Thursday, May 9, 2019

Booknotes: Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General

New Arrival:
Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General: Alpheus S. Williams by Jack Dempsey (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2019).

Though he joined a great many of his peers in having some state militia and Mexican War experience (though he didn't see any combat), Alpheus Starkey Williams probably fits most definitions of a Civil War "political general." Given the persistent negativity surrounding that broad label, I sort of wish we could scrap it altogether in favor of ones a bit more differentiating such as "citizen-general" vs. "politician-general." Then again adding more labels into the mix can cause problems of its own, especially given the multitude of hats (politicized or otherwise) prominent nineteenth-century men wore then compared with today. Anyway, I'm getting off track. Jack Dempsey's Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General: Alpheus S. Williams is primarily a military biography, though the last four chapters do summarize his postwar activities (including his political career) and the first two his early life.

Appointed brigadier general in May 1861, Williams was immediately attached to the Army of the Potomac, eventually becoming most closely associated with the Twelfth Corps as the commander of its First Division. During the war, Williams forged an enviable combat record in both eastern (Shenandoah Valley Campaign through Gettysburg) and western (Chattanooga through Bentonville) theaters. His involvement in all of these campaigns and battles is covered.

The book has ten maps and, like all volumes from this publisher, is full of images and photographs. In the appendix section can be found a list of references to Williams's battle reports, a chart showing dates when he served as temporary corps commander, his farewell order to his troops, and the text of an 1871 military society speech.


  1. Drew, Great comment about Citizen-Generals. That is why I chose that as the title of my biography of Jacob Cox, yet another general who came from the private sector and performed well in the war. Unfortunately, like so many myths and half-truths, e.g. the myth of reconciliation which Flagel debunks in his new book (reviewed on your site today), the stereotype of the bumbling Political-General will live on.

    1. Hi Gene,
      Yes. Unfortunately the casual reader is still doomed to a limited understanding, especially when Banks and Butler are always the go-to examples cited in the popular literature.



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