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General John Stephen Casement
UNDER a popular form of government like that of the United States, where the democratic idea of equality is as fully developed as the present imperfect conditions of mankind will permit, we expect as its legitimate result, triumph of individual worth and energy over all competition wealth and class may array against them. Here the avenues of wealth and distinction are fully opened to all, which fact enhances rather than detracts from the merits of those whose energy and integrity have triumphed over all obstacles intervening between a humble position and the attainments of these laudable ends. Obscurity and labor, at no times dishonorable, never assume more attractive features than when the former appears as the nurse of those virtues which the latter, by years of honest and persevering effort, transplants to a higher and richer soil; hence the biographies of those men of sterling worth whose active enterprise has won for them distinction, pre-eminence, and commanding influence in the society in which they move must be replete with facts which should encourage and instruct the young. Such was the late John Stephen Casement, for many years one of the most distinguished and commanding figures in the world of railroad construction in the United States, and one of the greatest builders of the world. He held marked prestige among the self-made men of the country, and by the exercise of those talents and qualities which were cultivated from his youth, led to a prominent position in the financial circles of America, and earned for him the respect and esteem of all who knew him. He possessed a mind noted for its logic and clearness of reason and marked success attended his efforts in every avenue of endeavor in which he directed his energies. He was a man of forceful individuality, as may well be understood, and his course was ever dominated by the highest principles of integrity and honor, these attributes being such as to retain him the inviolable confidence and esteem of all, not only in the city of Painesville in which he had elected to establish his home and centralize his well-directed endeavors, but he won and retained the universal confidence and good will of all classes, for he was a fine type of the ideal citizen--of strong mentality, of fine moral fiber, of a pronounced altruistic spirit and of unquestioned ability as a leader of men in important undertakings and of engaging social qualities.
General Casement being a man of rare modesty, never seeking the limelight of publicity, having striven merely to do his duty as he saw and understood it, regardless of the plaudits or blame of his fellow me, it would be doing violence to his memory to indulge in extended eulogy regarding him, however much this might seem to be justified by his friends. The simple record of his career is in itself eloquent. He was born in Geneva, Ontario County, New York, January 19, 1829. He was the son of Robert and Ann (Curphey) Casement. His parents were natives of the Isle of Man, and were married there. In 1828, however, with a view to bettering himself and giving his children a greater chance to do things, he decided to go to the "Land of Opportunity." Accordingly, they set their faces toward America, where they landed in the summer of that year. They settled on a farm in Ontario County, New York, and there John Casement was born a few months later. As he grew up he assisted his father with the farm work, and attended the district schools until he had reached the age of fifteen, when his parents moved to Michigan, settling on a farm near Ann Arbor. In a few years, when he was about eighteen, the Michigan Central Railroad, then owned by the State, was being built near his home, and, as there was not any need of his services on the farm, he decided to look for work. His first venture was as a common laborer on the railroad, and his first outside work shaped his destiny. He continued work on this road until the spring of 1850, when he came to Ohio, and got work with a track-laying gang on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad, then being built. In a short time he was made a foreman, and continued thus employed until the completion of the road. He then came to Cleveland and got a position with the Lake Shore Railroad, in charge of a track-laying gang, to quote himself, "as a hired man--not as a contractor." The road was completed in the fall of 1852, and he then entered the service of the Lake Shore in charge of a freight train, which position he held during the winter of 1852-53.
