Born in Connecticut on September 20, 1810, son of Ezra and Hepzibah (Starkey) Williams, Alpheus S. Williams was to become one of Michigan’s most active citizens of the 19th century. He was to lead a life as a businessman, lawyer, newspaper editor, civil servant, politician, diplomat and citizen soldier.
Williams studied law at Yale and traveled extensively in United States and Europe, 1834-36, before settling in Detroit in 1836. He continued his studies in law and was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1838. He married a widow, Jane Larned Pierson, one of the daughters of General Charles Larned, and they had six children. During the 1840’s, Williams was active in Whig politics in Detroit. He served as Judge of both the Probate and Recorder’s Courts and as Alderman for the Fifth Ward. In 1844, he unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of Detroit. As a businessman, he was publisher and editor of the Detroit Advertiser and was the President of the Bank of St. Clair. He served as Postmaster of Detroit from 1849 to 1853.
Williams became active as a citizen soldier in 1836 when he joined the Brady Guards. His first active service came in 1838 and 1839 during the Patriotic War. By 1844, he was Captain in the Michigan Militia and by 1847 had risen to the rank of Colonel. In 1847 and 1848, Williams served as Lt. Colonel of the First Michigan Infantry in service at the end of the Mexican War. In 1859, Governor Moses Wisner appointed Williams to the post of Major General in the Michigan Militia and, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Governor Austin Blair appointed him Brigadier General of the First Michigan Brigade. On August 12, 1861, Williams was commissioned Brigadier of the U. S. Volunteers, the first Michigan general of the Civil War.
General Williams’ war record is extensive. He served as a brigade commander, division commander and, for a time, as a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac. He and his troops saw battle at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Winchester and Gettysburg. Williams was transferred to the Army of the Cumberland in October of 1863. He was commander of the 1st Division of the 20th Corps. During the Atlanta Campaign, Williams and his men saw battle at Resaca, New Hope Church, Kolb’s Farm, Peach Tree Creek and in the siege and capture of Atlanta. In November of 1864, Williams was made commander of the 20th Corps, the first troops to enter Savannah. On January 12, 1865, Williams was breveted the rank of Major General. In the Carolina Campaign, Williams fought in the battles of Averasboro and Bentonville.
Although General Williams attained the brevetted rank of Major General during the Civil War, he is considered by many historians to be one of the most under-appreciated commanders in the Union Army. Even though he had a sterling record while involved in many, many battles and was well-loved by the men he commanded, Williams was not a member of the West Point graduate club and consequently passed over for higher rank.
After the Civil War, Williams was elected President of the Detroit Soldiers and Sailors Union and appointed Federal Commissioner to Study War Claims in the State of Missouri. He ran for Governor of Michigan in 1866 but was defeated by Henry H. Crapo. In the Fall of 1866, President Andrew Johnson appointed Williams to the post of Minister to El Salvador and he served until 1869. Williams was elected to Congress in 1874 and 1876 but was defeated in 1878. While in Congress, his main interest was the military and he worked actively in all aspects of veterans’ affairs. Williams suffered a fatal stroke while working at his desk in Congress. Williams died on December 21, 1878 at the age of 68.
Jane and Alpheus Williams' children:
Charles Larned Williams born in1841. Died in 1919.
Irene Williams Chittenden born January 3, 1843, Detroit. Died April 7, 1907, in Chicago, on a trip back to Detroit. Married on January 18, 1866, to William Jane Chittenden.
Frederic Larnard Williams born in 1844. Died in 1857.
Mary Howard Williams born in 1846. Died February 7, 1935. Married Major Francis Farquahor
Julia Allen Williams, died young.
 Wayne County, Michigan, Probate File# 2924 (Probate File of his b-i-l, James Larned)
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