Of Dynasties, Lucky And Unlucky


January 27, 1991|By Carleton Jones

Over the years, Maryland has bred more than a few family dynasties outside the well-known gaggle of the merely wealthy and philanthropic whose names keep coming up year after year.

These are more the public-service and professional types. Among the black dynasties, the Jacksons, Mitchells and Murphys are paramount, known for their century-old leadership in civil rights. The Biddisons of Maryland have starred in legal and political circles. The Warfields have been prominent in both the military and political arena, with the clan's most famous historic exhibit probably Governor Edwin, a goateed turn-of-the-century grandee and state executive with an astonishing resemblance to the Kentucky colonel to end all colonels, Sanders of Kentucky Fried fame.

The Maryland Buchanans fought on both sides of the Civil War, as did many state families, including the Shrivers of Carroll County. Other Maryland military clans are fairly well-known nationally, notably the nautical Rodgers and Barney families, involved for years in the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in maritime affairs.

A perhaps forgotten dynasty whose story is as dramatic as any is the Winders family. This clan exhibits a haunting addiction to failure, though few tried harder in the 19th century to avoid it. It was the family's bad luck to be prominent actors in two of the last century's least glorious sequences in Maryland.

The Winders (pronounced Wine-der) settled in Somerset County the Eastern Shore in the last half of the 17th century. A century later they were well dug in. The original immigrant's grandson, William, had eight kids. By 1776 the Winders were famous statewide and they also were revolutionaries in an area full of loyalists to English rule.

William's son, Levin Winder, joined the Maryland line in the Revolution and won a promotion, but he soon was captured by the British. "Able but unlucky [a Winder trait], he was held captive for a time," writes one commentator on the clan. Later, Levin would become governor. As a Federalist, he was isolated from the rabid, Jeffersonian republicans -- political rivals who swarmed through Baltimore and central Maryland. During Levin's state rule, the British raked the shore settlements of the bay while the Annapolis government watched helplessly.

The governor's nephew, Brig. Gen. William H. Winder, has had to take historians' fire for the shameful rout of Maryland volunteers by the British at Bladensburg in 1814. He did his best to control things, but the armed mob Maryland sent against the redcoat regulars didn't have a chance.

The greatest family onus of all descended on one of the general's sons, a career Army man and one-time "bad guy" of the Civil War prison system.

Brig. Gen. John Winder of the Confederate States army had been a respected U.S. soldier until the War Between the States broke out. An experienced soldier with an excellent record, he was made commander of Richmond. In addition, he took on duties as the overlord of the Confederate military prisons.

Overcrowded Richmond sizzled with problems, and the prison assignment was made virtually hopeless when prisoner exchanges were halted late in the war for nearly a year.

For more than a century, this Winder has been blamed by pop historians for the massive deaths at Andersonville prison in Georgia and in other CSA lockups. However, scholars point out that the South's military prisoners, by the tens of thousands, were doomed by the breakdown of supplies in those frantic days the war and by the Lincoln administration's ban on prisoner exchanges. Few experts today blame Winder for the fact that he could not save Yankee soldiers when the rest of the South was near starvation. *

For an in-depth look at the Winder story, see "General John H. Winder, C.S.A.," by Arch Frederick Blakey, just published by the University of Florida Press ($29.95).

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