John S. McCalmont, 10th Pennsylvania Reserves

Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania by Samuel P. Bates. Philadelphia: T. H. Davis & Co., 1876. Pg. 752-754, Part II. Biography. Chapter X.

JOHN SWAYZE McCALMONT, Colonel of the Tenth Reserve regiment, was born at Franklin, Pennsylvania, on the 28th of April, 1822. His father, Alexander McCalmont, and his mother, Eliza Hart (Connely) McCalmont, were both natives of Pennsylvania, remotely descended from the Scotch-Irish, who form a study and sterling element in the population of the State. He was early initiated into the mysteries of a printing office, where he labored for several years during the intervals in the terms of the public schools. He was afterwards put to the Latin school of the Rev. Nathaniel Snowden, and finally to Allegheny College, at Meadville. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1838, and graduated with credit in due course. He was brevetted Second Lieutenant in the Third regiment of infantry in July, 1842, and in the October following was promoted to Second Lieutenant of the Eighth infantry. Having a taste for civil pursuits, and tiring of the inactivity of army life in time of peace, after about a year’s experience he resigned, and devoted himself to the law.

John S. McCalmont

At the opening of the Rebellion, he was President Judge of the eighteenth judicial district, to which office he had been appointed by Governor Bigler in May, 1853, and elected in October of that year. As he warmly supported the national authorities, he tendered his services to Governor Curtin, and was commissioned Colonel of the Tenth regiment of the Reserve corps. His knowledge of military duty was of great advantage, the mass of volunteer officers, as well as privates, being entirely destitute of experience in the art they were called to practice. Upon the organization of the division, Colonel McCalmont was assigned to the command of the Third brigade, which he exercised until superseded by General E. O. C. Ord. In the battle of Dranesville, which was fought on the 20th of December, 1861, Colonel McCalmont bore himself with gallantry, and received the approval of Generals McClellan, Ord, and McCall.

Colonel Ayer, who was then serving as Captain of one of Colonel McCalmont’s companies, makes the following mention of his chief in this engagement:

The action was opened by a smart firing between our own and the rebel skirmishers, and very soon the artillery of the enemy opened upon us. Our artillery, Captain Easton’s battery, was soon in position and did terrible work, blowing up one of their ammunition boxes, killing eight or nine horses, and doubtless killing and wounding many men. Just previous, Colonel McCalmont had ridden up, and perceiving that they were shooting too high, called out, ‘Point your pieces lower, my boys! You are firing over them! You must lower your guns!’ They did so, and with what effect has just been described. Colonel McCalmont was everywhere, where his presence was most needed, during this engagement, displaying great courage and self-possession.

Capt. Ira Ayer, Co. I, 10th Pennsylvania Reserves

The operations of the army during the winter of 1861-’62 were dilatory, little congenial to the impetuous nature of Colonel McCalmont, and warned by failing health that he would be unable to endure the hardships of a protracted struggle he resigned. The officers of his regiment in parting with him united in resolutions recounting his faithful services and gallantry as a soldier.

“Colonel McCalmont,” says Ayer, “was much respected by officers and men. Of fine soldierly bearing and a high sense of honor, his presence was calculated to inspire all with confidence and esteem. A high-toned Christian gentleman, I believe the universal feeling was that of regret that we had lost so brave, considerate, and kind a commander.” Previous to the war he had held several offices of honor and responsibility. He was Deputy Attorney-General of Clarion, McKean, and Elk counties in 1846, a member of the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania in 1849-’50, Speaker of that body in the latter year, and a Presidential Elector in 1852, in addition to the judicial position above noticed. On leaving the service, he resumed the practice of his profession at Franklin. In 1872 he was a lay representative of the Erie Conference of the Methodist Protestant Episcopal Church in the General Conference held at Brooklyn, New York. In stature he is above the ordinary height, being six feet two and a half inches, spare but broad-shouldered, and of fair complexion. He was married on the 2d of March, 1848, to Elizabeth P. Stekley, of Harrisburg.

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Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.