Union XII Corps

      General Joseph K. Mansfield                      General Henry Warner Slocum                General Alpheus S. Williams                     General John W. Geary


Brevet Major General Alpheus Starkey Williams

Major General Alpheus S. Williams, Commander of the 1st Division, Union XII Corps, 1st Division, Union XX Corps

WILLIAMS, Alpheus Starkey, soldier, b. in Saybrook, Conn., 10 Sept., 1810; d. in Washington, D. C., 21 Dec., 1878. He was graduated at Yale in 1831, studied law there, and afterward spent some time in European travel; a part of his tour being in company with Edwin Forrest and Nathaniel P. Willis. In 1836 he began the practice of law in Detroit, Mich. In 1838 he was captain of a local militia company. In 1840 he was appointed judge of probate of Wayne county, and he held that post until 1844, when he was elected recorder of the city of Detroit. At the opening of the war with Mexico he was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the 1st Michigan volunteer infantry and served with credit until the close of hostilities, when he returned to Detroit and resumed the practice of law. In 1861, when the civil war began, he was one of the first to offer his services in support of the government, and as he had always been an active member of the Democratic party, his example had great influence. On 17 May, l861, he was appointed brigadier-general of volunteers. He at once entered upon his duties in the Army of the Potomac, and in the spring of 1862 was made commander of a division in the corps of Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks in the Shenandoah valley. During the retreat of the corps in May, 1862, he did himself great credit by his skill and courage. While still a brigadier-general he commanded, with ability and success, an army corps in the battles of South Mountain, Antietam, and Gettysburg. In the autumn of 1863 he was sent with his corps to Tennessee, and in the following spring, as division commander, he entered upon the Atlanta campaign. He took an active part in all the battles of that summer. At the head of the 20th corps he marched with Sherman to the sea, and at Savannah he was promoted to be brevet major-general of volunteers to rank from 12 Jan., 1865, being 39th on the list of such brevet appointments, though far in advance of them all in date of previous commission and in actual service. Perhaps his was the only instance during the civil war where an officer of his grade was placed in command of a corps, except in a momentary emergency. Notwithstanding this neglect to recognize his merits, Gen. Williams gave his best energies to his work. He shared in the campaign in the Carolinas and in the grand review at Washington, and was retained in service during the reconstruction era in Kentucky and Arkansas, until July, 1866, when he was honorably mustered out. He was soon afterward appointed U. S. minister to San Salvador, where he spent three years in diplomatic duties. He returned in 1870 to his old home, and was in that year an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Michigan. In 1874, and again in 1876, he was elected a representative in congress. He had established a reputation as an honest and independent legislator, when his career was cut short by death. During his second term in congress he was chairman of the committee on the District of Columbia, and did much to beautify the capital city

Source: Wilson, James Grant, & Fiske, John (Eds.). Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography. New York: Appleton, 1888, 1915.

Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

Quaife, Milo M. From the Cannon's Mouth: The Civil War Letters of General Alpheus S. Williams. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1959.

U.S. Congress, Biographical Directory of The United States Congress, 1774–2005. Washington, DC: GPO, 2005.

U.S. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 128 vols. Washington, DC: GPO, 1881-1901. Series 1.

Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.


Wartime letters of Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams

Chapters 1-3

Chapters 4-7

Chapters 8-9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Source: Quaife, Milo M. From the Cannon's Mouth: The Civil War Letters of General Alpheus S. Williams. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1959.

We have provided all of the wartime letters published in this volume and included supplemental material, including illustrations, articles, and Official Records.  General Williams was the commander of the First Division of the Twelfth Corps throughout its existence.  General Williams also commanded the First Division of the Twentieth Corps.