Thomas Harry Williams Biography

Thomas Harry Williams (May 19, 1909 – July 6, 1979) was an award-winning historian at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge whose career began in 1941 and extended for thirty-eight years until his death at the age of seventy. A popular faculty member, Williams is perhaps best known for his American Civil War study, Lincoln and His Generals, a "Book of the Month" selection from 1952, and his Huey Long, the definitive study of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., 1970 winner of both the National Book Award in History and Biography and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

Williams was born in Vinegar Hill Township, Jo Daviess County, Illinois, to William D. Williams and the former Emma Necollins. His father died when Williams was a small boy, and he was reared by an uncle and grandmother. He was educated in the schools of the village of Hazel Green, Wisconsin. He procured his bachelor of arts degree in 1931 from the University of Wisconsin–Platteville (then Platteville State College) in Platteville. He thereafter obtained his Master of Arts and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1932 and 1937, respectively, where he was under the influence of William B. Hesseltine. There he formed close friendships with Frank Freidel and Richard N. Current, with whom he later authored a standard U.S. history textbook dedicated to Hesseltine. He first instructed history in the extension division of UW from 1936 to 1938. He then accepted a professorship at the University of Omaha in Nebraska from 1938 to 1941. Then Williams relocated to LSU, where he was anchored as Boyd Professor for the remainder of his career.

The Boyd chair is named for Thomas Duckett Boyd, a former LSU president during the peak of the post-Civil War mythology of The Lost Cause of the Confederacy. Boyd was a brother of David French Boyd, a Confederate officer who had served on the original LSU faculty when the school was based in Alexandria and under the first LSU president and subsequent Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman. During his career, Williams did much to debunk the premises and defenders of The Lost Cause.