Biography of Major James M. Beardsley

The above named and beloved patriot was of that branch of the Beardsley family which trace their genealogy in America as far back as 1628. Major Beardsley was born October 30, 1833, at Ellington, Chautauqua County (near the reservation of the Six Nations), New York State; died at Rock Island, August 22, 1903. He came to his future home, this city, in the middle 50’s, while still in his teens, and, though young he was, his inordinate intellect, retentive mind and assiduity had enabled him to attain a thorough academic training.

Being admitted to the bar, Mr. Beardsley soon won the highest laurels as a counsellor, orator and diplomat. Being blessed with a giant’s physic, and endued with a mind that was marvelous for its strength and resourcefulness; being an advocate of the abolition of slavery, he soon became one of the most potential factors in the West, in both public and private affairs. He assisted in organizing the first Company of Volunteers in Rock Island-Company D, of the Thirteenth Illinois Infantry – which first served in State duty, and was mustered into three years’ service in the regular ranks May 24, 1861. He. was commissioned First Lieutenant of Company D. The Regiment to which he belonged became known as “Freemont’s Greyhounds.”

While acting as body guard to General Lyons, Major Beardsley was actively engaged in the stubbornly contested battle of William’s Creek. He was at the General’s side and carried him from the field when he fell, mortally wounded, and was promoted for gallantry in that engagement, August 10, 1861, being raised to the rank of Captain of Company D, Vice Captain Quincy McNeil, promoted to the rank of Major in the Second Cavalry. Later Major Beardsley’s Regiment became a part of General Sherman’s Army, known as the Fifteenth Army Corps. The bloody battles in which this contingent was involved is all to plainly recorded in history to need repetition here. Suffice to say that the roster of their engagements include those of Chickasaw Bayou, the Siege of Vicksburg, which cost them many lives and inconceivable sacrifices, the pursuit of Joe Johnston; the juncture with Grant at Chattanooga, a journey fraught with continual peril and incessant fighting, and which brought them under orders of General Osterhaus’ Division, a portion of General Hooker’s command.

At the Battle of Ringgold Gap, Mr. Beardsley’s left arm and legs were shattered; but he refused to leave his post until firing had ceased, and for his heroism on that occasion he was commissioned Major. After his recovery, he returned to the firing line in the Fifteenth Army Corps, and became Assistant Adjutant-General to General Osterhaus. There he remained until 1865, when he was mustered out, and the title of Colonel conferred upon him.

Major Beardsley was elected County Clerk; was reelected in 1869, and in 1873 began the practice of law. He served as Attorney-General in Illinois; was a practitioner before the United States Supreme Court; was one of the thirty-six men who were sent to New Orleans to represent the Republican party in the electoral college tangle. Among that number, known to history as the “visiting statesmen,” were John Sherman, James A. Garfield, and Judge Stanley Matthews of Ohio; M. S. Quay and W. D. Kelly of Pennsylvania; Lew Wallace and William Cumback of Indiana, and John A. Kasson of Iowa. To Major Beardsley and Judge Matthews was assigned the task of ascertaining fraud in the Louisiana election. He brought to pass the abrogation of the unit rule in Republican national conventions, thus defeating Grant for a third term; he served as Postmaster of Rock Island under President Hayes; in the 80’s he secured from the Texas Legislature the concession of 3,000,000 acres of land in exchange for a $1,500,000 State House; he was indefatigable in his efforts to further the development of the Arsenal and the building of the Hennepin Canal; he was a zealous worker in the Grand Army of the Republic and other societies, and was a gentleman of culture, polish and tact.

In the brief space herein alloted, no comprehensive picture of Major Beardsley can be drawn. His life was so active, so unlike any other; so hardened with incidents, any of which would require weeks to elucidate; so laden with responsibility and importance, so earnest, so marked by generosity and geniality, that it must suffice to merely add that he was a great man without realizing it; he was great because he could not help it-Stat magni nominis umbra.

October 20, 1862, Mr. Beardsley married Laurany C. E. Conet, a daughter of Joseph Conet, a pioneer of this county. The children of this union were Wyman I. Beardsley of Rock Island; Mrs. Harry G. Brooks, and Miss Amanda Beardsley A brother and a sister of the late Major also survive-Ezra Beardsley, of Pasadena, California; and Mrs. Philora Stephens, of Meadville, Pennsylvania.



Biographical Publishing Company. Portrait and Biographical Album of Rock Island County. Illinois; Chicago: Biographical Pub. Co.

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