A Civil War Biography

James Alexander Williamson

Williamson was born 8 February 1829 in Columbia, Adair County, Kentucky. He attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois but left before graduating. He studied the law and was admitted to the bar. He was chairman of the Iowa State Democratic Committee. When the war erupted he entered military service.

Williamson was mustered into the 4th Iowa Volunteer infantry on 8 August 1861 as 1st lieutenant and adjutant. He saw his first action at the 6-7 March 1862 Battle of Pea Ridge during which he was wounded. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 4 April then became the 4th's colonel and commanding officer on 1 May. The 4th spent nearly the rest of 1862 doing garrison duty at Helena, Arkansas. On 28 December while leading Brigadier General John M. Thayer's 3rd brigade, 1st division, XV Corps in an assault on the Confederate lines at Chickasaw Bayou, Williamson was seriously wounded. By order of the commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, the colors of the 4th Iowa were inscribed "First at Chickasaw Bayou." Williamson, on 17 January 1895, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. The citation reads, "Led his regiment against a superior force, strongly entrenched, and held his ground when all support had been withdrawn." He commanded the 4th during the siege of Vicksburg then, following the surrender was given command of the 2nd brigade, 1st division, XV Corps and commanded it during the Chattanooga and Atlanta campaigns. He commanded the 3rd brigade, 1st division, XV Corps during the March to the Sea. He was elected chairman of the Iowa delegation to the National Republican convention held at Baltimore in 1864, but military duties prevented him from attending. Williamson was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers on 19 December 1864. After the capture of Savannah, Georgia, promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on 13 January 1865, Williamson was ordered to St. Louis to take command of the District of Missouri. He was brevetted major general of volunteers on 13 March. He would remain in Missouri until some time after the surrender of the Confederate armies.

After hostilities ended Williamson remained in the army and in St. Louis. He was ordered to report to Grenville M. Dodge for duty on a military and inspecting expedition of posts in the northwest, on the Laramie, Powder, and Bighorn rivers. Williamson was mustered out while on this expedition but did not receive the order until he returned to St. Louis in October 1865. After leaving the military he settled in Des Moines, Iowa and established a law practice. He was elected chairman of the Iowa delegation to the 1868 Republican National convention. He was appointed commissioner of the General Land Office and served from June 1876 until June 1881. He was also named chairman of the Public Lands Commission created by Congress on 3 March 1879. After leaving the land office he became associated with the Atlantic and Pacific (later Santa Fe) railroad company. From general solicitor of the railroad he rose to become its president. Williamson died 7 September 1902 at Jamestown, Rhode Island.

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