A Civil War Biography

James William Denver

Denver was born 23 October 1817 in Winchester, Virginia. His family moved to Ohio in 1830 settling near Wilmington. In 1841 he moved to Missouri where he taught school. He graduated from the Cincinnati Law School in 1844, was admitted to the bar, and began a law practice in Xenia, Ohio where he also published the Thomas Jefferson, a political newspaper. Denver moved his law practice to Platte City, Missouri in 1845. During the war with Mexico he recruited then served as captain of the 12th Volunteer Infantry regiment. He led a party overland to California during the "Gold Rush" arriving in 1850. He was elected to the state senate in 1851 serving from 1852 until he was appointed California secretary of state in 1853. He was elected as a Democrat to the US House of Representatives and served as an at large member from California from 4 March 1855 until 3 March 1857. He did not seek a second term. He was appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs on 17 April 1857 by James Buchanan. Denver resigned that position on 17 June 1857 to first become secretary then governor of the Territory of Kansas. During his administration the present capital of Colorado, Denver, which was then part of the Kansas Territory, was founded and named for the governor. Denver was reappointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs on 8 November 1858 and served until he resigned on 31 March 1859.

On 14 August 1861, hostilities having started, Abraham Lincoln commissioned Denver a brigadier general of volunteers in the Union army. Denver commanded the 3rd brigade of the 5th division during the advance on Corinth, Mississippi. He would spend the remainder of his military career on garrison duty in Kansas. He resigned from the army on 5 March 1863 and resumed the practice of law in Wilmington. He also established a law practice in Washington DC. The Washington DC firm would later be known for representing Indians against the US government concerning treaty violations.

Following the war Denver remained active in national politics. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1876, 1880, and 1884. There was talk of nominating him as Democratic candidate for president in 1876 and again in 1884 but an incident in his past came back to haunt him. On 2 August 1851 Denver fought a duel near Sacramento, California with Edward Gilbert killing the prominent newspaper editor, delegate to California's 1849 constitutional convention, and former California representative in the US Congress. Although Denver was never charged, Democrats were concerned that the duel would make him an unfavorable candidate. Denver died on 9 August 1892 in Washington DC.

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