Churchill was born near Louisville, Kentucky. He was educated at St. Mary's College and studied law at Transylvania University. He served during the Mexican-American War and rose to the rank of lieutenant in a regiment of mounted infantry. He was captured by the Mexican Army and remained a prisoner of war until near the end of the conflict. In 1848, he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, married the daughter of Senator Ambrose Sevier, and became a planter.
At the start of the Civil War, Churchill offered his services to the state and was elected colonel of the 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles. His first combat took place at the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri. On March 4, 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general and soon thereafter took part in Maj. Gen. Kirby Smith's Kentucky Campaign. Churchill played an important role in the victory at Richmond, Kentucky, leading his men along a ravine that became known as "Churchill's Draw" to deliver a surprise and successful flanking attack. On February 17, 1864, Churchill was cited as one of three officers to receive special recognition in a Thanks of [Confederate] Congress resolution for his actions at Richmond.
In the latter part of 1862, Churchill was transferred back to Arkansas and placed in charge of the fortifications at Arkansas Post. In January 1863, the Post was attacked and seized in the Battle of Fort Hindman by an overwhelming Union force under Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand. After his exchange, Churchill served in the District of Arkansas of the Trans-Mississippi Department and commanded a division during the Red River Campaign. He played a major role in the Battle of Jenkins Ferry and was promoted to major general on March 17, 1865.
After the war, Churchill was Arkansas State Treasurer from 1874 to 1880 and Governor of Arkansas from 1881 to 1883.
Churchill died in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is buried there at historic Mount Holly Cemetery.
- Eicher, p. 173.
- Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
- Montgomery, Don, "Thomas James Churchill", Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, accessed June 8, 2010.
- Thomas James Churchill at Find a Grave Retrieved on 2009-05-04
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1881-1883 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
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