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James Grant Wilson
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Personal details
Born (1832-04-28)April 28, 1832
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died February 1, 1914(1914-02-01) (aged 81)
New York City, New York
Resting place Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York
Jane Emily Searle Cogswell
(m. 1869; her death 1904)

Mary H. Nicholson
(m. 1907; his death 1914)
Children 1
Parent(s) William Wilson
Jane Sibbald
Education Bartlett's College Hill School
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service Union Army
Rank Union Army colonel rank insignia.png Colonel
Union Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Bvt. Brigadier General
Unit 15th Illinois Cavalry Regiment
Commands 4th U.S.C.T. Cavalry Regiment
Battles/wars American Civil War

James Grant Wilson (April 28, 1832 – February 1, 1914) was an American editor, author, bookseller and publisher, who founded the Chicago Record in 1857, the first literary paper in that region. During the American Civil War, he served as a colonel in the Union Army. In recognition of his service, in 1867, he was nominated and confirmed for appointment as a brevet brigadier general of volunteers to rank from March 13, 1865. He settled in New York, where he edited biographies and histories, was a public speaker, and served as president of the Society of American Authors and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.

Early life

James Grant Wilson was born on April 28, 1832 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of the poet William Wilson and his second wife, Miss Jane Sibbald of Hawick. In infancy, he moved with his family to the United States, where they settled at Poughkeepsie, New York. He had two younger brothers. Wilson was educated in Poughkeepsie at College Hill, and continued his studies in the languages, music, and drawing, under private teachers.


Eventually, he joined his father in business as a bookseller/publisher, later becoming his partner. In 1855, Wilson started on an extended journey, his tour of Europe and its capitals. Upon his return in 1857, he settled in the growing city of Chicago, Illinois, where he founded the Chicago Record, a journal of art and literature. It was the first literary paper published in that region. He also became known as a speaker.

U.S. Civil War

During the Civil War, Wilson sold his journal and entered the Union Army late in 1862. He was commissioned as a major of the 15th Illinois Cavalry, commanded the 4th U.S.C. Cavalry as colonel. He resigned from the Army on June 16, 1865. On February 27, 1867, President Andrew Johnson nominated Wilson for appointment to the grade of brevet brigadier general of volunteers to rank from March 13, 1865, and the United States Senate confirmed the appointment on March 2, 1867. His middle brother was killed at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and his youngest brother also served.

Later career

After the war, Wilson settled in New York City. He became known as a speaker, a frequent contributor to periodicals, president of the Society of American Authors, and, after 1885, of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. He edited Fitz-Greene Halleck's Poems (1868) and wrote his biography, published in 1869; and in 1876 his anthology Poets & Poetry of Scotland in four volumes . He edited A Memorial History of the City of New York (four volumes, 1892–93); Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography (six volumes, 1887–89, with John Fiske; volume vii, 1900); The Great Commanders Series (eighteen volumes, completed 1913); and Wikisource-logo.svg The Presidents of the United States, 1789-1914 (four volumes, 1914), the work of many distinguished writers..

Personal life

On November 3, 1869, he married Jane Emily Searle Cogswell (d. 1904), the sister of Andrew Kirkpatrick Cogswell (1839-1900) and the daughter of Rev. Jonathan Cogswell (1781–1864) and Jane Eudora Kirkpatrick (1799–1864). Jane's grandfather was Andrew Kirkpatrick (1756–1831) and her great-grandfather was John Bayard (1738–1807). Before her death in 1904, they had one daughter together:

  • Jane Wilson, who married Frank Sylvester Henry (who died before 1914)

After his first wife's death in 1904, he married Mary H. Nicholson, the widow of his friend Admiral James William Augustus Nicholson, in 1907. He resided at 143 West 79th Street in New York City.

Wilson died in New York City and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.

Selected works

  • Biographical Sketches of Illinois Officers (1862–63)
  • Life of Fitz-Greene Halleck (1869)
  • Sketches of Illustrious Soldiers (1874)
  • Poets and Poetry of Scotland (1876) (in four volumes) Blackie & Son, Edinburgh 1876
  • Centennial History of the Diocese of New York, 1775-1885 (1886)
  • Bryant and his Friends (1886)
  • Commodore Isaac Hull and the Frigate Constitution (1889)
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