Robert Wilson McClaughry, warden of the United States penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., was born at Fountain Green, Ill., July 22, 1839, a son of Matthew and Mary (Hume) McClaughry. The father was born at Kortright, N. Y., Jan. 3, 1803, and died in 1879. He was a grandson of Richard McClaughry, who came from Ireland in 1765, and during the Revolution served as a private in a New York regiment which took part in the battle of Bennington and assisted in the capture of Burgoyne. The ancestry on both sides are of Scotch or Scotch-Irish stock. One of the family served in William's army at the battle of the Boyne, and another was a dragoon under Cromwell. Mary Hume, the mother, was a daughter of Robert and Catherine (Rose) Hume, her mother having been a daughter of Hugh Rose. Matthew McClaughry and his family removed from New York to Illinois in 1838 and began farming on the frontier.
Educational advantages of that day were limited, and Robert acquired the rudiments of an English education in the old log school house, attending school in winter and working on the farm in summer. With the assistance of the Presbyterian minister of Fountain Green, under whom he studied algebra and Latin, he prepared himself for college. In 1856 he entered Monmouth College as a member of the first class, graduated in 1860, and that he improved his time is seen in the fact that he was offered the professorship in Latin by his Alma Mater, immediately upon his graduation. This position he occupied for a year, when failing health caused him to resign. In August, 1861, he located at Carthage, Ill., where he formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, A. J. Griffith, for the publication of the "Carthage Republican." Mr. McClaughry had cast his first presidential vote for Stephen A. Douglas, in 1860, and, like Mr. Douglas, was earnest and enthusiastic in his support of the Union. Under his editorial management the "Republican" acquired the reputation of being a "redhot" Union sheet. On Aug. 15, 1862, having disposed of his interest in the paper, Mr. McClaughry enlisted as a private in what subsequently became Company B, One Hundred and Eighteenth Illinois infantry. He was soon elected captain of the company, and upon the organization of the regiment was made major, being mustered in with that rank in November. The regiment was ordered to Memphis, Tenn., where it joined the expedition then fitting out under General Sherman to operate against Vicksburg. In the campaigns against that point during the winter of 1862-63, via the Yazoo, and in the operations against Arkansas Post and Young's Point, Major McClaughry was always with his regiment, which was usually well in front when there was fighting to be done. In the spring of 1863 his regiment was attached to General Osterhaus' division of the Thirteenth corps and participated in the siege and capture of Vicksburg, after which it was transferred to the Department of the Gulf, mounted, and attached to the cavalry division commanded by Gen. A. L. Lee. With this gallant and intrepid officer Mr. McClaughry served in the campaigns through western Louisiana during the fall of 1863, and until sent home sick from New Orleans. He was detached on recruiting service until in May, 1864, President Lincoln appointed him paymaster in the United States army. He was assigned to duty at Springfield, in September, 1864, and remained there until some months after the war closed, paying off the soldiers as they were mustered out. In the political campaign of 1864 he became affiliated with the Republican party, the question of continuing the war being the paramount issue. Taking a month's furlough, he canvassed the state, advocating the reëlection of Mr. Lincoln and a vigorous prosecution of the war. At his own request he was honorably discharged, Oct. 13, 1865, to enable him to accept the nomination for county clerk of his native county of Hancock, to which office he was elected in November and served until Dec. 1, 1869. In the meantime he had become interested in some stone quarries near Keokuk, Iowa, and had received the contract for furnishing stone for the foundation of the new state capitol at Springfield. When this contract was completed in 1870, he removed to St. Louis, having purchased an interest in the stone quarries at Ste. Genevieve, Mo. Finding the climate of St. Louis. uncongenial to himself and family, he removed to Monmouth, Ill., in 1872, and a part of the following year he spent in Colorado, to regain his health. In the summer of 1874 he became a candidate for the Republican nomination for Congress, but in the midst of the campaign was called by the unanimous vote of the board of commissioners to the position of warden of the Illinois state penitentiary. He withdrew his name as a candidate for Congress, accepted the position of warden, and remained in charge of prison affairs there until Dec. 1, 1888, when he resigned to accept the invitation of the State of Pennsylvania to organize its new state reformatory, where he remained until May 15, 1891, when he was appointed chief of police by Mayor Washburne, in which position he remained until in August, 1893, when Governor Altgeld appointed him superintendent of the Illinois state reformatory. On March 1, 1897, he again assumed the duties of warden of the Illinois state penitentiary, by appointment of Governor Tanner, and remained in that place until July 1, 1899, since which time he has occupied his present position. In all the various positions he has held in connection with penal institutions he has proved to be the right man for the place, and he can look back over his thirty-five years' experience with a conscientious recollection of duty well performed.
In June, 1862, Mr. McClaughry was happily married to Miss Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James G. Madden, of Monmouth, Ill., and they have five children: Charles G. is superintendent of the State Training School for Boys at Boonville, Mo.; Arthur C. is a commission merchant in Chicago; Matthew W. is special agent of the United States Bureau of Criminal Identification, with headquarters in Chicago; John G. has charge of the Bureau of Identification of the Indiana State Reformatory at Jeffersonville; and Mary C. is the wife of First Lieut. James B. Henry, of the Thirteenth United States cavalry, stationed at Fort Riley. Major McClaughry is a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He is a Presbyterian in his church affiliations, and has served as trustee of Monmouth and Knox colleges. In 1895 he was a delegate to the International Congress at Paris.Pages 810-812 from volume III, part 2 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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