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Captain John W. Armstrong


Posted By: Madison County Coordinator (email)
Date: 3/3/2017 at 08:07:58

Biography Courtesy of the Madison County Civil War 150 Committee
Edited by the County Coordinator

John W. Armstrong was born in Guernsey County, Ohio in 1817 to Thomas C. Armstrong and Deborah Scott, the second of eight children. Family history tells us that John’s grandfather, Abraham Armstrong, served as a Revolutionary War soldier. And in 1969, John’s cousin, astronaut Neal Alden Armstrong made the statement “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as he became the first man to walk on the moon.

Thomas, Deborah and children eventually moved to Franklin County, Ohio where the family grew and prospered and where Thomas and Deborah spent the rest of their lives, Deborah passing in 1854 and Thomas in 1864.

In about 1839, John W. married Mary Fickle and they had four children, Alexander M. (b. ca 1840), Thomas J. (b. 1844), Elizabeth Ann (b. 27 Dec 1845), and John C. (b. 1849). Within a year of their 4th child’s birth, Mary passed away at age 26. John again married in 1856 to the widow Mrs. Florence Spellman and had son McClane C. (b. 25 Dec 1856). Florence’s son, John Spellman (b. ca 1845), also joined the family.

In 1863 Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, known as “The Thunderbolt of the Confederacy”, led the longest sustained Cavalry raid in American military history. Traveling over 1,000 miles, he left eastern Tennessee, traveling through Kentucky, into Indiana and finally, across southern Ohio just south of where the Armstrong family home was located. Fearing Morgan’s reputation as a military leader, Federal officials called over 50,000 Union Troops into service to meet the threat of Morgan and his small band of 3,000 men. Shortly after Morgan’s raid, John W. Armstrong, enlisted in the 12th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Serving with him in the 12th Ohio were his sons John C. and Thomas J, his step-son John C. Spellman, his nephews George W. and Thomas W. Armstrong, and his brothers-in-law, Alfred and Nelson Fickle. John’s oldest son, Alexander Armstrong, also served in the 8th Ohio Cavalry. His future son-in-law, Oscar Allen served in the 118th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and his future nephew-in-law, Ovando Horton, served in the 44th New York Infantry. In total, that makes 11 men from one family.

John enlisted as a 1st Lieutenant in Company D, 12th Ohio OVC on 26 Oct 1863. Two of his sons and his step-son served under his direct command. Again, facing the unstoppable John Hunt Morgan, John’s son, Thomas J., and his step-son John Spellman, lost their lives on the battlefield at Mt. Sterling Kentucky following the orders of their father to stand their post well. John’s pension file states he was granted time off from service to take his sons home to Ohio for burial before returning to duty. John’s nephew, Thomas W. Armstrong, also lost his life as a result of wounds received during the siege of Atlanta. And while John was far from home and serving his country, his father Thomas C. Armstrong died. John himself, would also be wounded and suffer from numerous illnesses during his service. On 11 May 1865 John was promoted to Captain and transferred to Company E, subsequently resigning his commission on 20 Jul 1865 and returning home to Franklin County.

After the Civil War ended, the 12th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry held annual reunions. The pamphlet from the 3rd Annual Reunion said of John, “Such patriotism is seldom to be equaled and the gallant Armstrong will always have a warm place in the hearts of his surviving comrades.”

Sometime between 1866 and 1869, John and his brother Joseph, father of previously mentioned soldiers George W. and Thomas W. Armstrong, brought their families to Iowa, first settling in Jackson Township, Warren County where John W. owned the north half of the southwest quarter of section 1. On an 1872 atlas of Warren County, John was listed as a carpenter and house builder. In 1870, of his four remaining children, son McClane was 13 years old and living with his parents, and daughter Elizabeth, who had married Oscar Allen, a blacksmith, was living nearby. Sons Alexander and John C. were living in Barry County, Michigan, both moving to Iowa before 1880.

John has not been found in any census after 1870 until he appeared in the 1900 census, living with his son McClane in Crocker Township, Polk County, Iowa. John’s wife, Florence, who had been with him in 1870 was no longer alive. John joined the John Miller Post of the G. A. R. at St. Charles in May, 1888 and officially transferred to a Des Moines Post in May of 1900 although records indicate he ceased attending the St. Charles Post in mid 1897. At the time he joined the G. A. R., his residence was Bevington.

Of his children who moved to Iowa, only McClane (also known as Joseph) outlived him. The first to die was daughter Elizabeth (Armstrong) Allen. Both she and her husband, Oscar passed away in 1884, leaving 6 children ranging in age from 1 to 16. Next to die was son John C. who dropped dead at the age of 48, while in Des Moines at Camp McKinley, visiting with the troops awaiting deployment in the Spanish American War. And last was eldest son, Alexander M. who also unexpectedly dropped dead at age 60 while in Des Moines visiting relatives.

In the year following the 1900 census, John moved into the Iowa Soldier’s Home in Marshalltown where he passed away August 08, 1901 at the age of 84. A military funeral service was conducted by the local G.A.R. Post and he was buried in an unmarked grave in the St. Charles Cemetery.

John’s obituary included the following statement: “One son, two daughters-in-law and a number of grandchildren, besides numerous nephews and nieces survive this most excellent, patriotic and esteemed parent, uncle and friend whose life was made up of usefulness and remained to the last utterly unspotted before the world.”

Few could argue that John W. Armstrong and his family were anything less than the embodiment of Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “All gave some and some gave all”.

In 2013, the Madison County Civil War 150 Committee applied for and received a military gravestone for John W. Armstrong. The stone was set and a brief ceremony was held in remembrance of this man who sacrificed so much for his country.


Madison Biographies maintained by Linda Griffith Smith.
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