Capt. James Sowry

Taken from the book
"A Genealogical and Biographical Record of Miami County, Ohio"
Compendium of National Biography.
Published by The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago in 1900.

Contributed by Don Martin, Chillicothe, Ohio

 


James Sowry, c. 1895
Capt. Sowry is wearing a GAR uniform,
Mexican War Campaign Badge, and GAR medal.

 

The following account, based on a July 21, 1895, Cincinnati Tribune article, tells about the life of my Great, Great, Great Grandfather, James Edward Sowry. (Captain, Company E, 48th Regiment OVI) He passed away on February 25, 1905, aged 85 years. He is buried in the Riverside Cemetary, West Milton, Ohio.
                        - Don Martin -

The deeds of bravery upon the fields of battle have been the theme of story and of song since the earliest ages, and while memory remains to the American people they will ever hold in grateful remembrance the "boys in blue" who fought for preservation of the Union when secession attempted its destruction.

In early life a soldier in the English army, Captain Sowry, afterward served with the American forces in the Mexican war, and in the Civil War joined the Union troops, winning the title by which he was ever afterward known. He was born in Yorkshire, England on the 31st of March, 1820. The following record of his life is largely taken from the Cincinnati Tribune, which was published July 21, 1895. "His parents belonged to that rugged race of Britons, who for more than two hundred years have been noted for their independence, native enterprise and loyalty to the Crown, and whose sons for that period of time have composed the flower of the English army.

His Father, being a woolen manufacturer, the son early in life was inducted into the same vocation, for which his robust health and ingenuity rendered him well qualified. Of this work, almost from the beginning, he evinced a knowledge much in advance of his years, and at once grasped the requirements of the situation so that in a few months' time he had mastered all the mechanical intricacies and was competent to take charge of the largest factories - this, too before he was eighteen years of age. It was during such service that he developed that accurate perception of facts, determination of purpose, and versatility of talent which have characterized all his subsequent career.

At a very early age he also developed a desire and the incipient qualities for a military life, and so striking were the evidences of this bent of his mind that it attracted the attention of the home military and eventually secured from them a consideration that enabled him to enlist in the regular army before he was legally eligible to such a place.

While yet under the age of eighteen and before he had attained his full stature, the young Englishman enlisted in the Seventh Regiment, English Grenadiers, a body of troops which was composed of the tallest men in the Queen's dominion, many of them standing six feet and from one to four inches. On account of his deficient height he was compelled to occupy a place in the rear ranks. Immediately after his enlistment he was sent to Ireland for the regulation six months' discipline, and such was the knowledge he had already acquired of military tactics that he was appointed drill corporal and served as such during the entire term.

While undergoing discipline in Ireland his regiment was ordered to Gibraltar to await further orders to proceed to China, and as soon as he was released he joined it and took up his line of duty. The trouble with China having been adjusted in the meantime, the regiment was held at Gibraltar. There being no active duty on the lonely rock, the young soldier found the life there too monotonous for his ardent nature. He permitted his Father to purchase his discharge, and, after a service of two years and seven days, he returned to England to engage again in manufacturing. He remained in the woolen mills about three years, or until November 1844, when he severed his allegiance to the British Crown and sailed for "the land of the free and the home of the brave".

Soon after landing in New York he pushed his way westward, and in March, 1845, found himself in the then little city of Dayton, Ohio. He had been called there by Messrs. Beckle & Giddings, two gentlemen of the place, who were on the point of establishing a woolen mill. They had erected the building and purchased the machinery, but were not sufficiently skilled to adjust the same and place it in running order. The English manufacturer and soldier soon had the mill in first class condition, and accepted the position of superintendent of the plant. He remained in that position until another important era dawned in his life and he entered upon his second experience as a soldier.

War with Mexico had been declared and troops were called for. No sooner had the word reached Mr. Sowry than his whole being was fired with military ardor and he declared he would enlist at the very first opportunity. Lutheran Giddings, one of his employers, at once raised a company and offered its services to the government. The service was accepted and himself commissioned captain. As Company B it was assigned to the First Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. As the reader readily conjectured, young Sowry was the first to enlist. The Regiment was ordered to New Orleans and thence to Brazos, Santiago. Here it went into camp, and as nearly all the men were without experience in military duties it was an absolute necessity that they be drilled before going into battle.

