James W. Thomas was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1839. He was the son of Jesse W. Thomas, who served for many years as the Treasurer of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railway. During the Civil War, James joined the Confederate army and rose from being a private to a Major. As a soldier during the war, Treasurer Thomas served in the battle’s Twentieth Tennessee Regiment, Company C, commanded by Captain James E. Rice.
Over time, Treasurer Thomas participated in the Battle of Hoover’s Gap and was wounded just above the heart near the shoulder blade. From the battle site, Treasurer Thomas was taken to Nashville and placed in the hospital. After months of confinement, he recovered sufficiently and was sent to other military posts such as Camp Chase and Fort Delaware.
After the Civil War ended, Treasurer Thomas became actively engaged in the wholesale dry goods trade of Nashville. He eventually became a senior member for a well-known firm called Thomas, McLester & Company. In addition to his duties as a merchant, Treasurer Thomas was active as a member of the West End Methodist Church.
In 1885, Treasurer Thomas became the new State Treasurer for Tennessee. Only one year later, in 1886, Treasurer Thomas’s chronic case of dysentery began to take a toll on his health. Eventually, on October 25, 1886, Treasurer Thomas passed away. According to one report, one of his last requests was to be buried in his old Confederate uniform. As a result of the unexpected vacancy, Governor Bate appointed the former State Treasurer, Atha Thomas, to fill the position.
Reference: “The New Treasurer: Sketch of the Life of Major James W. Thomas,” Daily American, 28 January 1885, p. 5; “Called Home: State Treasurer Dies at His Home in West Nashville,” Daily American, 26 October 1886, p. 1; “Atha Thomas: Governor Bate Fills the Vacancy in the State Treasurership,” Daily American, 27 October 1886, p.4.