Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Booknotes: The War Criminal's Son

New Arrival:
The War Criminal's Son: The Civil War Saga of William A. Winder by Jane Singer (Potomac Books, 2019).

General John H. Winder remains the object of controversy stemming from his various bureaucratic leadership roles in the Confederate prison system, but I'll confess to being a bit taken aback by the title of Jane Singer's The War Criminal's Son: The Civil War Saga of William A. Winder. There's certainly no consensus among historians of Civil War prisons that the general is deserving of such a label typically reserved for humanity's worst of the worst. 

Anyway, the book is really the story of his eldest son, William Andrew Winder, who remained loyal to the Union. When the war began Winder was a U.S. Army lieutenant stationed at Alcatraz Island. Soon promoted to captain of the Third Artillery's Company M, he eagerly sought more active service.

From the description: "Despite his pleas to remain at the front, it was not enough. Winder was ordered to command Alcatraz, a fortress that became a Civil War prison, where he treated his prisoners humanely despite repeated accusations of disloyalty and treason because the Winder name had become shorthand for brutality during an already brutal war.

John Winder died before he could be brought to justice as a war criminal. Haunted by his father’s villainy, William went into a self-imposed exile for twenty years and eventually ended up at the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, to fulfill his longstanding desire to better the lot of Native Americans.

In The War Criminal’s Son "Jane Singer evokes the universal themes of loyalty, shame, and redemption in the face of unspeakable cruelty."


  1. It is generally believed that if the elder Winder had not died late in the war, that he would have been tried and executed instead of Henry Wirz. That is no doubt the basis for the title of the book.

    I did not know that there was a member of the family that remained loyal.


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