The General Alpheus Williams Statue, Detroit, Michigan


Belle Isle sits in the Detroit River and is part of Michigan. Located on the island is a rather unusual and imposing statue of a soldier on a horse. It’s unusual in that the soldier does not appear proud-as in a victory pose. He looks fatigued-battle weary. It’s part of “forgotten Detroit,” I suppose. How many people know who the rider is?  How many care? It’s been there a long time-as long as I can remember (and was there before me, of course). . As a child, I too wondered who it was-and never knew.

B.Nash at the statue of General Williams, Belle Isle, Detroit


The statue is of a true American hero. It’s of Union General Alpheus Starkey Williams. This man saw action at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Atlanta-just to name a few. It was troops from Williams’ division that found the famous “lost dispatch” regarding General Lee’s plan prior to Antietam. Never one to promote himself or his deeds, General Williams didn’t get the attention of the people he deserved. In Gettysburg National Park, however, there is an avenue named for him (Williams Avenue).  Still, he remains unsung.

Of particular interest to those in Michigan, Alpheus Williams made Detroit his home-arriving in 1836 where he engaged in several careers, including becoming a lawyer and later a probate judge. He also married in Detroit and started a family. Prior to the Civil War, Williams had some military service. He attained the rank of major in the Detroit Light Guard. When the rebellion occurred in 1861, Williams was part of training Michigan’s first volunteers. After the war, he served in Congress from 1875 to 1878.  He died in Washington D.C. in 1878 and was buried in Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery.

The statue of Williams is a tribute to his service. He sits on his mount Plug Ugly. The horse wore himself out in war duty. The General sold him in 1864. The statue was done by sculptor Henry Shrady. Shrady also completed a memorial to U.S.Grant in Washington. Shrady died before completing a statue of Robert E. Lee. The statue has seen a lot of change. Those who did know of his deeds and valor are long gone. Most people know the names of Grant and Sherman. They don’t know Williams. So, he remains unknown. Maybe he wanted it that way. He did his duty and served his country quietly and faithfully. He probably wouldn’t like that there is a statue there on the island in his honor. To a few who read of the life of Alpheus Williams, he is certainly worth the honor.


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2 Responses to “The General Alpheus Williams Statue, Detroit, Michigan”

  1. B. Nash says:

    Dr. Charnley: I’m very pleased that you have visited my Lincoln blog-especially my post about General Williams. Talk about unsung heroes!!!
    Yes, I will keep getting the word out. Thank you again.

  2. Dr. Jeff Charnley, Michigan State University says:

    This is a very nice post with excellent photos of the ASW statue on Belle Isle! Keep up the good work reminding people of this state of General Williams’ contributions to the Union war effort in the Civil War and to the State of Michigan!

    Best regards,
    Professor Jeff Charnley
    Michigan State University
    My 1983 MSU Ph.D. history dissertation is a biography of General Williams.

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