Walter Gwynn, a major general of
Virginia volunteers and brigadier general of North Carolina volunteers, was born
on February 22, 1802, in Jefferson County, Virginia. His father, Humphrey Gwynn,
of an old Gloucester County, Virginia, family, could trace his descent from
Colonel Hugh Gwynn, who settled in Virginia before 1640. Appointed to West Point
in 1818, the younger Gwynn graduated eighth in his class of forty in 1822. Gwynn
served ten years in the army as an artillery lieutenant, while also working as a
civil engineer for private railroad companies. Resigning in 1832 to become a
private engineer, in the next three years Gwynn surveyed proposed routes for
several Virginia railroad companies and served as chief engineer of the
Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad. Between 1836 and 1840 Gwynn worked as chief
engineer of the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad. In the 1840s he was employed by
several Virginia railroads and served as president of the James River and
Kanawha Canal Company. Subsequently chief engineer of the North Carolina
Railroad, by 1861 Gwynn had established an enviable international reputation as
a railroad engineer and as the founder of the southeastern railway system. One
contemporary said that Gwynn "made for himself a reputation among his fellow
engineers that will last for all time." In 1857 Gwynn, by then a Raleigh, North
Carolina, resident, largely retired from his railroad duties and moved to South
The governor of that state seized upon the experienced Gwynn to reconnoiter the approaches to Fort Sumter in December, 1860. In March, 1861, Gwynn was commissioned major of the PACS and charged with constructing batteries at various strategic points in Charleston Harbor. For his role in the reduction of Fort Sumter, Gwynn received public praise. On April 12, 1861, Gwynn, a prewar colonel in the Virginia militia, was nominated major general of volunteers by the governor of Virginia and given command of the state forces defending Norfolk. Subsequently confirmed as brigadier general, Gwynn faithfully executed his task until relieved by regular Confederate forces on May 23, 1861.2 At this time his Virginia commission as general expired because of the dissolution of the Virginia volunteer army. Governor John Ellis of North Carolina commissioned Gwynn brigadier general of North Carolina volunteers, to assume command of the outer coastal defenses of that state. The volunteers were disbanded on August 20, 1861, and again his command expired. On October 9, 1862, Gwynn was appointed colonel of the PACS and was directed by the secretary of war to make a survey of North Carolina coastal defenses. Gwynn served in that capacity until his resignation in 1863. He took no further active part in the war.
After Appomattox Gwynn moved back to North Carolina and performed minor surveying and archival tasks for the state. General Gwynn died in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 6,1882, and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond.
Gwynn is listed as a general of North Carolina state troops in Clark, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861 -1865.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.