Here again the talent of our subject was called into active use. His military experience had become known to the officers of the regiment and he was appointed drillmaster. How well he discharged the duties of that function is a matter of history. His fame as a tactician spread throughout the army, and General Taylor himself spoke of his ability in complimentary terms. It would occupy far too much space to follow the career of Captain Sowry through this war. His first active service was at Monterey, and the writer has written evidence of his soldierly qualities during that conflict and of his coolness and bravery under fire. "No Man," recites that evidence, "whether private or officer, did himself more credit".

Soon after the siege of Monterey the brave English-American was stricken with the Mexican fever and was compelled to retire from active duty. One who was his constant companion in his sickness leaves on record a statement that when the regiment left him, although scarcely able to stand alone, he begged, implored and finally prayed that he be permitted to accompany it. The fever clung to him with stubborn pertinacity for many weeks and disqualified him for any but the lightest duties; but there was no time, says his companion, that he would not eagerly have shouldered a musket and joined the regiment had he been permitted. He did not entirely recover his health during the remainder of his stay in the land of the Aztecs, but every duty that was in his power to discharge in his debilitated condition received the promptness and most cheerful attention. In every act performed, whether on the field, in the camp or on the picket line - whether voluntary or at the order of his commanding officers - there were exhibited a military pride, a cheerfulness and a patriotic devotion that won for him the admiration of both officers and privates.

He was mustered out with honor and returned to his home to commence anew the battle of life in a private capacity. For the third time he took up the vocation of his boyhood. He went to West Milton in 1850, and has made this place his home to the present time. He engaged in a number of manufacturing enterprises and always succeeded in his ventures. He was enterprising and industrious and carefully prosecuted his labors until again he engaged in military service.

When the cannon at Fort Sumter sounded the first note of the rebellion the loyal heart of Captain Sowry was stirred to its profoundest depths. A feeling was awakened which he had never before experienced in military life. He had joined the English army because of his admiration of the "art of war", and studied military tactics as an art. Although knowing well what was likely to come in such a life, and feeling fully qualified and prepared for any emergency connected therewith he had seen some of the realities which test the courage of a soldier during the first two years and a half of his experience in the profession of arms. When he entered the American army his intuition warned him that the field of Mexico would not be as barren of results as the rock of Gibraltar and that he would find opportunity of passing from what had thus far been a theory into a practical reality.

He was not disappointed in his anticipations. He was permitted to witness and participate in a life and death struggle between two nations. But that was a war of conquest, and, although many lives were sacrificed, it was of short duration. Now, however, there was upon the country a struggle such as might cause the stoutest heart to quail. It was to be a war of supremacy and a fratricidal war, the most stubborn and relentless of contests. For the second time Captain Sowry found an opportunity to serve his adopted country. He lost no time in seeking a place where his services could be available and where he could enroll himself at the earliest possible moment. He thought not of official position, as was the case with so many, and made no effort whatever to secure such a place.

He offered himself to his country as he was, ready for any capacity in which it was deemed proper to place him, and on the 10th of October 1861, he enlisted in Company E, Forty-eighth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was soon after elected Second Lieutenant, and at the Battle of Shiloh was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant. The two-days fight at Shiloh, or Pittsburgh Landing, being varied in character, afforded Captain Sowry an excellent opportunity to display his military skill. At the head of his company he was in the thickest of the fight, watching every movement of the enemy and encouraging his command. At this time he was regarded as a company commander and gladly hailed as such all along the line. It was here that he won his first distinction from the superior officers of the regiment and from which time he enjoyed their entire confidence until the close of the war. One instance of his watchfulness, his keen perception and coolness in emergencies occurring here, must not be omitted.

