About Richard James Oglesby, Maj. Gen. (USA), Gov., "Uncle Dick"
Richard James Oglesby (July 25, 1824 – April 24, 1899) was a U.S. soldier and political figure. He served in the Mexican-American War and was a major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He served Illinois in the legislature, including three terms as the 14th Governor, and then was a U.S. Senator. The town of Oglesby, Illinois is named in his honor.
Oglesby was born in Floydsburg, Oldham County, Kentucky. He was orphaned and moved to live with his uncle in Decatur, Illinois, in 1832, where he later worked as a farmhand, ropemaker, and carpenter.
With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, he enlisted as a 1st Lieutenant in Company C, 4th Illinois Infantry Regiment taking part in the battles of Veracruz and Cerro Gordo "where his regiment almost captured Mexican President General Santa Anna, but they had to settle for his cork leg, carriage and $20,000 in gold".
He might have participated in what may have been the first baseball game ever played outside the U.S., at the end of April of 1847, a few days after the Battle of Cerro Gordo, "with the wooden leg captured (by the Fourth Illinois regiment) from General Santa Anna".
He was mustered out of the volunteer service in May 1847.
He studied at Louisville Law School in 1848, but traveled to California for the gold rush in 1849, where he tried his hand at gold mining. After two years of traveling in Europe, he returned to Illinois in 1851, joined the Republican Party at its formation, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in 1858, and was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1860.
At the start of the Civil War, Oglesby was appointed colonel of the 8th Illinois Infantry regiment on April 25, 1861, and was soon given command of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, District of Cairo, Department of the Missouri, serving under the command of Ulysses S. Grant. He was a well liked commander known to his troops as "Uncle Dick". He commanded his brigade at the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and soon after was promoted to brigadier general (March 21, 1862). He commanded the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, Army of the Tennessee, during the Siege of Corinth. He was severely wounded in his chest and back at the Battle of Corinth in October 1862.
Oglesby was promoted to major general on November 29, and after a period of recovery, commanded the Left Wing of the XVI Corps, Army of the Tennessee, in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi from April to July 1863. He resigned his commission on May 26, 1864, to run for governor on the Republican ticket.
He was present in the room at the Petersen House when President Abraham Lincoln died April 15, 1865.
Oglesby was elected by a large majority and served as the Governor of Illinois between 1865 and 1869. During his tenure as governor, he advocated improving the quality of care of the mentally ill and for other groups of disabled citizens. He signed legislation expanding the State Hospital system from one campus to three. After his term ended, he practiced law until 1872, when he agreed to a scheme in which Oglesby ran again for governor, but turned the office over to the lieutenant governor immediately after inauguration in return for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He served as a Senator from 1873 until 1878. In 1884 he was reelected governor for a third time, becoming the first man in Illinois history to serve three times as governor. At the end of his third term as governor, he tried unsuccessfully to be reelected to his Senate seat. He spent his remaining years in retirement and died at his "Oglehurst" estate in Elkhart, Illinois. He is buried there in Elkhart Cemetery. There is a statue of Oglesby in Lincoln Park, Chicago.
His son, John G. Oglesby, was a two time Lieutenant Governor of Illinois.