The subject of this sketch was the youngest of a family of three children, all of whom were sons. In 1835, when he was three years of age, his father moved with the family to Illinois, and entered 240 acres of land four miles north of Jerseyville, now in Jersey, but then in Greene county. The next spring he died, leaving Mr. Cowen’s mother in charge of the family. The educational advantages which Mr. Cowen enjoyed were very limited. The first school he attended was at the stone schoolhouse at Otterville, in Jersey county. The nearest school was five miles distant, and about three months’ schooling, every other winter, was all the instruction he received until he was fourteen. Most of his education he has obtained since he has grown to manhood. His mother had kept possession of the land which her husband entered, and it was fenced and put under cultivation by her children. In March, 1855, Mr.Cowen married Amanda Bartlett, a native of Maine. After his marriage he bought out the interest of his brothers in the homestead, and was farming till the fall of 1856. He moved to Virden in the spring of 1858, and embarked in the mercantile business at first in partnership with his brother.In the second year of the war of the rebellion he enlisted in the army. He was mustered into the United States service September 4, 1862, as captain of Comp. G, 122d Illinois regiment. He served in Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama. The regiment was raised in Macoupin township and its history is familiar to the people. On the 20th of December, 1862, while on detached service, acting as provost marshal at Trenton, Tennessee, he was captured by the Confederate general Forrest. He was exchanged in March 1863, rejoined his regiment, and afterward took part in the battles of Tupelo, Mississippi, July 14, 1864; Nashville, December 15 and 16, 1864, and Fort Blakley, on Mobile bay, April 3-9, 1865, the last battle of any moment of the war. He was discharged at Mobile, Ala., and was mustered out at Springfield, August, 1865. Mr. G. Evans, now a resident of California, who had been his partner in the mercantile business at Virden while Capt. Cowen was absent in the army, had disposed of the store in 1864; and on Mr. Cowen’s return he resolved of fitting himself for the legal profession. He was admitted to the bar April 6, 1867.
As a lawyer he has gained a leading position among the members of the Macoupin county bar. He has endeavored to practice his profession the most honorable and legitimate manner, and to follow a course calculated to advance the best interests of his clients, believing that there is no reason why a lawyer, to be successful, should stoop to any act which would bring the slightest stain on the personal honesty and integrity of a gentleman. He was raised as on old line Whig, and taught to revere Henry Clay as the greatest of American statesmen. Although he was brought up chiefly among people pro-slavery in their sympathies, he became an early member of the republican party, and cast his first vote for presidency. He has acted with the republican party, and cast his first vote for president in 1856, for Gen. Fremont, the first republican candidate for the presidency. He has acted with the republican party ever since on all questions of national politics. While Capt. Cowen is in every sense of the word a self-made man, he attributes whatever of success he has acquired in his profession and as a business man to the example and teaching of his mother during the early years of his life. His opportunities in early life were few, and he has succeeded by his own native energy and resolution As an officer in the army his record is clear from any stain; his professional abilities have made for him an honorable place in his profession, and as a citizen his personal conduct has been such as to command respect of the community.