Cover image for Carrying the flag : the story of Private Charles Whilden, the Confederacy's most unlikely hero
Carrying the flag : the story of Private Charles Whilden, the Confederacy's most unlikely hero
Rhea, Gordon C.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
v, 279 pages : maps ; 25 cm
The fate of two nations -- A city by a harbor -- Life among scoundrels and grasshoppers -- A desert blasted by fire -- General Lee's shock troops -- An eerie, inhospitable region -- Like a Saturday evening market in Augusta -- A mortifying disaster -- Death was always present -- The mule shoe -- A human flagpole -- Under a spreading oak -- Epilogue.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E476.52 .R4745 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 57, 1864) and Spotsylvania Court House (May 820, 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.

Author Notes

Gordon C. Rhea is also the author of The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7-12, 1864 ; To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13-25, 1864 , winner of the Fletcher Pratt Literary Award; and Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864 , winner of the Austin Civil War Round Table's Laney Prize. He lives in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, with his wife and two sons.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

The battle of Spotsylvania Court House was the Civil War's ghastliest, a day-long, rain-sodden struggle for control of a Confederate trench line so brutal that the dead were "pulverized into mush that resembled jelly instead of men." Rhea (The Battle of the Wilderness) finds heroism in this hellish setting in the guise of Charles Whilden, a sickly, 39-year-old regimental flag-bearer, repeatedly rejected for service but finally inducted by a Confederate army desperately short of men, who briefly rallied the Southerners and helped save the day for Lee's army. Rhea styles this tale of an insignificant man rising to the occasion a celebration of the "capacity of the human spirit to shine," but there's little uplift to be gleaned from the story. A feckless ne'er-do-well who died a year after the war when he suffered an epileptic fit and drowned face down in a mud puddle, Whilden could be, with a very slight shift in perspective, an absurdist anti-hero whose moment of glory merely prolonged the death throes of a futile cause. Fortunately, Rhea uses his life mostly as a peg on which to hang an otherwise absorbing account of Spotsylvania and the preceding battle of the Wilderness. His well-paced and vividly detailed narrative moves easily from lucid considerations of Grant and Lee's grand strategies to the common soldiers' view of the chaos and squalor of the fighting, and includes engaging background material on camp life, the social background of Confederate soldiers and race relations in the ante-bellum South. The result is an evocative retelling of a Civil War epic. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.