Richard James Oglesby

Historical Marker #2470 in Brownsboro commemorates Richard James Oglesby, for whom Oldham County was named.

Oglesby was born in 1824 in Floydsburg. His father, Col. Jacob Oglesby, was elected Deputy Sheriff in Oldham County. Oglesby represented his county for two terms, having been elected to the Kentucky legislature. He and his wife, Isabella Watson, who were both of Scottish descent, died in the cholera epidemic of 1832-33, along with two of their other children.

Orphaned at an early age, Richard James Oglesby and his siblings were taken in by relatives. Richard James went to live with his Uncle Willis and Aunt Mildred Oglesby in Brownsboro. Willis eventually moved to Decatur, Illinois in 1836 to a farm on the banks of the Sangamon River, west of Decatur. In 1838, at the age of fourteen, Richard traveled by foot from Terre-Haute, Indiana back to Decatur to live with his two older sisters, Amanda Watson Oglesby and Ophelia Willis Oglesby. He worked on the farms and about town at odd jobs when they could be found, and also learned the trade of carpentry.

He studied law and was admitted to bar in November 1845. When the Mexican-American War broke out a year later, he was among the first to enlist. At age 21, he enlisted as a 1st Lieutenant in Company C., Fourth Illinois Infantry Regiment. He, along with the regiment, marched on foot over seven hundred miles through the interior of Mexico. He took part in the battles of Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo. In 1849, along with eight companions, Oglesby journeyed from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California driving a six mule team 1,940 miles overland. The trip lasted 95 days. He then mined gold for two years, ran a store, and returned to Decatur in 1851 with $5,400 in gold. He used some of his earnings from gold to buy the freedom of his father’s slave, Uncle Tim, who had been sold for $400 upon his father’s death when his property was settled in Oldham County. Throughout his life, Oglesby was a very strong abolitionist.

Oglesby fought in the Civil War and was severely wounded at the battle of Corinth, Mississippi. He was a friend and political ally of President Abraham Lincoln. Oglesby is credited with introducing the “rail-splitter” image into Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign. He was by Lincoln’s bedside when he died and accompanied Lincoln’s body back to Springfield, Illinois. There, Oglesby was elected as president of the National Lincoln Monument Association to raise funds for and to design the tomb Lincoln would be buried in. Oglesby delivered the dedication address when the memorial was unveiled in 1874; President Grant and the Cabinet were in attendance.

Oglesby had a long career in politics and served three times as governor of Illinois. After his last term as governor ended, Oglesby retired to his home in Elkhart, Logan County, Illinois where he died on April 24, 1899.