JOHN CALVIN FRENCH is the youngest son of George M. and Mary (Porter) French, and was born in Washington county, Penn., October 10, 1836. His mother died when he was less than three years old, and his early childhood was spent with relations in Fayette county, same State. At the age of twelve years he returned to his father's home, where he remained about four years, and then became an inmate of the family of William Lindley, Esq. He was a boy of all work during the summers, attending the district school in the winter; thus circumstances denied him the advantage of a thorough education, which he so much desired.
At the age of nineteen he accepted a position in the mercantile house of Robert Porter, at Ritchie C. H., W. Va., and at the end of one year's service he associated himself with three others in a copartnership, and embarked in the hoop and stave trade at points on the B. &. O. R. R., east of Parkersburg, Va. This company erected and operated the first establishment for the manufacture of oil barrels in that region after the development of the Kanawha oil field. The sudden breaking out of the war of the Rebellion destroyed the business of the company, and caused heavy financial losses. In closing up the affairs of the company, Mr. French found himself possessed of little else save good health, and a settled conviction that duty demanded that he should contribute himself to his country's service. Seeking an interview with some of his associates who had not been induced by political intriguers to cast their lots with the cause of secession, an arrangement was secretly entered into by which he and six others like-minded met at an agreed point on the night of June 14, 1861, and made their way to St. Mary's, the nearest point on the Ohio river, a distance of sixteen miles, in time for the morning boat going to Wheeling, where they arrived on the morning of June 16, 1861. Proceeding at once to "Camp Carlisle" on the island, they enlisted in a company which afterward became Company E, Second Virginia Infantry. Thus it appears that the subject of this sketch was one of seven who first represented Ritchie county, Va., in the Union army.
After serving as private soldier, duty sergeant, and orderly sergeant through all the vicissitudes of the first fifteen months of the war, and having been left in command of the company at the second battle of Bull Run (one of the two commissioned officers present being killed and the other severely wounded), an unusual compliment was shown him, as no commissioned officer was assigned to the company until September 9, 1862, when he was commissioned second lieutenant and assigned to Company H. On December 3, same year, he was commissioned first lieutenant, and assigned back to Company E. For some time he was assigned to the command of Company B, while that company was detached from the regiment at an outpost. While in command of a portion of the forces which made a dash upon the enemy at the Rocky Gap affair on August 26, 1863, he received a severe wound near the left knee, the thigh bone being fractured and the joint distorted, which has measurably disabled him ever since. Having been rescued from falling into the hands of the enemy by his comrades, and having been conveyed by ambulance a distance of more than a hundred miles to Beverly, Va., he was kindly sheltered and nursed by Mrs. Jonathan Arnold, a sister of the famous Confederate chieftain, "Stonewall" Jackson, until he was sufficiently recovered to visit his old home in Pennsylvania. After his return to his regiment he was commissioned adjutant, and served in that capacity until his command was mustered out. The following is copied from the regimental history compiled by Frank S. Reder, Esq., editor of the Beaver Valley News, who was a comrade of Mr. French: "There was no braver officer in the regiment, and Lieut. French deserves special mention for his gallant conduct at the second battle of Bull Run, and for his splendid leadership in the extreme advance, in the dash where he was wounded at Rocky Gap."
After three years' service in the army, he returned to Washington county, Penn., and on September 7, 1864, was married to Miss Sevilla Vaile, in fulfillment of an engagement made in early life. For some years he followed merchandising. In 1873 he was elected treasurer of his native county. After the expiration of his term of office he returned to his home in Prosperity, Morris township, engaging as far as able in farming. He and his family are members of the Presbyterian Church of Upper Ten Mile, in the prosperity and work of which he and his family have for years taken a deep interest. For some time he has served as superintendent of the Sabbath-school connected with the congregation; for the last six consecutive years he has been chosen to preside as moderator at the business meetings of the congregation, and on February 12, 1893, he was chosen a ruling elder. He has long been a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was one of the charter members of Luther Day Post, No. 395, Department of Pennsylvania, and for some time had the honor of being its commander.
Four children were born to Mr. and Mrs. French, viz.: Dr. Edward E., of Bentleyville; Leah Mary, wife of Dr. A. N. Booth, also of Bentleyville; Charles Clinton, who died in infancy, and John Calvin, Jr., who is now acquiring an education.
Text taken from page 582 of:
Beers, J. H. and Co., Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1893).
Transcribed May 1997 by Marsha Richins of Columbia, MO as part of the Beers Project.
Published June 1997 on the Washington County, PA USGenWeb pages at http://www.chartiers.com/.
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