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Civil War General and Indian Fighter James M. Williams

Leader of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry and the 8th U.S. Cavalry

Robert W. Lull

Publication Year: 2013

The military career of General James Monroe Williams spanned both the Civil War and the Indian Wars in the West, yet no biography has been published to date on his important accomplishments, until now. From his birth on the northern frontier, westward movement in the Great Migration, rush into the violence of antebellum Kansas Territory, Civil War commands in the Trans-Mississippi, and as a cavalry officer in the Indian Wars, Williams was involved in key moments of American history. Like many who make a difference, Williams was a leader of strong convictions, sometimes impatient with heavy-handed and sluggish authority. Building upon his political opinions and experience as a Jayhawker, Williams raised and commanded the ground-breaking 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment in 1862. His new regiment of black soldiers was the first such organization to engage Confederate troops, and the first to win. He enjoyed victories in Missouri, Indian Territory (Oklahoma), and Arkansas, but also fought in the abortive Red River Campaign and endured defeat and the massacre of his captured black troops at Poison Spring. In 1865, as a brigadier general, Williams led his troops in consolidating control of northern Arkansas. Williams played a key role in taking Indian Territory from Confederate forces, which denied routes of advance into Kansas and east into Arkansas. His 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment helped turn the tide of Southern successes in the Trans-Mississippi, establishing credibility of black soldiers in the heat of battle. Following the Civil War, Williams secured a commission in the Regular Army’s 8th Cavalry Regiment, serving in Arizona and New Mexico. His victories over Indians in Arizona won accolades for having “settled the Indian question in that part of Arizona.” He finally left the military in 1873, debilitated from five wounds received at the hands of Confederates and hostile Indians.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: War and the Southwest Series


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

James Monroe Williams (1833–1907) had the privilege of being part of some of the most exciting years in American History. His contributions helped maintain the momentum of American history wherever he went. He not only lived it; he made some of that history, and helped to transform the character of his country. ...

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pp. xv-xviii

When I first became interested in James Monroe Williams several years ago, all I knew was that he had been a general in the Civil War. I then learned that his wife grew up on a plantation and owned slaves, so I presumed he had been a Confederate general. Then, I came across a carte de visite photograph of him. ...

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pp. 1-6

As America wearily entered the fourth year of its cataclysmic civil war, James M. Williams commanded a brigade in the Union Army’s Seventh Corps in Arkansas. On February 13, 1865, he became a brigadier general at the age of thirty-one.1 He had come a long way from the distant days when he was the youngest of thirteen children on a farm in extreme northern New York. ...

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1. Bleeding Kansas, Border Ruffians, and Jayhawkers

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pp. 7-26

James Williams and his brother Sam arrived at Leavenworth, Kansas in 1856. They found the town growing at an explosive rate, with opportunity, excitement and conflict everywhere. Leavenworth had all the trappings of a western boomtown, and then some. ...

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2. Williams, Lane’s Brigade, and the Civil War

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pp. 27-40

The Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi, or Frontier area of the United States, was generally an annoyance to the authorities in Washington and Richmond. Senior commanders and politicians were more focused on the huge formations of troops swarming across the eastern landscape, led by clusters of generals with impressive names. ...

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3. The First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment

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pp. 41-52

While Lane’s Brigade was being disbanded and Williams was resigning from the Fifth Kansas Cavalry, James Lane, back in the persona of United States Senator, was finagling to continue his behind-the-scenes involvement with elements of the military in Kansas. He became a godfather of sorts for some of his favored officers, ...

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4. They “Fought Like Tigers:” Island Mound, Missouri

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pp. 53-60

On October 26, 1863, Major Benjamin Henning at Fort Scott, Kansas, ordered elements of the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry into Missouri, near the Bates County town of Butler, on a mission to clean out a supposed bushwhacker (enemy guerilla) headquarters.1 Known locally as Hog Island, it was an island formed by a split in the Marais des Cygnes River.2 ...

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5. The Regiment: “A Day of Great Rejoicing,” and Grim Reality at Sherwood

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pp. 61-72

The regiment continued to grow, but not without occasional bumps. In November 1862, Williams had a run-in with the law in Lecompton. Lecompton was not a community that would have extended a warm welcome to Williams. It had been the fraudulent capital of territorial Kansas established by the pro-slavery faction in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. ...

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6. Into Indian Territory: First Battle of Cabin Creek

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pp. 73-86

The Civil War was savage in the Trans-Mississippi region of the United States, particularly in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Battles were smaller in total numbers, but they were no less brutal than those in the east; they were, perhaps, even more so. Old animosities pitted neighbor against neighbor. ...