In the spring of 1853, he took his first contract. It was to do the ballasting of the Lake Shore through Ohio. When that was completed, he took other contracts with the same road to do some double tracking, in fact, all the double tracking done on the road prior to the Civil War. Following that he took other contracts that carried him up to the Civil War. He laid all the tracks and did the ballasting on three hundred miles of that is now the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad. At the same time was doing like work for the Pittsburgh and Erie. Work was still in progress when the war broke out. Being of a very patriotic nature, and very loyal to the North, he left the work in charge of his brother, Daniel, and offered his services to the Government. A complete record of his military career is reproduced here from Upton's History of the Western Reserve:
"Soon after the firing on Fort Sumter, General Casement volunteered for the three months' service and was elected Major of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, his commission to date from April 25, 1861, but on the following nineteenth of June, he reinlisted [sic.] for three years, and was recommissioned accordingly, and the regiment ordered to Virginia. He had enjoyed no military training prior to his enlistment, but his railroad experience had taught him the value of quick decision, promptness, and the secret of handling men so as to inspire them with energy and determination. During the long, tiresome marches in West Virginia he made it his business to see that the soldiers were made as comfortable as possible and that their supplies and equipment were in good order and condition. Close observation and hard study also soon gave him a thorough insight into military tactics so that when the time came, he was qualified to assume command in the field. His opportunity soon came, for at the battle of Cross Lanes, Virginia, August 26, 1861, the army was defeated with a severe loss, the two wings retreating in opposite directions. Throughout the route and carnage, Major Casement retained his composure, and, at the head of the left wing, commenced a retrograde march of unusual difficulties through the enemy's country, but he worked his command over the mountain ranges and rivers to Charleston without the capture of a man. He also fought at Winchester, where, at the head of a score of men, he captured a Confederate cannon and assisted in Stonewall Jackson's only defeat of the war. In the evening succeeding the battle he found that ten bullets had passed through the cape of his coat near his left arm--leaden balls evidently intended for his heart. In the winter's march to Blue Gap, Major Casement was at the head of his regiment, and his speech before reaching the fortifications is still treasured by his few surviving comrades, 'Boys, you've not got much of a daddy, but with such as you have, I want you to go for those rebels.' But then, as always, the boys had such a respect and affection for their 'daddy' that they would follow him anywhere, and he always led to protect the weak spots in his own command or to find the weak ones in the enemy's ranks. In numerous marches and skirmishes he proved of especial value to the Union movements, in the construction of bridges and roads. On arriving at Falmouth, on the Rappahannock, he tendered his resignation as Major of the Seventh Regiment to accept his promotion as Colonel of the One Hundred and Third Ohio Infantry. This commission dated from August 18, 1862. The regiment was at once ordered to Kentucky, subsequently participating in the battles of Knoxville, Tennessee, Resaca, Georgia, and also of the flanking movements preparatory to Sherman's grand advance on Atlanta, losing two hundred and fifty-five men killed and wounded out of a force of four hundred and fifty men. Such military writers and authorities as Generals Cox and Scofield give General Casement the credit of saving the day for the Union army at the battle of Franklin. Officers and men were thrilled and impressed by his coolness, magnetism, and his splendid control over both himself and his men, and when, in the face of the approaching enemy he mounted the Union works, spoke to his troops with that ringing voice, famous throughout the army, fired his revolver into the air and then rejoined the ranks, good judges of human nature felt that the battle could not be lost. General Cox says: ' It is generally conceded by all writers of the history of that great battle that General Casement saved the day. His coolness, sound judgment, bravery, and wonderful control over men at a most critical time in the battle, brought victory where defeat seemed certain. General Casement had a voice that was most wonderful; perhaps no other commander in the army was endowed with such a voice. He could be heard giving his commands even in the rattle of musketry and the booming of artillery. He seemed to know no fear and wo wonderful was the confidence of the men under his command that where he went they would follow, even to the cannon's mouth.' General Scofield: 'it was Col. Jack Casement's example that held the troops to the firing line at Franklin. As a commander of men he had no superior, having that magnetic influence which drew from them their full capacity of service. His look and command held them as firmly as the silken sashes that bound together the Greeks at the Pass of Thermopylae.'
"This same Major-General Scofield commanded a corps of the Union army at Franklin, and it was chiefly through his admiration for General Casement's splendid work on that battlefield that the latter received a brigadier-general star by brevet. The gallant colonel of the One Hundred and Third now took part in the pursuit of the disorganized forces of Hood after which the regiment was transferred, under Scofield, to Wilmington, North Carolina. In this movement General Casement commanded a brigade, as he had done for a year previous. The brigade remained in this department until the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston, near Raleigh, and June 23, 1865, he was mustered out of the service, as the was was at an end."
