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Loring, William Wing (1818–1886)

Michael Butzgy Biography Entry

William Wing Loring, officer in the armies of the United States, the Confederate States, and Egypt, was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, on December 4, 1818, to Reuben and Hannah (Kenan) Loring. In 1823 the family moved to St. Augustine, Florida, where, at age fourteen, William volunteered for the territorial militia. In 1835 the "boy soldier" took part in the Seminole War. Although no hard evidence exists, it appears he ran away the following year to join the Texas Revolution, although his father quickly appeared to bring him home. Back in Florida, William quickly won promotions to sergeant and second lieutenant. After the war he briefly attended Georgetown College, and then worked in the law office of territorial representative David Levy Yulee. Loring was admitted to the bar in 1842. He began practicing law in St. Augustine, and from 1843 to 1845 served in the Florida House of Representatives. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 1845. The next year he accepted an offer to serve as captain in the newly formed Regiment of Mounted Riflemen and was sent to fight in the war against Mexico. Loring distinguished himself in the battles at Cerro Gordo, Contreras and Churubusco, but was wounded during the storming of the Castle of Chapultepec, and as a result lost his left arm. He was brevetted colonel, and in 1849 led an expedition of 600 mule teams from Missouri to Oregon, later called "the greatest military feat on record."

In 1852 Loring and the Rifles were sent to help guard Texas (he was given command of the Rio Grande frontier) and were stationed at a variety of posts, including San Antonio and Fort Inge. In 1856 Loring became the youngest line colonel in the history of the army. The following year he and the Rifles were transferred to New Mexico, where they took part in operations against the Apaches and played a brief part in the Mormon War. In 1859 Loring embarked on a lengthy journey to Europe and Egypt to study military tactics. In March 1861 he was named commander of the Department of New Mexico, but the Civil War intervened, and he resigned his commission in Santa Fe on May 13. After waiting four weeks for a response, Loring moved to Fort Fillmore, near El Paso. He relinquished formal command of the fort in late June. Though some historians speculate that Loring planned to deliver New Mexico to the Confederacy, he left the territory in Union hands. He spent much of the Civil War mired in controversy. Known for his explosive temper and salty language (one soldier remarked that he could "curse a cannon uphill without horses"), he had well-publicized disagreements with Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and John Pemberton. He did see several successes, including an 1862 invasion of West Virginia and the halt of a Federal advance at Fort Pemberton, Mississippi. During the heated Pemberton battle, Loring earned the nickname "Old Blizzards" by shouting "Give them blizzards, boys!" above the roaring cannons. He later took part in the defense of Atlanta, Hood's invasion of Tennessee, and Johnston's final campaign in the Carolinas.

After the war, Loring moved to New York, where he worked as a Wall Street financial advisor. In 1869 he accepted an offer to serve as an officer in the Egyptian army of Khedive Ismail. He arrived in Egypt in December with about fifty Americans who had joined him. Loring served as inspector general, and was subsequently put in charge of Alexandria and the country's coastal defenses. He thus became the only American ever to command Egyptian troops. In 1876 he served as second in command during an invasion of Ethiopia, but the Egyptian commanding officer rarely listened to Loring's advice. The campaign was marred by transportation and supply difficulties, and the Egyptian army was almost wiped out during the initial battle. Loring and the other Americans were subsequently blamed for the debacle, and in 1878 all but one were dismissed.

On his return, Loring unsuccessfully ran for the United States Senate and then settled in New York to write an account of his recent experiences, entitled A Confederate Soldier in Egypt (1884). He also wrote several magazine articles, and was frequently interviewed on Egyptian affairs by the New York Herald. He died on December 30, 1886, after a brief bout of pneumonia. He had begun work on his memoirs, entitled "Fifty Years a Soldier," but the notes were lost. Loring's ashes are buried in downtown St. Augustine.

James W. Raab, W. W. Loring: Florida's Forgotten General (Manhattan, Kansas: Sunflower University Press, 1996). Raymond W. Settle, The March of the Mounted Riflemen (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989). William L. Wessels, Born to be a Soldier (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1971).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Michael Butzgy, “Loring, William Wing,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 11, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 7, 2002