupation of the port city of Savannah on December 21, 1864. On February 1, 1865, Sherman led his well-rested Army of the Tennessee north, intent on reuniting with Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac near Richmond.
The prospect of Sherman marching his army north from Savannah and punishing the Carolinas as he had Georgia, prompted many Southerners to call for Confederate leaders to stop the Union marauders. Robert E. Lee, who had replaced Jefferson Davis as commander-in-chief of Confederate forces, deployed the remnants of the Army of Tennessee to bolster the Rebel forces in the Carolinas.
On February 22, 1865, Lee ordered General Joseph E. Johnston to resume command of the Army of Tennessee. Loring saw his last major action wearing a Rebel uniform as a divisional commander under Johnston’s leadership during the Confederate loss at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina (March 19–21, 1865). After receiving the news of General Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Johnston contacted Sherman on April 16 to discuss capitulation. The generals met the next day near Hillsborough, North Carolina, where Johnston surrendered the 89,270 soldiers under his command, including Loring. Two weeks later, on May 1, 1865, Union officials paroled Loring, along with a host of other Confederate army officers.
Following the Civil War, Loring moved to New York City where he tried his hand at banking. After four years as a civilian, however, his military flame still burned intensely. In 1869, Loring accepted a commission from Ismail, the Khedive of Egypt, to serve as Inspector General of the Egyptian Army. After serving seven years of mostly administrative duty for the Khedive, Loring returned to the battlefield as second-in-command of an Egyptian expeditionary army that Ethiopian forces soundly defeated at the Battle of Gura (March 7–9, 1876). Egyptian army officials quickly blamed Loring and other American military advisers for the loss.
Despite the criticism, Loring remained Ismail’s favor for another three years while performing nominal duties for the army. During that time he began penning a book of memoirs entitled A Confederate Soldier in Egypt. Egyptian officials also awarded him two decorations and the title of “Ferik Pasha” (honorary major general).
Loring left Egypt in 1879. After briefly touring Europe, he returned to Florida in 1880. He remained there only one year before taking up residence in New York for the rest of his life. During his final six years, Loring completed and published the book he had started in Egypt, and he began work on his memoirs, Fifty Years a Soldier.
A bout with pneumonia in 1886 that ended Loring’s life interrupted his work on the book. Loring died at the St. Denis Hotel on December 30, 1886, and the notes he had assembled for the book were never found. Loring was cremated and buried at Grace Episcopal Church in New York City on January 2, 1887. His ashes were exhumed and reburied in St. Augustine two months later, on March 18. In 1920, Loring’s remains were moved to Loring Park in downtown St. Augustine under a marble obelisk where they remain.