William Burnham Woods

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William Burnham Woods
William Burnham Woods.jpg
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office
December 21, 1880[1] – May 14, 1887
Nominated by Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded by William Strong
Succeeded by Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar
Personal details
Born (1824-08-03)August 3, 1824
Newark, Ohio
Died May 14, 1887(1887-05-14) (aged 62)
Washington, D.C.

William Burnham Woods (August 3, 1824 – May 14, 1887) was an American jurist, politician, and soldier.

Early life and career[edit]

Woods was born on August 3, 1824 in Newark, Ohio. He was the older brother of Charles R. Woods, another future Civil War general. He attended college at both Western Reserve University and Yale University, graduating from Yale in 1845. Upon his graduation he returned home to Newark and studied law, being admitted to the bar in 1847 and establishing a practice with his tutor.

Woods, a loyal Democrat, was elected mayor of Newark in 1856, and to the Ohio General Assembly in 1858, being named Speaker of the House shortly thereafter. He opposed the Civil War but, not being a proponent of slavery, came to see the necessity of a Union victory. In 1862 he left the Ohio state house and joined the Union Army.

Civil War service[edit]

He was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which served in the Western Theater. He fought at the battles of Shiloh and Vicksburg, and was promoted to brigadier general. Woods commanded a brigade under William T. Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign and a division during Sherman's March to the Sea. During the Carolinas Campaign, he fought with distinction at the Battle of Bentonville. He was appointed a brevet major general in early 1865. He left the Army in February 1866.

Postbellum career[edit]

Woods's Supreme Court nomination

At the end of the war, Woods stayed in the South, settling in Bentonville, Alabama, where he reopened his law practice and began farming cotton. In 1869 he was named by President Ulysses S. Grant as a circuit judge for the Fifth Circuit (which preceded the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit).

Woods sat on the Fifth Circuit for 11 years, before being named by Rutherford B. Hayes to the Supreme Court in December 1880. He was the first person named to the high court from a Confederate state since 1853, though, being a northerner and (by that time) a Republican, he was palatable to the Republican majority in the Senate.

Woods was not a major contributor to the Court, spending only six years on the bench. He remained on the Court until his death in 1887.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: William Burnham Woods". 2009-12-11. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
Legal offices
Preceded by
William Strong
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
December 21, 1880 – May 14, 1887
Succeeded by
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar