James Patrick Major, Confederate army officer, was born on May 14, 1836, in Fayette, Missouri, the son of Samuel Collier Major. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point on July 21, 1852, and graduated twenty-third in the class of 1856. He was brevetted a second lieutenant in the First United States Cavalry on July 1, 1856, and served for a year at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. On December 1 he was promoted to second lieutenant in Company K of the Second United States Cavalry and was sent for duty to the Texas frontier. There, on October 1, 1858, he was said to have personally killed three of Chief Buffalo Hump's warriors, including the subchief Mohee, during Earl Van Dorn's victory over the Comanches at the battle of Wichita Village. He was commended for his "conspicuous gallantry" in orders from army headquarters. On April 23, 1859, he married Eliza Chalmers, daughter of John G. Chalmers and a sister-in-law of Thomas Green. The couple had one child, a daughter. By a second marriage, to Mrs. Emily Schiff in 1871, Major became the brother-in-law of Gen. Paul O. Hébert. Their only child died in infancy.
Major resigned from the United States Army on March 21, 1861, and offered his services to the Confederate States Army. After working on the staffs of David E. Twiggs and Earl Van Dorn, Major was made lieutenant colonel of a regiment of the Missouri State Guard and fought at the battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri. As acting commander of Van Dorn's artillery, he helped repulse a federal attack on Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1862. After transfer to the trans-Mississippi theater, on the recommendation of Gen. Richard Taylor Major was promoted to brigadier general to rank from July 21, 1863. After commanding the defenses of Galveston for several months, he played a key role in the repulse of Nathaniel P. Banks's Red River campaign of 1864; Major commanded one of Green's two cavalry divisions. Thereafter he was assigned to the command of a brigade in John A. Wharton's cavalry division in Louisiana. As he was signing himself as major general at the end of the war, Major was apparently promoted to command of the division at the time of Wharton's death in April 1865 and was among those officers "assigned to duty" at a higher rank by Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, whose promotions could not be confirmed by the Confederate Congress because of the breakdown in communications between Texas and Richmond, Virginia. After being paroled at New Iberia, Louisiana, on June 11, 1865, Major went to France for a time and then moved to Louisiana and became a planter. He later returned to Texas. He died in Austin on May 8, 1877, and is buried in the tomb of his father-in-law, John Andrews, in Donaldsonville, Louisiana.