RICHARD J. OGLESBY, Governor 1865-8, and re-elected in 1872 and 1884, was born
July 25, 1824, in Oldham Co., Ky., -- the State which might be considered the
“mother of Illinois Governors.” Bereft of his parents at the tender age of eight
years, his early education was neglected. When 12 years of age, and after he had
worked a year and a half at the carpenter’s trade, he removed with an uncle,
Willis Oglesby, into whose care he had been committed, to Decatur, this State,
where he continued his apprenticeship as a mechanic, working six months for Hon.
E. O. Smith.
In 1844 he commenced studying law at Springfield, with Judge Silas Robbins, and
read with him one year. He was admitted to the Bar in 1845, and commenced the
practice of his chosen profession at Sullivan, the county seat of Moultrie
The next year the war with Mexico was commenced, and in June, 1846, Mr. Oglesby
volunteered, was elected First Lieutenant of Co. C, Fourth Illinois Regiment of
Volunteers, and participated in the battles of Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo.
On his return he sought to perfect his law studies by attending a course of
lectures at Louisville, but on the breaking out of the California “gold fever”
in 1849, he crossed the plains and mountains to the new Eldorado, driving a
six-mule team, with a company of eight men, Henry Prather being the leader.
In 1852 he returned home to Macon County, and was placed that year by the Whig
party on the ticket of Presidential Electors. In 1856 he visited Europe, Asia
and Africa, being absent 20 months. On his return home he resumed the practice
of law, as a member of the firm of Gallagher, Wait & Oglesby. In 1858 he was the
Republican nominee for the Lower House of Congress, but was defeated by the Hon.
James C. Robinson, Democrat. In 1860 he was elected to the Illinois State
Senate; and on the evening the returns of this election were coming in, Mr.
Oglesby had a fisticuff encounter with “Cerro Gordo Williams,” in which he came
out victorious, and which was regarded as “the first fight of the Rebellion.”
The following spring, when the war had commenced in earnest, his ardent nature
quickly responded to the demands of patriotism and he enlisted. The extra
session of the Legislature elected him Colonel of the Eight Illinois Infantry,
the second one in the State raised to suppress the great Rebellion.
He was shortly entrusted with important commands. For a time he was stationed at
Bird’s Point and Cairo; in April he was promoted Brigadier General; at Fort
Donelson his brigade was in the van, being stationed on the right of General
Grant’s army and the first brigade to be attacked. He lost 500 men before
re-enforcements arrived. Many of these men were from Macon County. He was
engaged in the battle of Corinth, and, in a brave charge at this place, was shot
in the left lung with an ounce ball, and was carried from the field in
expectation of immediate death. That rebel ball he carries to this day. On his
partial recovery he was promoted as Major General, for gallantry, his commission
to ran from November, 1862. In the spring of 1863 he was assigned to the command
of the 16th Army Corps, but, owing to inability from the effects of his wound,
he relinquished this command in July, that year. Gen. Grant, however, refused to
accept his resignation, and he was detailed, in December following, to
court-martial and try the Surgeon General of the Army at Washington, where he
remained until May, 1864, when he returned home.
The Republican, or Union, State Convention of 1864 was held at Springfield, May
25, when Mr. Oglesby was nominated for the office of Governor, while other
candidates before the convention were Allen C. Fuller, of Boone, Jesse K.
Dubois, of Sangamon, and John M. Palmer, of Macoupin. Wm. Bross, of Chicago, was
nominated for Lieutenant Governor. On the Democratic State ticket were James C.
Robinson, of Clark, for Governor, and S. Corning Judd, of Fulton, for Lieutenant
Governor. The general election gave Gen. Oglesby a majority of about 31,000
votes. The Republicans had also a majority in both the Legislature and in the
representation in Congress.
Gov. Oglesby was duly inaugurated Jan. 17, 1865. The day before the first time
set for his installation death visited his home at Decatur, and took from it his
only son, an intelligent and sprightly lad of six years, a great favorite of the
bereaved parents. This caused the inauguration to be postponed a week.
The political events of the Legislative session of 1865 were the election of
ex-Gov. Yates to the United States Senate, and the ratification of the 13th
amendment to the Constitution of the United States, abolishing slavery. This
session also signalized itself by repealing the notorious “black laws,” part of
which, although a dead letter, had held their place upon the statute books since
1819. Also, laws requiring the registration of voters, and establishing a State
Board of Equalization, were passed by this Legislature. But the same body
evinced that it was corruptly influenced by a mercenary lobby, as it adopted
some bad legislation, over the Governor’s veto, notably an amendment to a
charter for a Chicago horse railway, granted in 1859 for 25 years, and now
sought to be extended 99 years. As this measure was promptly passed over his
veto by both branches of the Legislature, he deemed it useless further to
attempt to check their headlong career. At this session no law of a general
useful character or public interest was perfected, unless we count such the
turning over of the canal to Chicago to be deepened. The session of 1867 was
still more productive of private and special acts. Many omnibus bills were
proposed, and some passed. The contests over the location of the Industrial
College, the Capital, the Southern Penitentiary, and the canal enlargement and
Illinois River improvement, dominated everything else.
During the year 1872, it became evident that if the Republicans could re-elect
Mr. Oglesby to the office of Governor, they could also elect him to the United
States Senate, which they desired to do. Accordingly they re-nominated him for
the Executive chair, and placed upon the ticket with him for Lieutenant
Governor, John L. Beveridge, of Cook County. On the other side the Democrats put
into the field Gustavus Koerner for Governor and John C. Black for Lieutenant
Governor. The election gave the Republican ticket majorities ranging from 35,334
to 56,174,--the Democratic defection being caused mainly by their having an
old-time Whig and Abolitionist, Horace Greeley, on the national ticket for
President. According to the general understanding had beforehand, as soon as the
Legislature met it elected Gov. Oglesby to the United States Senate, whereupon
Mr. Beveridge became Governor. Senator Oglesby’s term expired March 4, 1879,
having served his party faithfully and exhibited an order of statesmanship
During the campaign of 1884 Mr. Oglesby was nominated for a “third term” as
Executive of the State of Illinois, against Carter H. Harrison, Mayor of
Chicago, nominated by the Democrats. Both gentlemen “stumped” the State, and
while the people elected a Legislature which was a tie on a joint ballot, as
between the two parties, they gave the jovial “Dick” Oglesby a majority of
15,018 for Governor, and he was inaugurated Jan. 30, 1885. The Legislature did
not fully organize until this date, on account of its equal division between the
two main parties and the consequent desperate tactics of each party to checkmate
the latter in the organization of the House.
Gov. Oglesby is a fine-appearing, affable man, with regular, well defined
features and rotund face. In stature he is a little above medium height, of a
large frame and somewhat fleshy. His physical appearance is striking and
prepossessing, while his straight-out, not to say bluff, manner and speech are
well calculated favorably to impress the average masses. Ardent in feeling and
strongly committed to the policies of his party, he intensifies Republicanism
among Republicans, while at the same time his jovial and liberal manner prevents
those of the opposite party from hating him.
He is quite an effective stump orator. With vehement, passionate and scornful
tone and gestures, tremendous physical power, which in speaking he exercises to
the utmost; with frequent descents to the grotesque; and with abundant homely
comparisons or frontier figures, expressed in the broadest vernacular and
enforced with stentorian emphasis, he delights a promiscuous audience beyond
Source: Portrait and Biographical Album of
Whiteside Co., Ill; Chicago: M. A. Leeson & Co., 1887, pages 163-164
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