Book Review: Civil War General and Indian Fighter James M. Williams: Leader of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry and the 8th U.S. Cavalry

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by Robert W. Lull

Denton, Tx: University of North Texas Press, 2013. Pp. xviii, 290. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $24.95. ISBN: 1574415026

A Forgotten Hero of the Civil War

James M. Williams (1833-1907), today largely forgotten, made important contributions to the Union cause during the Civil War. The most valuable of those was to raise the first black unit to serve in the war, despite being having himself been a slave owner. The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry was also first African-American regiment to see action in the war, and helped prove, for who could wished to notice, that that black men, whether runaway slaves or free, were the equal of any troops in the war. 

But if the 1st Kansas C.V.I. was the height of Williams’  career, other aspects of the his life are not neglected. Lull introduces the reader to Williams and his life as an attorney on the frontier in the decades before to the war, including the horrors of “Bleeding Kansas” during the 1850s. The chapter on the outbreak of the war in the Trans-Mississippi region is excellent. Then come ten chapters covering, in often gripping terms, the war as experienced by Williams and his troops.

After the war Williams, who held a brevet as brigadier general, spent some 35 years as a cavalryman on the frontier. This gives us a look at military life on the frontier in the “Indian Fighting Army.” The book ends with a short account of Williams’ retirement in 1891 and his final days. 

A volume in the University of North Texas series “War and the Southwest,” Civil War General and Indian Fighter is an excellent biography of this little known officer, which throws considerable light on an often neglected theatre of the Civil War and the origins of the U.S. Colored Troops.

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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