Brigadier General John McCausland

(Formerly Colonel of the 36th VA Infantry)

All Rights Reserved © 1997, 2015 – Steven R. Teeft

Brigadier General “Tiger” John McCausland was born in St. Louis, Mo. On September 13, 1837. He was the son of John McCausland. Who lived in Lynchburg, Virginia and married Harriet Kyle Price. His father became a prominent merchant and finally resided in St. Louis, where he rendered valuable service as commissioner of taxation. John and Harriet had three children: Robert, John, and Laura.

General McCausland’s parents died in 1843. John and Robert lived with his Aunt Elizabeth until her death in 1849. In 1849 Johns Uncle Alexander took John and his brother to their Aunt Jane Smith’s home in Henderson, Virginia. Henderson was a small village, across the Kanawha River from the county seat of Point Pleasant in Mason County, Virginia. John attended the Buffalo Academy in Putnam County, where he received a preparatory education. Upon completing his academy schooling in 1853, he applied for admission to the VMI (Virginia Military Institute) in Lexington. Cadet John McCausland’s special field of study was mathematics and engineering. John was a exemplary student, and became squad Marshall of the Cadet Corp. He graduated 1st in his class in 1857 majoring in Engineering. After the VMI, he traveled to Charlottesville where he earned a graduates degree from the University of Virginia. In 1859, John returned to the VMI as a honored graduate. John joined the faculty of the VMI and became Assistant Professor of mathematics, as well as assistant professor of artillery tactics under Professor Thomas Jonathan Jackson. In 1859, John led the cadets, commanded by Thomas J. Jackson, to Charlestown, Virginia to guard John Brown during his trail and execution. John McCausland’s daughter recalls the general saying, he was so close that, “he could reach out and touch him…”.

Upon the secession of Virginia, early in 1861, he organized the famous Rockbridge Artillery, of which John McCausland was elected commander. By the authority of Governor John Letcher, McCausland was commissioned with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was responsible for the organization of troops in the military Department of Western Virginia. He gathered about 6,000 men for General’s Floyd and Wise, and operated throughout the region of the Kanawha Valley. John McCausland made his headquarters in Charleston, Virginia and formed the 36th Virginia Infantry Regiment, which he took command, with commission of Colonel. The Colonel was involved with all the battles of the regiment from their first battle at Carnifex Ferry, Virginia in September 1861 to their Shenandoah campaign in May 1864 when he was promoted to General. John McCausland never owned slaves nor did he believe in slavery. A young negro named “Burns”, stayed with John throughout the war as his body servant. The Colonel did not own Burns and Burns chose to stay with him. Burns was living in Charleston, West Virginia at the time of the Colonel’s death.

On May 15th 1864 he took command of General Jenkins Brigade, when General Jenkin’s fell mortally wounded at the battle of Cloyd’s Farm, Virginia. There John McCausland was promoted to Brigadier General.

The men called him “Tiger John”, he lead several invasions into Maryland, raiding and holding towns and cities for ransom. General McCausland joined in the demonstrations at Washington, DC. The daring commander actually penetrated into the town of Georgetown, Afterwards, he continued raiding Federal supply lines and held two major cities in Maryland, Fredrick and Hagerstown, for ransom. Seeking retribution for the burning of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, by General “Black” David Hunter, General McCausland continued his collection service as far north as Chambersburg, Pennsylvania where the town refused to pay (believing he would not torch the town). Tiger John is most famous for putting the town of Chambersburg to the torch as retribution for the Shenandoah. Later, the General was in command of a Brigade of Lomax’s Division, and participated in the campaigns against General Sheridan. He was attached to Rosser’s Division, fought before Petersburg, Virginia. And finally, cutting his way through the Federal lines at Appomattox, Virginia. He brought a fragment of his cavalry to Lynchburg, Virginia where he again saved the city from stragglers and thieves that infested the suburbs.

The General never returned home until after the war. General McCausland was 29 years old at wars end. He could never bring himself to surrender to the hated Yankees. John returned to Charleston, West Virginia for a short time to see his brother Robert, who was a physician. There General McCausland set plans to leave the country, because of discussion on Chambersburg. So, John left to tour the world. He made his way to British Columbia, Canada then to the British Isles. He spent time in England and Ireland where he paid a visit to his relations. Then he traveled to France and finally to Mexico. John stayed in Mexico for two years. Being a engineer. He helped survey the colony of Carlta (a place for Ex-Confederate soldiers in Mexico). By 1868, John was back home in West Virginia. President Andrew Johnson’s Christmas “Blanket” amnesty for all former Confederates, made John breathe easier now. John was only 33 years old.

