Born in Greene County, Tennessee, Milligan attended Greenville College from 1834 to 1838 and Tusculum College from 1838 to 1843, and read law to enter the Bar in 1846. He was a member of the Tennessee State Legislature from 1841 to 1846, representing Greene and Washington Counties until 1843, and, following redistricting, representing only Greene County after the elections of 1843 and 1845. He was in private practice in Greeneville, Tennessee from 1846 to 1847, and again from 1848 to 1860, interrupted by his service as a Major in the United States Army, Quartermasters Corps, during the Mexican-American War, from 1847 to 1848. He was an unsuccessful candidate for United States Representative in 1857, and was a commissioner of the State of Tennessee in 1858.
Milligan served three stints as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, first from 1860 to 1861, when he was also a delegate to the Peace Conference of 1861 in Washington, D.C., then from 1864 to 1867, and again from 1867 to 1868. In 1868, Milligan was nominated by President Andrew Johnson for a seat on the United States Court of Claims. Confirmed by the United States Senate, he received his commission on July 25, 1868, and served thereafter until his death.
- Federal Judicial Center entry on Samuel Milligan
- Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society entry on Samuel Milligan
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