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7. The Battle of Honey Springs, Indian Territory

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pp. 87-102

Having heard of Williams’ victory at Cabin Creek, General Blunt was enthusiastic about his achievement and its potential impact upon the course of the war in Indian Territory. He immediately left Fort Scott on July 6 on a forced march south to Fort Gibson with four hundred men and eight cannons. ...

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8. The Red River Campaign and the Camden Expedition

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pp. 103-110

The Red River Campaign was a Union effort to take the war into Texas. Its objectives were to stall Emperor Maximilian of Mexico in his threats to the borderlands and potential alliance with the Confederacy; take control of cotton production resources in the Southwest; and crush the Confederate determination west of the Mississippi. ...

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9. The Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas

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pp. 111-124

Steele soon discovered that the ideal base at Camden was as much a trap as a resource. As his corps flowed into Camden, he received word that the Confederate army in Louisiana defeated General Banks’ large Union command, forcing Banks to withdraw back down the Red River. ...

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10. Confederate Atrocities and Steele’s Retreat

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pp. 125-132

Confederate soldiers killed many of the First Kansas men who lay wounded on the battlefield at Poison Spring. The wounded Yankees’ comrades met the same fate in the previous racial massacre at Sherwood, Missouri. Williams, infuriated by reports from survivors, yet unable to do anything about it, wrote in this report, ...

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11. A Brigade, Another Massacre, and Second Cabin Creek

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pp. 133-142

Shortly after Williams’ assignment as brigade commander, Union forces in Arkansas underwent a reorganization. Regiments shuffled to various brigades and locations as dictated by the military threat. Williams’ headquarters moved to Fort Smith, on the border of Indian Territory. He was responsible for all aspects of the lives of 2,735 men and 10 cannon. ...

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12. Back to Arkansas: Final Campaigns, Promotion, Peace, and Transition

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pp. 143-154

On September 22, General Thayer sent a message to Williams ordering him to keep his brigade at Fort Gibson until further notice.1 Thayer had expressed dissatisfaction that the convoys from Fort Scott to Fort Gibson were without sufficient protection, compelling him to deploy regiments from Arkansas, leaving him without sufficient troops to counter local Confederate activity.2 ...

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13. Indian Wars in the West with the Eighth Cavalry

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pp. 155-164

US military needs did not fade with the closing of the Civil War. Indeed, national security challenges abounded. Fenians (Irish nationalists) caused strife north of the Canadian border, and were stirring unrest through brother Fenians in the United States. ...

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14. Campaigning: Fort Whipple, Arizona Territory

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pp. 165-176

In 1867, General Gregg established Eighth Cavalry regimental headquarters at Camp Whipple, Arizona Territory. Camp Whipple was outside the small community of Prescott, then the territorial capital. He went into Arizona to replace Colonel John Mason, commander of the District of Arizona. ...

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15. Recuperation, a New Family, and Fort Selden, New Mexico

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pp. 177-192

While Williams’ success against the Indians, and their success against him were transpiring, life went on. Some personal paperwork originated by Williams worked its way through the territorial legislature. Accordingly, the Fourth Arizona Territorial Legislature acted to grant Williams a divorce from his wife, Lydia, on September 23, 1867. ...

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16. Fort Bayard, New Mexico Territory

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pp. 193-208

Devin was responsible for resolving irregularities in accounts at various installations. Upon arrival at Selden, he summarily relieved the then post commander Major David Clendenin, making adverse record of his performance. Clendenin demanded a court of inquiry into “allegations against my integrity as an officer and a gentleman.” ...

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17. Frontier Ranching, Congressional Accolades, and Redemption

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pp. 209-224

Williams found opportunity in southern Colorado. He selected a site on the Santa Fe Trail, along the Purgatory River (also called Las Animas), about five miles northeast of the village of Trinidad. Trinidad was the gateway to the imposing Raton Pass through the Sangre de Christo Mountains separating Colorado from New Mexico. ...

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18. Conclusion

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pp. 225-232

Like Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena,” James Monroe Williams was the man on the ground when American history happened. He was not a spectator. Wherever he was, and whenever the muses of history needed a catalyst, he made it happen. He did so as a Jayhawker in the days of the antebellum conflict over slavery ...


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pp. 233-240


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pp. 241-268

Bibliography and Index

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pp. 269-289

E-ISBN-13: 9781574415124
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574415025

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 37 b&w illus. 3 maps.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: War and the Southwest Series

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Subject Headings

  • Williams, James M. (James Monroe), 1833-1907.
  • United States. Army. Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment, 1st (1863-1864) -- Biography.
  • United States. Army. Cavalry, 8th -- Biography.
  • Generals -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Campaigns.
  • Indians of North America -- Wars -- 1866-1895.
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