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
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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