Gen. James B. Steedman
General James Blair Steedman was born July 29, 1817 in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. He was the second of five children. Steedman was fifteen when his parents died. To support the family, Steedman became employed as a typesetter for the Lewisburg Democrat. Two years later, he moved to Louisville, Kentucky where he filled the same job for the Louisville Journal.. His first experience at war came when he fought alongside Sam Houston to help establish an independent Republic of Texas.
After the war, Steedman returned to Pennsylvania where he became a supervisor on a public works project. In 1838, he moved to Northwest Ohio with the idea of becoming a contractor. After failing to find work, he purchased a printing press in Napoleon. He published the first edition of the Northwest Democrat in 1838. During that time he married his first wife, Miss Miranda Slides.
A short time later he began to prosper as a contractor. He was awarded the contract to build the Wabash & Erie Canal. More contracts followed and his firm was employed on the construction of the Toledo, Wabash & Western Railroad.[Harvey Scribner, Memoirs of Lucas County and the City of Toledo, vol. 2 (Madison: Western Historical Association, 1910), p.166].
As he prospered, Steedman found another career in politics. In 1847, he began his first of two terms in the lower house of the Ohio Legislature. In 1849 Steedman headed west to take part in the gold rush in California. After a year, he returned to Ohio. From 1852-1857, he was on the board for public works. For three out of four years he was its president.
In 1857, he was elected to the position of congressional printer and Major General of the Fifth Division of the Ohio Militia. He held that position until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. During the period 1857-1861 he was editor of the Toledo Times. At the same time he was admitted to the Ohio Bar Association and soon after established a Toledo law practice. In 1859, he funded and served as editor of the Democratic Toledo Times newspaper.
Steedman was a member of the Ohio Delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina. Steedman stood on the side of the Northern Democrats who nominated Stephen Douglas in Baltimore. Also in 1860, he ran for the Toledo Congressional District but lost to the Republican candidate, General Ashley.
After Fort Sumter was fired on in 1861, Steedman urged people in the Times to support President Lincoln's administration. He was in charge of forming the Fourteenth Ohio Volunteer Infantry in which he became a Colonel. On July 16, 1862, he was promoted to Brigadier General of the Volunteers and was ordered to join General Buell's army of the Kentucky where he made brilliant maneuvers to enforce the Union position. On October 8, 1862, at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, his brigade reinforced General Rasseau's division of Cook's Corps and saved it from being pushed from the field. Steedman received a high commendation in General Buell's report.Scribner, 166. He took part at Stones River in December 1862. During the Tullahana Campaign the next year he received a Division. In July of 1863 he was assigned to the command of the First Division of the Reserve Corps under Major General Gordon Granger.
General Steedman's decision to reinforce General George Thomas's men at Chickamauga prevented a disaster. On September 20, 1863, Confederate General Longstreet took advantage of a break in the Union lines to split the right and left flanks. The Union right retreated North to Chattanooga. General George Thomas tried to stop the Confederate advance at Hershey Ridge. Aware that Thomas was facing the entire Confederate mass, Thomas and Granger brought their reserves to his aid.
When Granger ordered a charge, Steedman grabbed the colors and led his men forward.(Ibid., p.140). Steedman's division lost a fifth of its strength in the first twenty minutes. His horse was shot out from under him. He was so certain he was going to die that he implored a staff officer to make sure his name was not misspelled "Steadman" in his obituary.(Encyclopedia entry for James Blair Steedman. Book unknown. Attached to the back of copy of Toledo Lucas County Library entry on Steedman). Steedman held his position and drove the Confederates from the field. His aid to Thomas was crucial in allowing the Union to make a safe retreat to Chattanooga. His comrades honored him with the name "Old Chickamauga."(Scribner, p.161). Steedman was promoted to Major-General as a result. Steedman served with General Sherman during the Atlanta campaign and also with Thomas at the Battle of Nashville in December 1864.(Killits, p.169).
After the war, Steedman held several posts in the Reconstruction South. He was in command of the Georgia Military District until July 1866. At that time he resigned his Army post. Steedman's name was suggested as Secretary of War for Andrew Johnson. However, he would became the Collector of Internal Revenue at New Orleans until 1869. He then returned to Toledo where he served as editor of the Northern Ohio Democrat until his death in 1883.
Steedman's final ten years proved to be just as prestigious as the years before. He was a delegate at the State Constitutional Convention in 1874, a State Senator in 1878 and a delegate again to the Democratic National Convention in 1880. In addition, in his final years, he was elected department commander for the Ohio Veteran's Organization, and the Grand Army of the Republic. His last public office was the Chief of Toledo Police. General Steedman died on October 8, 1883.[Charles S. Van Tassel, ed. Men of Northwestern Ohio (Toledo: Hadley Printing Co., 1898), p.382].
The city displayed their appreciation on May 26, 1887 by unveiling a large bronze statue of General Steedman.(Killits, p.166).
Details of Gen. James B. Steedman's grave
(Photography of Woodlawn Cemetery by Josef Schneider.)