Civil War Confederate Soldier. This native of Charleston, South Carolina explored many vocations and careers throughout his life including the time as personal secretary to John Breckinridge Grayson during that future Confederate General’s tenure in New Mexico as a commissary officer. Whilden seemed to constantly be short of success from these ventures but always persevered. He also suffered from the effects of epilepsy throughout his adult life. This health condition contributed to his death in 1866. Regardless of the adversity of his days, his permanent and lasting mark in American Civil War history occurred during battle at Spotsylvania, Virginia on May 12th, 1864. During the breakthrough of the Federals at “The Bloody Angle“, the forty-year old Private of Company I, 1st South Carolina Infantry was aware of the tragedy that had befallen his fellow comrades in gray. Witnessing the fall of this vital ground to the Federals, he grasped the staff of his regiment’s colors, and amid a maelstrom of musket and artillery fire, held this battle flag aloft; it was a gallant stand that inspired a second wind in the Confederates. At a run, he was leading a contrasting group of Confederate chargers forward to recapture the angle when a musket ball crushed into his shoulder. Impervious to the pain and severity of the injury, the South Carolinian continued to lead the rush forward. His flag’s staff was smashed by a projectile, and the flag became lifeless. Whilden released the flag from its broken wooden pole and wrapped it around his body. He became a charging “human flagpole”! Upon reaching the Union soldiers at the angle, desperate hand-to-hand fighting ensued. The human carnage that occurred subsequently has few equals in American Civil War history. With ample bloodletting of Blue and Gray, the Confederates re-took the “The Bloody Angle”.
There are some who declare that the gallantry characterized by this overage and gray-haired Private on that long ago day was the reason for the Confederate victory.
On October 25, 1864, he received a disability discharge due to his recurring epilepsy. Two years later on September 25, 1866, he had left his Charleston home for a stroll when an epileptic seizure defeated him. Falling flat to the ground, he drowned after his face became submerged in a low area filled with runoff rain water.
Carrying the Flag: The Story of Private Charles Whilden, the Confederacy’s Most Unlikely Hero New York : Basic Books, c 2004 Rhea, Gordon Confederate States of America. Army. South Carolina Infantry Regiment, 1st. Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. v, 279 p. : maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
For forty years, Charles Whilden lived a life noteworthy for failure. Then, in a remarkable chain of events, this aging, epileptic desk clerk from Charleston found himself plunged into the brutal battlefields of the Wilderness (May 5-7, 1864) and Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-20, 1864). In an astonishing act of bravery, he wrapped the flag around his body and led a charge that won critical ground for the Confederates, changing the course of one of the war’s most significant battles.
Gordon C. Rhea combines his deep knowledge of Civil War history with original sources, such as a treasure trove of letters written by Charles Whilden, to tell the story of this unusual life. Growing up in a prominent family that had fallen on hard times, Charles received a good education, and his letters reveal flashes of intelligence. But he failed at the practice of law in his home state and in his endeavors elsewhere, including copper speculation, real estate ventures, and farming.
After the attack on Fort Sumter, Charles returned to Charleston to enlist in Confederate service, only to be turned down until the rebellion was on its last legs. Even then he saw only a few weeks of combat. But in that time, he discovered a bravery within himself that nothing in his former existence suggested he had.