Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

James M. Dalzell


"James M. Dalzell of Noble County, was a prolific writer and his pen championed the cause of the soldiers of the Civil War. He was the originator of the Soldiers' Reunions. He was born in Alleghney City, Pa., and was nine yars old when he came to Ohio. At the out-break of the Civil War he was a student at college. For two years he served as a private in the One Hundred and Sixteenth O.V.I. At the close of the war he studied law, filled a clerkship at Washington and then settled at Caldwell, Ohio. He represented his county two terms in the Legislature and has taken active part in several political campaigns. His writings, covering a broad field, have appeared in newspapers and magazines over the land." [C.L. Martzoloff (ed.), Poems on Ohio 138-141 (Columbus, Ohio: F.J. Heer Printing Co., 1911)(incluing the poem, "John Gray, Washington's Last Soldier")]

The following biographical profile appears in History of Noble County, Ohio (Chicago: H. Watkins & Co., 1887):

"HON. JAMES M. DALZELL, now an attorney-at-law in Caldwell, was born in Allegheny County (opposite Pittsburgh), Penn., September 3, 1838.

He attended school in Allegheny, and was quite proficient in the rudiments of a common English education before he was nine years old. Then his father, Robert Dalzell, removed to Brookfield Township, and there commenced farming. His youth was spent like that of other boys of that day in the country, working on the farm in summer, and attending school in winter three months in the year. At sixteen he had completed the limited curriculum of that period, and having obtained a certificate set out on foot for Vinton County in the winter of 1854, and there taught his first school at $22 per month. With the proceeds he maintained himself at the Ohio University at Athens for a term, and when his money was exhausted, again resorted to “the birch”; and so alternately teaching and attending college as he could; sometimes at Sharon college, again at Oberlin, at Athens, and Washington, Pa. The years flew by, and with such difficulties to encounter and overcome, in making his own way at college. When the war broke out it found him a junior at Washington College, Pennsylvania. He had also graduated from Duff’s College, Pittsburgh, but the dream of his life was to finish a full classical course in old Washington; but the cherished ambition of his youth was frustrated by his enlistment as a common soldier in Company H, One Hundred and Sixteenth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Here he served three years without discredit, and was promoted “Sergeant Major, for gallant and distinguished service,” as his commission reads. At the close of the war returning home to Noble County, he was chosen deputy clerk of the court of common pleas, and acted in that capacity until July, 1866, when he was appointed to a clerkship in the United States Treasury at Washington City, which he held for two years, until he had graduated in Columbia College and was admitted to the bar as attorney at law in June, 1868. This he achieved by night study alone, for his days were devoted to the business of his office. Nov. 29, 1867, he married Miss Hettie M. Kelley, an estimable young lady residing then at her home in Muskingum County. Together they spent a pleasant and profitable year at the Capital. But in the fall of 1868 they removed to Caldwell, Ohio, and there have resided ever since. Their union has been one of the happiest and blessed with six children, all of whom survive except James Monroe, the eldest son, a very promising youth, whose sudden death at the age of fifteen has cast a deep gloom over the household that mourns his departure.

Mr. Dalzell has always contributed to the daily newspaper press, and it is probably not going too far for us to say that no name is better known than his among newspaper writers. His business for eighteen years had been that of a lawyer, in which he has been fairly successful. In 1869 he was elected prosecuting attorney and served two years; and so vigorous was his prosecution of liquor sellers that at the end of his term there was not an open saloon in his county. In 1875 he was elected to the General Assembly of Ohio, and represented Noble County so well that in 1877 he was re-elected for two years more. During his entire four years in the legislature he was a member of the judiciary committee, the most influential and important of all the committees, and the one to which lawyers only are eligible.

The entire body of Ohio statutory law passed through the hands of this committee for the laws were then being codified and re-enacted. In 1882 he was strongly supported in the Congressional convention at St. Clairsville for the nomination to Congress, and was balloted for unsucessfully nearly three hundred times in the most exciting contest for Congress ever witnessed in Ohio. The convention broke up in confusion, without nominating any one, and then and there Mr. Dalzell retired from politics and resumed the practice of law more assiduously than ever. For many years he was on the “stump” in various States, and in 1879 was called to Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and in 1880 to Indiana. He was in demand everywhere and was regarded one of the best stumpers in the United States. He was always a Republican. He advocated the election of every Republican candidate, both with voice and pen, from Fremont to Garfield. The confidential friend of Sumner, Frederick Douglass, James A. Garfield, Rutherford B. Hayes, Gen. W.T. Sherman, Henry Wilson, John Sherman, O.P. Morton, Thaddeus Stevens, Schuyler Colfax and a host of their great contempories. Mr. Dalzell confesses to not a little pride in their letters testifying their high regard for him. As is elsewhere fully detailed in this work, Mr. Dalzell was the originator and author of the popular soldiers’ reunions now held annually in all parts of the country. It is doubtful if there is a soldier in the United States who does not know “Private Dalzell” (as he is familiarly called) at least by reputation, for at the first and other reunions since established he has addressed most of them in his patriotic speeches. Besides, he has always taken a pride in all matters relating to soldiers ever since the war, and devoted a large portion of his time and means to the furtherance of their interests not only in this but in almost every other State.

But since he quit politics and resumed the practice of the law, he has passed his time very quietly. When not engaged in the courts or at professional business elsewhere, he devotes himself to his books. He is regarded as one of the first forensic orators in Ohio, and on all public occasions he is in demand. To these calls, however, he seldom responds, for he finds more pleasure and profit in the plain, plodding practice of the law and the presence of his family to whom he is doubly devoted.

James M. Dalzell

James M. Dalzell