Major General Richard J. Oglesby

8th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

Richard J. Oglesby was born July 25, 1824 at Oldham County, Kentucky. He settled in Illinois in 1836 and it would be his home state for the rest of his life.

Oglesby studied law and he was admitted to the bar in November of 1845. The first of his time spent in military service soon came about with the War with Mexico. In 1846, Oglesby served with a first lieutenant's commission in Company C of the 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

After the war, Oglesby returned to his law practice settling in Decatur, but he was stricken with gold fever like so many others and struck out for the California where he worked in the gold mines seeking his fortune.

In 1851 he returned to Illinois, his law practice and politics after his treasure-seeking days. But greater aspirations called and he unsuccessfully sought a congressional seat in 1858. A determined Oglesby, now a Republican, was elected to the state senate in 1860. Talk of war resumed across the nation, this time between the states, between North and South.

Typical of many volunteer soldier/politicians of the time, Oglesby left his state senate seat to enter into volunteer service with the state of Illinois. He received a colonel's commission and selected to lead the 8th Illinois Volunteer Infantry (so named for the regiment was raised from the 8th congressional district; and in honor of the six regiments which fought during the War with Mexico, numbering started with seven.)

After the Lincoln administration realized that 90 days of service would not translate into the defeat of the Southern Confederacy, regiments such as the 8th Illinois Volunteer Infantry were mustered into federal service for three years.

At the junction of mighty rivers, the city of Cairo at the southernmost tip of Illinois was seen as a vital position to both sides. With Kentucky and Missouri as neighbors, Gov. Richard Yates rushed troops to the spot and soon fortifications and camps of instruction were in place. Oglesby was one of the first commanders on the scene and was himself relieved by a former Regular Army officer now leading volunteer forces, Ulysses Simpson Grant.

Grant placed Oglesby in charge of the post at Bird's Point, Mo., just across the Mississippi River from Cairo. With fortifications and camps for ever-increasing numbers of troops, this post proved important in maintaining a federal presence on the Missouri side of the river.

Still colonel of the 8th Ill., Oglesby was frequently placed in command of other volunteer regiments which participated in expeditions into Missouri in search of Confederate forces. One of these forays involved some 2,500 men marching from Commerce, Mo., across swampy areas to the Stoddard County community of Bloomfield.

Oglesby was given command of a brigade and commanded Union troops, 1st Brigade of the 1st Division as Grant led them on the Fort Henry and Fort Donelson campaign.
During a Confederate attempt to break through Union lines at Fort Donelson, Oglesby's brigade, in particular his old regiment, the 8th Ill., received a major portion of the brunt of the Rebel attack in mid-February 1862. Suffering more than 200 casualties, the Illinois regiment held until ammunition was exhausted before giving up their place in the line.

In March of 1862, Oglesby received his promotion to brigadier general of volunteers and commanded Northern troops as they moved into Tennessee. He was not on the field, however, when the Rebels attacked Union forces encamped at Pittsburg Landing, Tenn. Rushing home after receiving a report his wife was ill, Oglesby missed what was called the Battle of Shiloh.

He returned shortly thereafter and was given command of the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division during efforts to push the Confederates out of Corinth, Miss. in early October.

It was during this battle that he was severely wounded by an enemy bullet. (The opposing enemy troops, Missouri Confederates, seeing Oglesby fall, believed that they had killed him.)

The injured officer was taken into the city of Corinth and received treatment from the 8th Regt. former surgeon. His wound was so severe that the medical officer didn't dare move him until the proximity of the fighting to the building made it absolutely necessary. Oglesby passed through sixth months of intense pain and suffering as he recovered from his wound. The bullet was never removed and stayed with him until his dying day.

In March of 1863, 'Uncle Dick' Oglesby was promoted to major general of volunteers to rank from the preceding November and commanded a division in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi. At times, his responsibility included the left wing of the 16th Corps.

Still bothered by his old wound, Oglesby returned to active duty in April of 1863 but felt compelled to hand in his resignation in July. It was not accepted, however, and he requested, and was granted, a leave of absence to return home to Illinois.

With an impending election in the fall that the future of the Lincoln administration depended upon, Oglesby resigned his commission in May of 1864 and ran for governor of Illinois on the Republican ticket. He won the election handily and succeeded Gov. Yates in January of 1865, ensuring Republican control of Illinois.

A strong Republican ally, Oglesby journeyed to Washington and met with President Lincoln on the day of his death.

Oglesby watched over the post-war period of his state until the term of office expired in 1869. The former soldier was also active in the Grand Army of the Republic and veteran affairs.

Not finished with public office, Oglesby returned to the governor's mansion in 1872 when he was elected by a majority of 40,000 plus votes. However, he resigned the gubernatorial position to take a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Declining to seek re-election in 1879, Oglesby was again elected governor of Illinois in 1884, becoming the first man in the history of the state to be elected governor three times.

He attempted to return to the U.S. Senate in 1891 but was defeated. Now 67, Oglesby contented himself to spending time with his family and retired to his home, Oglehurst, at Elkhart, Ill.

He died on April 24, 1899 and was buried at the Elkhart Cemetery."

Submitted by John Pillers

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