During the war the contracts that he had been working on, and which he had left in charge of his brother, Daniel, had been completed.
Resigning from the army, he returned to his home in Painesville, where he remained for a few months. In the early part of 1866 he entered into a contract to do the greater portion of the grading, and to lay all the track of the Union Pacific Railroad from its terminus, twenty miles out from Omaha, to Ogden, Utah, in partnership with his brother, Daniel. Upon the completion of that road he took the contact for the building of the Union and Titusville Railroad in Pennsylvania, the Canada Southern, the Toledo, Canada Southern and Detroit, the Detroit and Butler, and the Nickle Plate from Cleveland to Buffalo. In addition to all those, he had contracts for the building of numerous short lines of railroad in Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, New York, West Virginia, and Ohio. He was occupied thus till in 1898, when he entered into a contract with the Costa Rican government to build a road from San Jose, the capital, for a distance of about sixty miles towards the Pacific Ocean. He took his family to Costa Rica, locating in San Jose, and owing to the climatic conditions and other influences, was compelled to spend nearly six years in the little republic on the job. It was completed in 1903, and he returned then to the United States, going back to his home at Painesville, where he spent the remainder of his life, retiring altogether from active business. The last years of his life were spent on his large estate on the outskirts of Painesville. He passed away on the thirteenth day of December, 1909. Had he lived a little more than a month longer, he would have celebrated his eighty-first birthday.
General Casement was one of the really big figures in the railroad and financial world, and, whole he had not been in active life for several years prior to his death, his passing was mourned by many men in various walks of life from the common laborers who had worked under him, to the bigger men in the railroad world.
On October 14, 1857, General Casement was married to Miss Frances M. Jennings. Mrs. Casement was born in Painesville in 1840, and almost her entire life has been spent in the town of Painesville. She was the daughter of Charles C. and Mehetable (Park) Jennings. Her father came to Painesville when just a small child with his parents from his native State, Pennsylvania. His parents were Oliver and Jerusha Jennings, and they made their home in Painesville till they passed away. Mrs. Casement's mother was a native of Massachusetts, coming with her parents to Painesville when she was quite small. They, too, spent the remainder of the days in Painesville.
General and Mrs. Casement had three children, all boys. They were: First, Charles Jennings, who was born in Painesville, November 3, 1861; but his life was of short duration, as he passed away at the age of four years. Second, John Frank, who was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on September 29, 1866. He, too, passed away before his real life had begun. He had just finished his education, and was at the point of entering into active life when, on March 11, 1886, he was called to that other and better life. Third, Dan Dillon. He was born July 13, 1868, at Painesville, Ohio. He spent his early youth at Painesville. He received his primary and preparatory schooling at Hudson Academy, Hudson, Ohio. He then entered Princeton, whence he was graduated in 1891. Feeling that he would require a knowledge of commercial law in the handling of his business of the future, he entered Columbia Law School, where he spent one year. He soon thereafter went out West, where he had large interests, and for many years has lived the life of a ranchman-farmer. He owns a large farm at Colorado, besides owning a large farm at Painesville. He makes his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was married on December 1, 1897, to Miss Mary Olivia Thornburgh, in New York. She was the daughter of T. T. and Eliza Thornburgh, of Washington, D. C. Her father was a major in the United States Army. They have three children, Mary Eliza, born in San Jose, Costa Rica, Central American, in 1898; Frances Jennings, born in Washington, D. C., in 1907, and John S. Casement, II, born in Washington, D. C., 1908.
Mrs. Casement makes her home in the mansion built by her father, just across the river from Painesville. She spends her time in various charitable works, and in her clubs. She has for many years been a strong advocate of woman's rights, and is a member of the Woman's Suffrage Party of Ohio. For all her years, she is strong and hearty, and is still good for many years of usefulness.
Barbara's Bordered Backgrounds