May 13: William Burnham Woods (1887)

William Burnham Woods was the 45th justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was the first Southerner to join the court after the Civil War. Woods was originally from Ohio. He started his education at Western Reserve College (now Case Western Reserve University), but later moved on to Yale, where he took his degree with honors. After learning law by clerking, he entered politics and was elected a mayor and then a member of the state legislature. Woods volunteered for military service during the Civil War and saw combat around the Gulf Coast. He was promoted to colonel and served with such distinction that General U.S. Grant and others recommended him for promotion to brigadier general. In 1869, President Grant appointed Woods to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. It was from this post that President Hayes nominated Woods to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Woods wrote 218 opinions during his brief six years on the bench. Many of them dealt with patent and equity cases that revealed his ability to analyze intricate records. Morrison Waite was the chief justice the entire time Woods was on the court. Woods and Waite were fellow Epiphany parishioners. The funeral service of William Burnham Woods took place at Epiphany on May 16, 1887. Less than a year later the funeral of Chief Justice Waite took place at Epiphany as well. Chief Justice Waite described Woods as “an upright man and a just judge.”

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