Born on 28 July 1827 in Statesburg, South Carolina, William Edwin Baldwin moved to Columbus, Mississippi, at a young age. He later worked at a book and stationery store in Columbus and joined the local militia, serving as a lieutenant. On 27–30 May 1861 the 14th Mississippi Infantry Regiment was organized at Corinth, and Baldwin was elected the unit’s colonel on 5 June. The regiment remained in Corinth until August 1861, when it moved into Tennessee.
In late October 1861 Baldwin took command of a brigade that included the 14th, 20th, and 26th Mississippi as well as the 26th Tennessee. After spending the winter months in Kentucky, the 14th Mississippi received orders to head to Fort Donelson, Tennessee, prior to the rest of the brigade. While Baldwin arrived before the battle on 15 February 1862, he did not see his unit, which fought and lost one hundred men. Baldwin and the rest of the brigade were captured by Union forces after Ulysses S. Grant secured victory. While the rank and file were sent to Chicago’s Camp Douglas Prison, Baldwin and other officers journeyed to Fort Warren in Boston.
After his exchange on 15 August 1862, Baldwin earned an official promotion to brigadier general on 19 September, commanding the 14th, 20th, 23rd, and 26th Mississippi as well as the 8th Kentucky and 15th Alabama. Baldwin’s brigade engaged Union troops under Grant at Coffeeville, Mississippi, on 5 December. While the battle constituted only a minor engagement, the Confederates created confusion for the advance guard of the Union Army and captured military items that included horses and guns. Baldwin’s soldiers advanced to Vicksburg and participated in the battle at Port Gibson on 1 May 1863 as well as in the fighting at Champion Hill, and his units led the rear guard when Confederate general John C. Pemberton withdrew into Vicksburg later in the month. Baldwin and his brigade, which now included the 17th and 31st Louisiana, the 4th and 46th Mississippi, and Tobin’s Tennessee Battery, continued to serve under Maj. Gen. Martin Luther Smith. The soldiers endured the Siege of Vicksburg until the city surrendered on 4 July 1863. Baldwin was again captured; he was exchanged for Union commander Jacob B. Sweitzer on 13 October. Although he moved with his brigade into Georgia in the fall, Baldwin was subsequently reassigned to Mobile, Alabama, to assist in the protection of the city against Union troops.
On 19 February 1864 Baldwin, who had a broken stirrup, was thrown from his horse while riding near Dog River Factory, Alabama, and he died that evening from a broken neck. He was buried at Columbus’s Friendship Cemetery, and a memorial was erected in his honor several years later.
- John Eicher and David Eicher, Civil War High Commands (2001)
- Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (1996)