Thomas Williams (general)

Thomas R. Williams (January 16, 1815August 5, 1862) was an antebellum U. S. Army officer and a brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was killed as he commanded the Union troops at the Battle of Baton Rouge.

Birth and early years

Williams was born in 1815 in Albany, New York. His father was General John R. Williams, a five-term Mayor of Detroit and prominent military figure in Michigan. His mother was Mary Mott Williams of one of Albany's leading families.

Military career

He began his military service in 1832 as a private in an infantry company during the Black Hawk War, serving as a trumpeter under his father's command.

The following year, Williams received an appointment to attend the United States Military Academy, and then graduated in the Class of 1837. He was breveted as a second lieutenant of the 4th U. S. Artillery. He later served in the Seminole Wars as a first Lieutenant and Assistant Commissary of Substance. Williams served in the Mexican War and was brevetted as a captain on August 20, 1847. He was brevetted as a major on September 13, 1847, for "meritorious service" in the war.

Following the Mexican War, Williams was promoted to full captain and posted to Mackinac Island, Michigan, where he met and married Mary Neosho Bailey, daughter of a prominent physician. He was later assigned to posts in Florida and the Utah Territory. By the late 1850s, he was serving as an instructor at the Artillery School at Fort Monroe in Virginia.

Civil War and death

Shortly after the Civil War began, Williams was promoted to major in the 5th U. S. Artillery on May 14, 1861. Four months later, he was promoted to Brigadier General of U. S. Volunteers. He was posted to the command of a brigade on the Potomac River, and was later posted to Fort Hatteras, North Carolina. He then was assigned to Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler's command in the land operations against New Orleans, Louisiana. Williams and his brigade were assigned the task of occupying Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On May 29, General Williams arrived in the city with six regiments of infantry, two artillery batteries, and a troop of cavalry.

During the early summer, Williams' 3,000-man infantry brigade began work on what later became known as Grant's Canal, cutting a new channel across the base of De Soto Point on the west side of the Mississippi River across from Vicksburg, Mississippi. The purpose of the canal was to develop a channel for navigation that would enable gunboats and transports to bypass the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg.

In August 1862, Confederate forces under the command of Gen. John C. Breckinridge attacked the Union defenses of Baton Rouge in an effort to retake the state's capital. Thomas Williams was killed by a gunshot wound to his chest while leading what proved to be the successful defense of the city.

He was buried in the family plot in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.


One of his sons, Gershom Mott Williams, a bishop of the Episcopal Church of Detroit, later published General Williams' personal papers.

See also



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