James William Barnes, religious leader and Confederate officer, was born in Georgia in 1815. Barnes moved to Grimes County, Texas, in 1840. In 1842 he served on a committee that successfully established the first Masonic lodge in Grimes County at Anderson. In the spring of 1843 he was a leader in the effort to send relief supplies to the surviving members of the Mier Expedition who were imprisoned in Mexico. Barnes was an active Baptist, serving as an officer and treasurer of the Plantersville Baptist Church in Grimes County in the 1850s and 1860s. He served as treasurer of the Texas State Baptist Association from 1848 to 1862 and as a trustee of Baylor University from 1852 to 1872. By 1854 Barnes was married to a Caroline A. Barnes. This couple produced five children.
In August 1863 Barnes served as lieutenant colonel and later as colonel for the Fourth Infantry Regiment, State Troops. This militia unit was deployed for coastal defense duty in South Texas. Also in 1863 Barnes received an appointment as brigadier general of Brigade No. 5, Texas State Troops. Following the Civil War, he returned to Anderson, where he continued to play a leading role in the religious life of Grimes and Washington counties. He also promoted agricultural development and served as a vice president for the International Railroad Company.
Barnes died in Grimes County on October 22, 1892, and was buried on his estate southeast of Anderson.