During the heavy fog which enveloped the field the Captain discovered that all the regiments except his own had fallen back, leaving the Forty-eighth alone. He discovered also that the enemy was making every effort to flank the regiment and in a few minutes would surround them. He had hastened to Colonel Sullivan, who had not yet become aware of the situation, and, after saluting him, made known his errand as follows: "Colonel Sullivan, the troops have fallen back on the right and left, leaving us alone. With all courtesy I advise you to fall back or in a few minutes we will be surrounded and captured." The Colonel at this moment caught sight of the enemy moving rapidly toward them, and he gave his orders to fall back at "double quick". As soon as the regiment had gained a safe position the colonel approached Captain Sowry and thus addressed him: "Lieutenant Sowry, you are a brave man, and you have this day saved the regiment, and also my life. Receive my grateful thanks." A few days subsequently our hero received his commission as Captain of Company E, Forty-eighth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

The history of the army of the Cumberland includes his history. He was in all the battles in which his division was engaged, besides many skirmishes not recorded in history. He was at the capture of Corinth, the first attack on Vicksburg, the second battle of Corinth and Arkansas Post. After the last battle, his division, on February 13, 1863, was ordered into camp on the Mississippi. His first service was at Milliken's Bend. Then followed the battles of Magnolia Hills, Raymond, Champion Hills and Black River Bridge, and the Siege of Vicksburg. At the latter place he again exhibited all the qualities of a veteran soldier and a brave, considerate officer. After the Battle of Vicksburg, Captain Sowry's command was transferred to the Gulf Department and ordered to Matagorda Bay. After remaining two months it returned to New Orleans and thence went up Red River. At Sabine Cross Roads his regiment was captured and sent to Camp Tyler. Here for six months and fifteen days the regiment was held in an open field, without shelter and very little food. Again the spirit of a true soldier shone forth from the brave and generous Captain. Daily he mingled with his men, counseling patience, inventing amusements and giving them all the encouragement the dreary situation would afford. On the 3d of October, 1864, he, with his men, was paroled, sent back to New Orleans and exchanged.

An incident happened when they were captured that has no parallel in the history of the war. The color-bearer, when he saw there was no chances of escape, took the flag from the staff and hid it in his haversack, sprinkling meal he received as rations on top of it and at the earliest opportunity brought the flag to the captain. They buried it for a time, but being fearful it would mould and spoil they dug it up and after ripping the lining in the coat of Captain Gunsaulis, he being the only one who had a coat, Captain Sowry raveled his stockings in order to secure thread to sew it in. It was carried in this way until their exchange and thus the flag was saved.

Thus ended the active service of the Captain. He had never received or asked for a furlough until after his exchange. He then went home for a few days, but returned to the regiment, which in the meantime had been consolidated with the Eighty-third Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He remained until near the close of the war, and was mustered out January 18, 1865.

At three different times during his service he could have been promoted, but he steadily refused any such honor. One reason he gave for not accepting a higher position is that he promised his men, when they veteranized February 28, 1864, that he would remain their Captain to the end. Another reason assigned is his modest and retiring nature. Although brave almost to recklessness, he is as modest and unassuming as a school girl. Again, not having more than a limited education, he did not feel himself a proper associate of educated officers; but perhaps no officer was ever more respected by those under his command; and even at this date, thirty-five years after the war, the members of his company residing here have great veneration for him.

On returning to his home Captain Sowry worked in the woolen mills at West Milton, in the capacity of Superintendent, for three years. He then operated a mill on his own account for some time and afterward wove carpets in his own home, continuing his active connection with business affairs until 1898, when he retired to private life, having in the meantime acquired a comfortable competence. He now owns a farm of forty acres, and his wife is also the owner of a forty acre farm. He also has other capital, and as the result of his former labors is now able to enjoy all the comforts of life.

On the 1st of August 1851, Captain Sowry was united in marriage to Mrs. Esther Hoover, and they have two children: James E. who rents and operates his Father's farm, and Thomas a resident of West Milton. In his political views Captain Sowry has been a stanch and inflexible adherent of Republican party since its organization and did all in his power to promote its growth and insure its success. He became one of the charter members of Duncan Post, No. 477, GAR of West Milton and has been honored with the office of Commander. He has now reached the advanced age of 80 years. His record covers a long period, but at all times his life has been honorable and straightforward commanding the respect and confidence of those with whom he has been brought in contact. He is universally respected - by his neighbors and fellow citizens, and long after he passed the 70th anniversary of his birth he was an important factor in all public demonstrations of a military character, and when processions form the feature of the day he is invariably chosen to take command."

 

James Sowry's Captain's Commission

Capt. Sowry reviews the troops c. 1902

 

Obituary for Capt. Sowry, West Milton Record, March 1905

 

 

 

 

 

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