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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Morrow's Major James D. Wallace

Dallas Bogan on 4 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

This story is about James D. Wallace taken from the pages of The Western Star. It was written by Josiah Morrow. It is more or less a human interest story about one of the recruiters of the Civil War.
"An interesting and well-written newspaper sketch of Major Wallace printed soon after his death and preserved in my scrap-book gives the only account I have seen of his eventful early life. The writer's name is not given; he seems to have been well acquainted with Wallace and probably got the story of his youth from his own lips piecemeal in conversations at various times."
"Few men have had as venturesome and wandering early life as the first lawyer at Morrow, Ohio. Tho born in Ireland and always called an Irishman, he was not Irish in blood. His father was a Scotch Colonel of an English Regiment; his mother of an English family named Dudley. James Dudley Wallace was born in Dublin, December 9, 1823, and was reared in that city. He grew up with many characteristics of the Irish race--quick, keen-witted, daring and reckless. He seems to have had a fair English education, but he was probably not studious and when he was fifteen ran away from home and worked his way as a cabin-boy to Hamburg. By working at odd jobs he wandered over Germany and Holland. He was also in Spain, but the extent of his wanderings in Europe is not known."
"In 1840, when seventeen, he left Holland and worked his way to America, landing in New Orleans. He had never learned a trade and he began to work as a day-laborer, turning his cand to anything by which he could make a living and went up the Mississippi Valley as far north as Wisconsin where he was engaged for a time as a lumberman, cutting and rafting logs. In much the same way he went down the Mississippi, stopping at various towns and when the Mexican war broke out he was at St. Louis. He volunteered as a private and was in one of the first regiments sent to Mexico. He was a brave soldier and twice wounded, once in the chin and once in the leg. It is said he was not obedient to the army rules and that this kept him from promotion and he was a private when he received an honorable discharge."
"Leaving Mexico, he was for a time at San Antonio, Texas, and then worked his way to Cincinnati and thence up the Little Miami to the vicinity of the new town of Morrow, which became his first fixed place of residence since he left his boyhood home in Ireland, and here he lived until his death. For a time he was a hired hand on the farm of Jason Darrow, but became known as a ditch digger. He was employed in digging a number of ditches and among them one at the Old Whitacre Mills. In the town of Morrow he dug wells, cisterns and cellars and sometimes carried hod. He had a good reputation as an honest and faithful workman and contractors were ever ready to pay him good wages."
"All accounts agree that at this time he was rather tough; he was hot-headed and got into troubles but he was not a ruffian; he drank but he was not a drunkard. Nothing in his mode of life was calculated to arouse a love of study and when he was twenty-five no one would have thought it possible that this Irish ditch digger would become a successful lawyer."
"The old-time debating societies first aroused his intellectual activities. He attended them and began to take part in the debates. His fine voice with something of the Irish brogue, his ready wit and native mental powers made him known as a good speaker and he was called the young Irish orator. An incident at a debate in the old Morrow school house changed the course of his life. The subject was the ten-hour labor day which Wallace advocated. David Hicks on the other side said something which angered the fiery Irishman. Hot words ensued and the two men went outside where their difference was ended by Wallace hitting his opponent on the head with a brick, nearly killing him. Wallace was arrested for assault with intent to kill, bound over to the grand jury. When the trial came on he had no money to pay a lawyer and asserted his right to conduct his own case in court. Without any knowledge he made such a speech that the jury promptly acquitted him. Gov. Corwin and Milton Williams warmly congratulated him on his speech, advised him to study law by all means and offered to assist him in his studies. This aroused his ambition and he prepared himself for the bar by studying law at night after working at common labor in the day time. He also conducted cases in justices' courts before his admission to the bar. He was admitted to practice in the higher courts at Columbus, January 5, 1852."
"He established his office at Morrow and was the first lawyer in that town. He already had a reputation for shrewdness and ability in conducting cases before justices of the peace. The cases tried in these lower courts were far more numerous then than now and probably no lawyer of Warren County ever tried so many cases before justices of the peace as J.D. Wallace. His practice in the courts at Lebanon was also large and he was almost always engaged on one side or the other of the cases originating at Morrow and a large scope of country around it. Several officers of the L.M.R.R. lived at Morrow and Wallace was employed as attorney for the road and served in that capacity for many years and also for the Muskingum Valley road. It is said he was a railroad lawyer for twenty-five years."
"He was one of the first men in his county to enlist in the Civil War. He was one of the speakers at the first war meeting in Lebanon, April 16, 1861. He was captain of one of the first three companies raised in the county-Company A, 12th O.V.I. He was the first Captain in his regiment who was promoted to Major, but in less than a year after his enlistment he was stricken with the disease from which he never fully recovered. He was brought home and after a long illness resumed his practice, but a throat diseased permanently impaired his voice. His practice, however, was large and profitable."
"At this period one John Simpson kept a hotel in Morrow and with him lived Sallie Meeks. Wallace talked about the relations of these two as a disgrace to the town. One day as he was passing the hotel the woman asked him if he had made certain statements about her; he said he had and repeated them. Simpson then seized him into the hotel, threw him down and held him while the woman beat him with a stick of stovewood. He was in bed for months and his knee cap was dislocated. He sued Simpson for $10,000 damages and the jury awarded him the full amount asked for, something that juries seldom do. Simpson was worth about the amount of the judgment; he lost his hotel and left the town; he was afterward sentenced to the penitentiary in Michigan for shooting the Meeks woman."
"Tho Wallace had a good income he was prodigal in his expenditures and he never became a rich man. He continued to work for the support of his family when a confirmed invalid and it was necessary to employ an amanuensis to write his legal papers. His disease had been incurred in the army, but he refused to apply for a pension, saying "What became a pauper to be supported by the Government, I will die first."
"He was twice married; to Mary J. Whitacre in 1852 and Arminda Bowser in 1856. One child, Laura, wife of Paul Union, survived him. In politics he was a Republican until the Greeley campaign when he became a Democrat. He was not an office seeker but when a young lawyer was elected mayor of Morrow. His parents in Ireland were Protestants as to his own religious views he was reticent; those who knew best believed he died an agnostic. At his special request no minister took any part in his funeral services except Rev. A.S. Dudley, and he only as Chaplain of the G.A.R. Post. He lived 62 years and 4 months and died April 15, 1886."

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This page created 4 August 2004 and last updated 18 December, 2009
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