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support had been withdrawn."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
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