Early Evansville Portraits And Biographies
From History of Vanderburgh County, Indiana
by Brant & Fuller

James M. Shackelford

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GEN. JAMES M. SHACKELFORD has achieved eminence as citizen, lawyer, statesman, and soldier. He was born near Danville, Lincoln County, Ky., July 7, 1827, his ancestors being among the most illustrious citizens of that state. His mental training was entrusted to the best instructors. His mind early exhibited superior strength.

At the age of Twenty those manly characteristics which have marked his entire career were fully developed. The war with Mexico was then being waged, and because of his peculiar talents he was offered and accepted a Lieutenant's commission in the Fourth Kentucky Infantry, under Col. John S. Williams. The Fourth Kentucky infantry did not reach the seat of hostilities until after the decisive battles of the war had been fought, but the soldierly conduct of Lieutenant Shackelford gave his name a creditable place in the history of that period.

In July, 1848, he returned with his regiment to Kentucky. Choosing the legal profession for his field of effort, he entered the office of Judge Cook, a well-known lawyer of Madisonville, Ky., and began his studies. Upon his admission to practice in 1851, a partnership was formed with his old preceptor. A few days thereafter the young lawyer was retained to defend a prisoner charged with murder The evidence against the accused was very strong, and the prosecution was conducted by able and experienced lawyers. Young Shackelford's case was well prepared and ably managed. His argument was clear, direct, convincing, and because of the true eloquence of his utterances, and the breadth of learning displayed, he achieved a triumph. Upon the conclusion of his argument the judge and bar congratulated the young man upon his success. From that time he rose rapidly, and soon became an honored and successful practitioner. For a time he figured in the major part of the important litigation in southwestern Kentucky, and many of his cases were among the most noted in the state.

His career as a lawyer was interrupted by the call to arms in 1861. Eager to aid his country in its hour of peril, he offered his services, and was authorized by Pres. Lincoln to raise a regiment for the Union Army. The regiment was recruited with difficulty, most of his neighbors being in sympathy with the confederacy. At length the regiment was designated as the Twenty-Fifth Kentucky infantry, was mustered in, with Col. Shackelford in command, and was placed in Gen. Cruft's brigade, Callender's division.

The division participated in the engagement at Fort Donelson, where Col. Shackelford performed a gallant part. The exposure incident to the service seriously impaired his health, and upon the advice of the surgeons he tendered his resignation, which was accepted with regret by those who knew his worth as a soldier. His health being improved, he went to Pittsburg Landing and witnessed the fight at that place. Gen. Buell strongly recommended him for a command. He was authorized to recruit a regiment of cavalry, and within two weeks after receiving orders raised over 1,600 men, from among whom the Eighth Kentucky cavalry was enlisted.

At Henderson, Ky., before muster-in, the regiment was engaged with the guerillas, and in the skirmish Col. Shackelford was seriously wounded in the foot. He was removed to hospital but returned to his command before he had completely recovered. His command had frequent encounters with the guerillas and in the summer of 1863 Col. Shackelford was nominated by the president and confirmed by the senate as Brigadier-General, assigned to the First Brigade, Second Division, Twenty-Third Army Corps, and given the task of capturing the famous guerilla John Morgan. His successful accomplishment of this difficult task is related in the military chapter of this work. The pursuit of the noted raider was characterized by gallantry and seldom equaled powers of endurance. The persistent valor displayed by the general in command as well as by the subordinate officers and men was remarkable, and the achievements of that campaign placed the name of Gen. Shackelford upon the roll of American heroes.

Soon after Morgan's capture the general engaged in the East Tennessee campaign, and was daiefly instrumental in causing the surrender of the rebel, Gen. Frazier, at Cumberland Gap. For three months he was fighting in the valleys of Virginia and Tennessee. He was then placed in command of an army corps composed of sixteen regiments of cavalry, numbering over 15,000 soldiers. While in command of this force Gen. Shackelford rendered efficient and gallant service. Brave to the verge of rashness, always capable of making the best disposition of his forces, a good disciplinarian, yet much beloved by his men for his magnanimous impulses, and strictly conscientious, he manifested rare ability and proved himself under all circumstances a true soldier.

In the latter part of 1863 for domestic reasons Gen. Shackelford resigned and returned to his home in Kentucky. He came to Evansville in 1864, resumed the practice of law, and at once took a prominent place among the foremost attorneys of the Evansville bar. His legal career has been brilliant and his reputation as an able and erudite lawyer extends throughout the state. His characteristics are accuracy in the preparation of cases, adroitness in their management, skill in the examination of witnesses, fluency and power in speech, and a great familiarity with every branch of the law.

Politically he has been a staunch republican. To his able and eloquent discussion of national questions and the power of his personal influence, may be attributed much of his party's success. In 1880 he was elected as a presidential elector for the state at large. He was made president of the electoral college, and was unanimously chosen by the college to carry its vote to Washington.

In 1881, his appointment as minister to Mexico, was urged by the republicans of the state, and would doubtless have been made had not the untimely death of Pres. Garfield prevented it. Prominent republicans, the state electors and many members of the legislature united in urging his appointment. The Evansville Courier, though not his political friend, said of him: "No man in the state, no man in the nation has been a more consistent or a more positive republican. No republican orator has used gloves as little as he in dealing blows at the democratic party. It is the nature of the man to be true as steel to his convictions and to carry them before the eyes of all men as buckler and shield. Loyal to the right, as he understands the right, his splendid courage compels the respect and admiration of those, who differ with him - chiefly of his opponents, it would seem - for his modesty, when his personal interests are at stake, exceeds his bravery, and notwithstanding the great services he has rendered his party, he has never sought nor held office. He is a gentleman of rare social gifts and is well versed in the graces of life. Few men in Indiana are more widely endowed intellectually. He is a fine lawyer, and as an advocate has no superior at the Indiana bar. He is studious, energetic. and industrious in his habits, and in temperament possesses that kind of amiability which blends prudence with high resolve."

His name was afterward prominently mentioned in connection with the gubernatorial nomination, but he was not an aspirant for that honor. In 1888 he was again elected presidential elector for the state at large, and was unanimously chosen president of the electoral college. In recognition of his high standing as a citizen, his eminent qualifications as a jurist, and his prominence as a republican, Pres. Harrison appointed Gen. Shackelford as Judge of the United States Circuit Court at Muscogee, Indian Territory, on March 23, 1889.