John brought and worked the land with help from Burns his negro friend, and conducted farming. He traveled from time to time to Greenbrier County which he loved and to White Sulphur Springs where he met Emmette Charlotte Hannah. They had a brief courtship and were married on October 3rd, 1878. They lived on his farm in Mason County. They had four children: John Jr., Samuel H., Charlotte E. and Alexander. After the birth of their 3rd child, John began constructing a castle like structure outside the town of Pliny in April 1885, this beautiful 19 room house was completed in October the same year. It was built by a local black laborer named Jesse Lewis. He named his estate “Grape Hill”, because of the abundance of wild grapes.

His wife Emmette Charlotte Hannah McCausland was the daughter of Samuel Hannah, a cashier of the Kanawha Valley Bank in Charleston. Her family home was in Cliffside, Charlotte County, Virginia. Emmette was regarded by all who knew her as “a great beauty and a person of fine accomplishments.” She attended a women’s college in Hillsboro, N.C. When she met John it was “Love at First sight”, and they were married on October 3rd, 1878. Emmette Hannah McCausland died of Tuberculosis on August 25th, 1891 at the age of 40, John was a widower at 55 years.

General McCausland had blue-gray eyes and stood 5’11” tall. He was raised a Methodist, and comes from a Scots-Irish descent. His enjoyed the romantic poets like Byron and Scott. John had a great sense of humor. He was a pipe and cigar smoker, but not a drinker. His favorite drink was tea. John seldom slept more than five hours. He loved to read the Saturday Evening Post, his favorite book was the Official Records (of the War Between the States), and he had a sizable library.

He never turned away a Confederate soldier from his door without helping him. Everyone addressed him as “General”. John took his children on trips often and once took his boys to a Confederate reunion in Richmond to show them “what kind of people he used to run with”. When his sons were of military age, the dress uniform was blue, and the General didn’t want his son’s to be soldiers saying, “ I rather see my boys dead, than to wear the blue uniform….”.

General McCausland had strong political views, he always voted Democratic, but said, “Whenever the democrats get in the act a fool..”. When President William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, New York at the Pan-American Exposition by Leon F. Czolgosz on August 6th, 1901, McCausland said “I’m glad of it ! He was one of General Hunters Staff !….” In 1919, the U.S Congress officially restored the citizenship to John McCausland. At this time the Ex-Confederate General was one of two surviving Generals still alive, the other was Brigadier General Felix H. Robertson of Texas. Until then, John never talked about the war, or granted interviews. When asked why he stated, “ I didn’t want to give them a chance to crow over me…”. When he was about 90 years of age, the general attended reunions, dedications and had several interviews. In 1922 he was guest of honor in Charleston for unveiling of the Kanawha Rifleman monument. John also was a member of the United Confederate Veterans Camp Garnett (Presently SCV Camp Garnett #1470 of Huntington, WV).

On January 23rd, 1927 on a crisp winter’s morning, John McCausland suffered a stroke and died while sitting in his favorite rocking chair, facing out the window towards the Kanawha River. He was not quite 91 years old. They buried him in his dress suit that he had made in England, which he wore at his wedding. At his death, he was strongly remembered. Tributes were sent to Grape Hill from all over the country, the flag flew at half mast, his coffin was draped with a Confederate battle flag from the Daughters of the Confederacy. The General had a brief military funeral and was buried near Henderson, West Virginia in the Smith Graveyard, beside his beloved wife Emmette Charlotte. An obelisk monument five feet high, inscribes their names overlooking the Kanawha Valley.

Ever to the end of his life, he remained “UNRECONSTRUCTED”.

For further reading / sources:

  • Unreconstructed Rebel – Michael j. Pauley **
  • Civil War Memories of two Rebel sisters – William D. Wintz **
  • General “Tiger John” McCausland-The man who burned Chambersburg                                               Shirley Donnelly – from the West Virginia History. Vol. XXIII. Jan. 1962. **
  • Tiger John – the Rebel Who Burned Chambersburg – David L Phillips
  • Confederate Veteran Magazine – Vol. 1-40, 1932-1940.