John W. Lowe was born in 1809 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a son of James Baronhuysen Lowe and Catherine Kennon. John’s mother died about 1813, and his father died in 1821 in New York. At that point, 12-year-old John became the primary breadwinner for his stepmother and siblings. His childhood was marked by trauma and hardship.
Around 1833, John left New York and settled in Batavia, Clermont County, Ohio, which is near Cincinnati. His early employment efforts centered around painting, but by 1835 he was studying law under Thomas Hamer, a U.S. Congressman and lawyer at Georgetown, a village about 24 miles from Batavia. John W. Lowe was admitted to the bar in 1836.
In 1837, John married Manorah Fishback (born circa 1819 in Ohio), daughter of well-known Clermont County lawyer and politician Owen T. Fishback and his wife Caroline Huber. John and Manorah had three children:
- Thomas Owen Lowe (born February 11, 1838), who will be discussed in greater detail later in this sketch;
- William R. Lowe (born about 1843); and
- Catharine K. Lowe (born 1850), who married William Stitt and later died of consumption on October 20, 1872.
Despite his connection to the influential lawyer Owen Fishback, John’s law practice was not particularly profitable. His connection to Thomas Hamer, however, had afforded him an opportunity to befriend the family of Jesse Grant of Georgetown, for whose son Ulysses Grant was recommended for West Point by Hamer.
During the Mexican War, young Ulysses Grant wrote a letter to John, suggesting that Lowe seek a military command to serve in Mexico with the volunteers. A number of factors contributed to Lowe’s decision to follow Grant’s suggestion, and in September 1847, he joined the Second Ohio Infantry Regiment as a captain and headed off to Mexico. His service in Mexico was fairly average, bringing him no glory. While there, he kept a diary and wrote many letters to his family.
John returned to his law practice in Batavia after the Mexican War, and in 1853 he was even mayor of the town. However, he still was not doing well in his law practice, so in 1854 or 1855, he and son Tom moved to Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio, hoping for better prospects. In July 1855, Tom took a job in Tennessee, and shortly thereafter John Lowe moved his law practice to Xenia, in nearby Greene County, Ohio. Even in Xenia, his law practice did not do well, and he relied on Tom’s contributions to help support the family.
After the Civil War broke out, John enlisted, perhaps seeking the glory that had eluded him during the Mexican War. He was elected colonel in Company D, Twelfth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He sought a commission as a brigadier general, but he did not receive one. (Tom Lowe supposed this was probably because Lincoln did not want to commission generals from neighboring counties, and there was another general from Montgomery County: Robert C. Schenck.)
In July 1861, the Twelfth Ohio participated in a skirmish at Scarey Creek, (West) Virginia. Afterwards, John was publicly accused of cowardice during the battle, by means of reports written by anonymous individuals and published in several in Ohio newspapers. It is unclear whether the accusations were true, since there are no references to any dishonorable actions by Lowe in his superiors’ reports. Nevertheless, John’s reputation was irreparably damaged.
A few months later, on September 10, 1861, John W. Lowe was killed while leading a charge at the battle of Carnifex Ferry, (West) Virginia. He received a shot directly to the forehead and was the first Ohio field officer to be killed during the Civil War. Thomas Lowe believed that his father had acted rashly in an attempt to quiet the accusations of cowardice, thus exposing himself to an excessive amount of danger and consequently resulting in his death. It has been suggested that this incident contributed to Thomas Lowe’s negative feelings about the Civil War. However, this incident alone does not constitute the cause, as Tom had already expressed feelings of that nature.
John’s wife Manorah died September 22, 1889. They are buried in Woodland Cemetery, in Xenia, Ohio.
** UPDATE 10/18/2012 **
According to Catherine Wilson, director of the Greene County (OH) Historical Society, John W. Lowe’s stone in Xenia’s Woodland Cemetery is a memorial only. He is in fact buried in Clermont County, Ohio, where he had lived prior to Xenia. (Source: Conversation by the author with Catherine Wilson on 13 Oct. 2012.)
This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in July 2011 for the Lowe Collection (MS-009) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654. Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection and in the citations below. Please contact the library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.
Bibliography & Further Reading
Becker, Carl M. “The Genesis of a Copperhead.” Bulletin of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio 19, no. 4 (Oct. 1961): 235-253. [Dayton B L913B.]
Becker, Carl M. “John William Lowe: Failure in Inner-Direction.” Ohio History 73, no. 2 (1964): 75-89.
Becker, Carl M. “Picture of a Young Copperhead.” Ohio History 71 (1962): 3-23. [Dayton B L913BP.]
Becker, Carl M. Tom Lowe: A Lesser Angel. [Oxford, OH]: Miami University, 1958. [Dayton B L913BT.]
Broadstone, Michael A., editor. History of Greene County, Ohio: Its People, Industries, and Institutions. Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen, 1918. Vol. 1, pp. 653-656. [Genealogy Reference 977.174 H673B.]
Drury, Augustus Waldo. History of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago; Dayton: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1909. Vol. 1, pp. 479, 781; Vol. 2, pp. 937-938. [Dayton 977.173 D796.]
The History of Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: W. H. Beers & Co., 1882. Book 3, pp. 222-223. [Dayton 977.172 H673.]
Lowe, John W. [Letters of John W. Lowe] [microform]. [Dayton B L9134AA.]
“Lowe Papers.” LHR File. Local History Room, Dayton Metro Library.
“Lowe, Thomas Owen.” LHR File. Local History Room, Dayton Metro Library.
Obituary of Thomas O. Lowe. Dayton Journal, September 10, 1922.