Walter Herron Taylor was born in Norfolk in 1838, the son of Walter Herron Taylor and Cornelia Wickham Cowdery Taylor. He attended Norfolk Academy before entering the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington in 1853. After two years of study there, Taylor returned to Norfolk when his father died during a yellow fever epidemic. He took over his father's business before going into banking. Like many other young Virginians, Taylor joined a volunteer militia company following John Brown's 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, and when Virginia seceded in May 1861, Taylor entered military service with his company.
That same month, shortly after the appointment of Lee to command Virginia's military forces, Taylor was assigned to Lee's staff. He would remain with Lee for the rest of the war, rising from a rank of captain to lieutenant colonel by the war's end. As assistant adjutant general, Taylor's duties primarily dealt with the bureaucratic administration of the army and the administrative functions of headquarters.
After the war, Taylor returned to Norfolk to work as a merchant again. He also involved himself in local politics, representing Norfolk in the Virginia legislature from 1873 until 1876 as part of a conservative coalition of Democrats and former Whigs opposed to the Radical Republican government. He also served two stints on the board of visitors at the Virginia Military Institute. In 1877, Taylor became president of the Marine Bank of Norfolk, in which capacity he served for thirty-nine years. He was also active on the board of the Norfolk and Western Railroad.
Despite Taylor's political activities and business endeavors with banks and railroads, his most lasting postwar contribution was his defense of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. This defense came in the context of a series of debates—the participants of which were largely Confederate veterans—that provided the foundation for the so-called Lost Cause view of the war. In general, the Lost Cause stressed that the Civil War had not been about slavery, that Northern numbers and industrial might made the South's defeat inevitable, and that Lee had been a nearly infallible general whose defeats (most notably at Gettysburg in 1863) came because of malingering subordinates, particularly James Longstreet.
Taylor died of cancer on March 1, 1916, in Norfolk.
- Four Years with General Lee (1877)
- General Lee, His Campaigns in Virginia, 1861–1865, with Personal Reminiscences (1906)
June 13, 1838 - Walter H. Taylor is born in Norfolk.
1853 - Walter H. Taylor enrolls at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.
1855 - Walter H. Taylor leaves the Virginia Military Institute and returns to Norfolk after the death of his father.
December 1859 - Walter H. Taylor joins a militia company in Norfolk in response to John Brown's failed raid on Harpers Ferry.
May 2, 1861 - Walter H. Taylor is promoted from his infantry company to the headquarters of the Army of Virginia, where he becomes adjutant to Confederate general Robert E. Lee for the remainder of the Civil War.
1865 - Walter H. Taylor returns to Norfolk to once again embark on business.
April 2, 1865 - After preparations for the evacuation of Petersburg are complete, Walter H. Taylor catches a train to Richmond to marry Elizabeth Selden Saunders. Early the next day, he returns to duty with the Army of Northern Virginia.
1869–1873 - Walter H. Taylor serves in the state legislature as a Democrat and vehemently opposes readjustment of the Virginia state debt.
1870–1873 - Walter H. Taylor serves his first stint on the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors.
1877 - Walter H. Taylor becomes president of the Marine Bank of Norfolk, where he will remain for thirty-nine years.
1914–1916 - Walter H. Taylor serves his second stint on the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors.
March 1, 1916 - Walter H. Taylor dies of cancer in Norfolk.
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First published: February 9, 2009 | Last modified: December 27, 2013