Conflict Period:
Mexican-American War 1
25 Jul 1824 1
Oldham County, KY 1
24 Apr 1899 1
Elkhart, IL 1

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Personal Details

Full Name:
Richard James Oglesby 1
Full Name:
Richard Oglesby 2
25 Jul 1824 1
Oldham County, KY 1
24 Apr 1899 1
Elkhart, IL 1

Mexican-American War 1

Civil War (Union) 2

Army 2
Major General 1
I 2
Discharge Rank:
Muscn 2
Enlistment Rank:
Pvt 2
Military Unit:
150th Infantry 2
Illinois 2

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  1. Contributed by bruceyrock632
  2. Civil War Service Index - Union - Illinois [See image]


Richard James Oglesby was a statesman and three-time governor of Illinois who also served as a Union General during the Civil War.  He is best known for his successful branding of candidate Abraham Lincoln as the “rail-splitter” in the pivotal presidential campaign of 1860.

Born on July 25th, 1824 in Oldham County, Kentucky, Oglesby later moved to Decatur, Illinois to live with relatives after cholera took the lives of his mother and father. 

Oglesby met fellow Kentucky transplant Abraham Lincoln in 1840 and the two became lifelong friends and political allies. Oglesby’s life would continue to be landmarked by historic personas and events as he fought in the battles of Cerro Gordo and Vera Cruz during the Mexican War and mined a small fortune in the 1849 gold rush.

Oglesby was elected to the Illinois senate in 1860 and, in that same year, effectively orchestrated Lincoln’s presidential campaign by boosting Lincoln as the candidate of choice for the common man. Oglesby coined the slogan “Abraham Lincoln-The Rail Splitter Candidate” at the Illinois State Republican Convention and this popular image of Lincoln as a man of free labor and friend of the people defined Lincoln long after his election.

As outrage over Lincoln’s election spurred Southern secession and then war, Oglesby resigned his senate seat to lead the 8th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Known fondly as “Uncle Dick” by his men, Oglesby fought heroically in the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February of 1862. Capturing the forts opened up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers to Union control and ensured that Kentucky would remain in the Union. 

Soon after Forts Henry and Donelson, Oglesby was promoted to brigadier general. He led a brigade during the Siege of Corinth in 1862 and was severely wounded at the Battle of Corinth that October. Soon after Corinth, Oglesby was promoted to major general for his distinguished military service. 

Oglesby convalesced and returned to duty in the spring of 1863.  In 1864, he resigned his commission and ran for governor of Illinois at President Lincoln's request.  He surpassed rival Congressman James Robinson by a wide margin.  

While governor, Oglesby corresponded and frequently met with President Lincoln. On April 14th, 1865, Oglesby spent the afternoon with Lincoln and declined Lincoln’s invitation to accompany him to Ford’s Theater. Later that evening, Oglesby was called back to the President’s side at the Peterson House, where, in the early hours of April 15th, Oglesby witnessed the death of an American president and his good friend.  

In the years following Lincoln’s death, Oglesby presided over the National Lincoln Monument Association and, along with President Grant, gave an opening speech at the monument’s dedication in Springfield, Illinois in 1874.

Oglesby served three non-consecutive terms as governor of Illinois until 1884.  Ten years after retiring from public life, Oglesby was laid to rest in Elkhart, Illinois on April 24, 1899.

Illinois Governor Richard James Oglesby  
  • Office Dates:  Jan 16, 1865 - Jan 11, 1869 , Jan 13, 1873 - Jan 23, 1873 , Jan 30, 1885 - Jan 14, 1889
  • Resigned
  • Born:  Jul 25, 1824
  • Passed:  Apr 24, 1899
  • Birth State:  Kentucky
  • Party:  Republican
  • Family:  Married twice--Anna White, Emma Keys; seven children
  • School(s):  Louisville Law School
  • National Office(s) Served:  Senator
  • Military Service:  Army

RICHARD JAMES OGLESBY, Illinois' 14th, 16th, and 20th governor was born in Floydsburg, Kentucky, on July 25, 1824. After being orphaned at an early age, Oglesby moved with his uncle to Decatur, Illinois. His early education was limited and attained in the common schools of Illinois. He graduated from the Louisville Law School in 1848, was admitted to the bar in 1854, and established a law career in Sullivan, Illinois. Oglesby volunteered during the Mexican War, serving as first lieutenant of Company C, Fourth Illinois Infantry, and commanding troops in the Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo battles. During the Civil War, he served as colonel of the Eighth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, was wounded in the battle of Corinth, and rose to the rank of major general when he was discharged in May 1864. Oglesby entered politics in 1860, as a one-term member of the Illinois State Senate. He won election as Illinois governor on November 8, 1864, and was sworn into office on January 16, 1865. During his first term, a state board of equalization was instituted; the 13th and 14th Amendments were sanctioned; the Southern Illinois Penitentiary was built; the "black laws" were annulled; and a school for the retarded and an orphaned children's home were created. After finishing out his first gubernatorial term on January 11, 1869, Oglesby returned to the private sector, reestablishing his law career. He elected to a second term as governor on November 5, 1872, and was sworn into office on January 13, 1873. However, 10 days after his inauguration, he resigned from the governorship, to take a seat in the U.S. Senate. He served in the senate from March 4, 1873, to March 3, 1879. Oglesby was elected to a third term as Illinois governor on November 4, 1884. During his final term as governor, a juvenile delinquents' home and a home for sailors and soldiers were founded; several different pension funds were initiated; the citizens' election bill was enacted; and a revenue commission was established. He retired from politics after finishing his term on January 14, 1889. Governor Richard J. Oglesby died on April 24, 1899, and was buried in the Elkhart Cemetery.

Chicago Daily Tribune, 25 Apr 1899, Tue, Page 2

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