Veteran of the Mexican War and a Civil War Union officer, he was the Colonel of the 2nd Minnesota Infantry from May 15, 1862 to June 29, 1864. Born and raised in New York, he was a bookkeeper in Buffalo and a teacher in Canada. After moving to Ohio, he served four years as Register of Deeds in Butler County and four years as Secretary of the State Board of Public Works. During the Mexican War, he was Captain of an Ohio company and was wounded in the Battle of Monterey.
In 1854, he settled in Oronoco township in Minnesota, preempting his farm with his soldier's bounty land warrant. After living four years on his farm, he moved to Wasioja. Before the Civil War broke out, he was an attorney practicing in the small but growing town. In 1860, the townspeople had built a seminary to accommodate the Free Will Baptists who were local to the community. The seminary opened its doors in Nov. 1860, and more than 300 students enrolled. By 1862, the school had been renamed to Northwestern College and Wasioja had a dozen stores, a hotel, a flour mill, and a promising future. But the Civil War needed more young men to volunteer for the Union cause, so Capt. James George asked the seminary students to volunteer.
With their professor Clinton A. Cilley leading the way, 80 young men marched down to Capt. George's law office and enlisted. They were organized as Company C of the 2nd Minnesota Infantry and James George became their Lieutenant Colonel. After the Battle of Mill Springs, he became the regiment's Colonel. Then came the Battle of Chickamauga.
Just over a year after the young seminary students enlisted, at Snodgrass Hill near Chickamauga, with Col. James George as their commander, they blocked the Confederates advance at a very high cost. Of the 80 young men that left Wasioja, only 25 returned. The town of Wasioja never recovered from their great loss.
Regarding his service during the Civil War, Colonel George was said to have distinguished himself by showing courage in several engagements and was especially commended for his bravery and that of his regiment at Chickamauga.
Following is a transcription of a letter Colonel George wrote to Governor Alexander Ramsey on Jan. 26, 1862. The letter sets the record straight as Col. George describes his Regiment's role in the Jan. 19, 1862 battle at Mill Springs, Kentucky:
_In Camp Jan 26,  Gov Ramsey Dear Sir
Seeing in the papers that the credit of the victory of the 19th is given to the 18th W.I. Infantry, who were some [five] miles off, I thought I would say to you what will soon appear in the official record that the 9th Ohio and 2 Minn actually decided the fortunes of the day. Our regt having as I think the [worser] position, the conflict was most terribly obstinate. the enemy fought like very devils. Our right wing was first engaged at not more than 12 or 15 feet distance and in many instances with muzzle to muzzle[.] sometimes our men[,] catching hold of the enemy's guns and pulling them out of their hands. 400 of our men received slight bayonet wounds in the left hand while in the act of extending their pieces to fire thus running their hands against the bayonet of the enemy whose pieces were also [levelled] in the act of firing.
These [Gunmen] are no fancy sketches but naked truth and can be attested by every man of the right wing. This close fight lasted about 30 minutes when the enemy fled.
So far as I could see every man was doing his whole duty throughout the engagement.
This is written in the greatest haste. Col [McCook] [Robert L. McCook] being wounded Col VanCleve [Horatio P. Van Cleve] has command of Brigade and I of our rgt.
Your [Sir] Lt. George_
Colonel James George survived the war. After being discharged from the service, he returned to Oronoco and moved to Rochester in 1870. He was commander of the Goerge H. Thomas Post, Grand Army of the Republic, for several terms. He also served as city justice until his death in 1882.
Despite its enrollment being reduced by half during the Civil War, Wasojia's seminary continued to operate until 1894. In 1905, a fire destroyed the building, leaving the stone ruins that are still visible today on the site that is now a public park.
The stone law office that was used as a Civil War recruiting station had been built by James George in 1855. It also served as a bank and was the town meeting center during the 1850's. In the years following the Civil War, it was used as a jail, office, storeroom, post office, and private residence. The building was purchased by the Dodge County Historical Society in the early 1960's. As a result, James George's law office still stands today. It is the only Civil War recruiting station to be preserved as a historic site in Minnesota.
Leonard, Joseph A. Hon., History of Olmsted County, Minnesota, Chicago Goodspeed Historical Association, 1910, p. 32-33.
Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Letter from Lieut. Colonel George, 2nd Minnesota Infantry, describing recent battle, Jan. 26, 1862.
The Olmsted County Historical Society in Rochester, Minn. has many Civil War letters written by Col. James George in their collection.