James Ancrum Winslow

James Ancrum Winslow was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on April 29, 1839, to John Ancrum Winslow and Catherine Amelia Winslow. His father was a lieutenant in the United States navy who eventually rose to the rank of commodore. The family had lived in Massachusetts for centuries and traced their roots to Edward Winslow, one of the first governors of the Plymouth Colony.

Winslow graduated from Roxbury Latin Academy in 1855 before enrolling at Harvard University. He earned his master’s degree from Harvard in 1859 and enrolled at the University of Virginia to study law. In November 1859, professors “Admonished and distinctly warned” him for being “absent from the University without leave” and failing to attend several law lectures. The secession crisis placed tremendous strain on Winslow, and in January 1861, Professor John Minor observed that he “seemed much cast down of late, & talked…of going away.” Winslow hoped to preserve the Union, but he had “very little to ground hope upon.” On April 20, 1861, three days after Virginia’s Secession Convention voted to leave the Union, Winslow withdrew from UVA “on account of the threatened interruption to the transit north.”

Winslow travelled home to Massachusetts, and in May he wrote to Professor Minor expressing his surprise at the North’s overwhelming support for war. In Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, he reported, “there seems to be but one sentiment among all—that the Union is to be preserved & ‘rebellion’ crushed out at any hazard.” Northerners, he observed, would fight to “maintain the integrity of the Union as it existed last October, if it cost every drop of blood & every dollar in the country.” Winslow still hoped to avoid war. He lamented the “mis-statements on both sides” and assured Minor that northerners had no desire to provoke “negro insurrections” or organize “free negro regiments.”

Despite his desire for peace, Winslow readily enlisted to help preserve the Union. Two of his brothers became officers in the Union navy, and his father became a naval hero for sinking the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama off the coast of France in 1864. Winslow remained in Boston, and on May 27, 1862, he joined the 4th Massachusetts Battalion, a local militia unit. The regiment, however, disbanded after only four days. Winslow later served as a first lieutenant in Company of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. The state’s militia units performed garrison duty around Boston Harbor and guarded Confederate prisoners of war at Fort Warren.

Winslow received admission to the Massachusetts bar in 1862 and formed the Woodside & Winslow partnership in Boston soon after. He campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and delivered stirring speeches at the state’s Union Meetings. He denounced Democrats as “incorporated demagogue[s], consistent only in inconsistency.” He called upon listeners to remember the "the glorious epoch of 1861, when party lines vanished at the sound of rebel cannon and all men in the North were for the Union and the war.”

Winslow remained in Boston until around 1869, when he moved to Binghamton, New York. He continued to practice law and became active in the city’s literary scene. Although he had supported Lincoln’s broad Union Party coalition during the war, he sided with Democrats once the war was over. One of his only surviving poems is a Decoration Day reflection that embraces a “reconciliationist” memory of the Civil War. He celebrates the Union’s survival and glorifies the valor and sacrifice of both sides. He declared southerners “Our brothers once, our brothers now, / If erring true and brave, / Our kinsmen, children of the land / Our soldiers fought to save. / Unreckoned blood, uncounted gold, / Hateful fraternal strife / It cost to bring our brothers back. / And save the nation’s life.”

Winslow apparently never married, and little else is known about his life after the war. He died in Binghamton on June 27, 1892.

Image: James Ancrum Winslow (HUP Winslow, James Ancrum 1A. Harvard University Archive)


James Ancrum Winslow to John B. Minor, May 21, 1861

James A. Winslow Calls for Reconciliation

Name:Winslow, James Ancrum
Alternative names:
  • Soldier
  • UVA (Union)
2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Militia
4th Massachusetts Battalion
Branch of service:Militia
Muster In1862-05-27Massachusetts
Muster Out1862-05-31MassachusettsMustered Out
Muster In1864Massachusetts
Muster Out1865-05MassachusettsMustered Out
Residence at UVA:Roxbury, MA
UVA Begin Year:1859
UVA End Year:1861
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:Private
Rank Out:First Lieutenant
Highest rank achieved:First Lieutenant
Birth date:1839-04-29
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Roxbury, MA
Death date:1892-06-27
Death place:Binghamton, NY
Causes of death:

James Ancrum Winslow to Professor Minor, May 21, 1861, accessed through JUEL.com (http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/114?doc=/db/JUEL/letters/Minor/James_...); United States Federal Census, 1870, 1880; Massachusetts State Census, 1855; Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 for James Ancrum Winslow; U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 for James Ancrum Winslow; James Ancrum Winslow in the U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930; James A Winslow in the U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865, accessed through Ancestry.com; "Political Meetings," Boston Daily Advertiser, November 7, 1864. "Bay State's Chief Naval Hero," The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), May 8, 1909; "Biography: John Ancrum Winslow," The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), June 5, 1902; Frederick A. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 1 (1909); James Robert Jackson, History of Littleton, New Hampshire (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The University Press, 1905); Hamilton Child, Gazetteer of Grafton County, N.H. (Syracuse, NY: The Syracuse Journal Company, Printers, 1886); Isaac Winslow and Margaret Catherine Winslow, The Winslows of Boston, Vol. IV; Charles Henry Bell, The Bench and Bar of New Hampshire (Boston & New York: The Riverside Press, 1894); Ian Iverson, "James Ancrum Winslow: UVA Unionist," Jefferson's University: The Early Life (http://www.juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/1526).