James B. McCreary

James B. McCreary
McCreary in 1914
27th and 37th Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 12, 1911 – December 7, 1915
LieutenantEdward J. McDermott
Preceded byAugustus E. Willson
Succeeded byAugustus O. Stanley
In office
August 31, 1875 – September 2, 1879
LieutenantJohn C. Underwood
Preceded byPreston H. Leslie
Succeeded byLuke P. Blackburn
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
March 4, 1903 – March 3, 1909
Preceded byWilliam J. Deboe
Succeeded byWilliam O. Bradley
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 8th district
In office
March 4, 1885 – March 3, 1897
Preceded byPhilip B. Thompson, Jr.
Succeeded byGeorge M. Davison
Member of the Kentucky House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
James Bennett McCreary

(1838-07-08)July 8, 1838
Richmond, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedOctober 8, 1918(1918-10-08) (aged 80)
Richmond, Kentucky, U.S.
Resting placeRichmond Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Katherine Hughes
Alma materCentre College
Cumberland University
Military service
AllegianceConfederate States of America Confederate States of America
Branch/service Confederate States Army
RankConfederate States of America Lieutenant Colonel.png Lieutenant Colonel
UnitKentucky 11th Kentucky Cavalry
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

James Bennett McCreary (July 8, 1838 – October 8, 1918) was an American lawyer and politician from Kentucky. He represented the state in both houses of the U.S. Congress and served as its 27th and 37th governor. Shortly after graduating from law school, he was commissioned as the only major in the 11th Kentucky Cavalry, serving under Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan during the American Civil War. He returned to his legal practice after the war. In 1869, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives where he served until 1875; he was twice chosen Speaker of the House. At their 1875 nominating convention, state Democrats chose McCreary as their nominee for governor, and he won an easy victory over Republican John Marshall Harlan. With the state still feeling the effects of the Panic of 1873, most of McCreary's actions as governor were aimed at easing the plight of the state's poor farmers.

In 1884, McCreary was elected to the first of six consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a legislator, he was an advocate of free silver and a champion of the state's agricultural interests. After two failed bids for election to the Senate, McCreary secured the support of Governor J. C. W. Beckham, and in 1902, the General Assembly elected him to the Senate. He served one largely undistinguished term, and Beckham successfully challenged him for his Senate seat in 1908. The divide between McCreary and Beckham was short-lived, however, and Beckham supported McCreary's election to a second term as governor in 1911.

Campaigning on a platform of progressive reforms, McCreary defeated Republican Edward C. O'Rear in the general election. During this second term, he became the first inhabitant of the state's second (and current) governor's mansion; he is also the only governor to have inhabited both the old and new mansions. During his second term, he succeeded in convincing the legislature to make women eligible to vote in school board elections, to mandate direct primary elections, to create a state public utilities commission, and to allow the state's counties to hold local option elections to decide whether or not to adopt prohibition. He also realized substantial increases in education spending and won passage of reforms such as a mandatory school attendance law, but was unable to secure passage of laws restricting lobbying in the legislative chambers and providing for a workers' compensation program. McCreary was one of five commissioners charged with overseeing construction of the new governor's mansion and exerted considerable influence on the construction plans. His term expired in 1915, and he died three years later. McCreary County was formed during McCreary's second term in office and was named in his honor.

Early life

James Bennett McCreary was born in Richmond, Kentucky, on July 8, 1838.[1] He was the son of Edmund R. and Sabrina (Bennett) McCreary.[2] He obtained his early education in the region's common schools, then matriculated to Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1857.[1][3] Immediately thereafter, he enrolled at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, to study law.[4] In 1859, he earned a Bachelor of Laws from Cumberland and was valedictorian of his class of forty-seven students; he was admitted to the bar and commenced practice at Richmond.[1][5]

Shortly after the Battle of Richmond on August 29, 1862, David Waller Chenault, a Confederate sympathizer from Madison County, came to Richmond to raise a Confederate regiment. On September 10, 1862, Chenault was commissioned as a colonel and given command of the regiment, dubbed the 11th Kentucky Cavalry. McCreary joined the regiment and was commissioned as a major, the only one in the unit. The 11th Kentucky Cavalry was pressed into immediate service, conducting reconnaissance and fighting bushwhackers. Just three months after its muster, they helped the Confederate Army secure a victory at the Battle of Hartsville. In 1863, the unit joined John Hunt Morgan for his raid into Ohio. Colonel Chenault was killed as the Confederates tried to capture the Green River Bridge at the July 4, 1863, Battle of Tebbs Bend. McCreary assumed command of the unit after Chenault's death. Following the battle, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel on the recommendation of John C. Breckinridge.[6]

Most of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry was captured by Union forces at the Battle of Buffington Island on July 17, 1863. Approximately two hundred men, commanded by McCreary, mounted a charge and escaped their captors, but they were surrounded the next day and surrendered. McCreary was taken to Ninth Street Prison in Cincinnati, Ohio, but was later transferred to Fort Delaware and eventually to Morris Island, South Carolina, where he remained a prisoner through July and most of August 1863. In late August, he was released as part of a prisoner exchange and taken to Richmond, Virginia. He was granted a thirty-day furlough before being put in command of a battalion of Kentucky and South Carolina troops. He commanded this unit, primarily on scouting missions, until the end of the war.[7]

Katherine Hughes

Following the war, McCreary resumed his legal practice.[8] On June 12, 1867, McCreary married Katherine Hughes, the only daughter of a wealthy Fayette County farmer.[8] The couple had one son.[2]