John Breckinridge Castleman

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John Breckinridge Castleman
Born(1841-06-30)June 30, 1841
Castleton Farm, Lexington, Kentucky
DiedMay 23, 1918(1918-05-23) (aged 76)
Political partyDemocratic Party

John Breckinridge Castleman (June 30, 1841 – May 23, 1918) was a Confederate officer and later a United States Army brigadier general as well as a prominent landowner and businessman in Louisville, Kentucky. He was described in 2017 as "Southern, self-interested, vainglorious, largely ineffective".[1]

Early life[edit]

John was the 7th of 11 surviving children born to David B. Castleman (1786–1852) and Virginia Harrison (1806–1895) who were married in Kentucky in 1824. By birth, he was closely related to a future 14th U.S. Vice President, John Cabell Breckinridge; their respective maternal grandmothers were sisters. He studied law at Transylvania University before the Civil War.

Military career[edit]

At the age of 19, Castleman entered into Confederate service. He was opposed to the institution of slavery, but an advocate of states' rights.[2]

During the Civil War, Castleman recruited 41 men in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, who went to Knoxville, Tennessee, to form the Second Kentucky Cavalry company under John Hunt Morgan.

Castleman was promoted to major in 1864. He led guerrillas in the attempted burning of supply boats in St. Louis, Missouri and was arrested in October 1864 at Sullivan, Indiana. He was convicted of spying and sentenced to death, but his execution was stayed by Abraham Lincoln. Following the war, Castleman was exiled from the United States, and studied medicine in France. He was pardoned by Andrew Johnson and returned to Kentucky in 1866.

He revived the Louisville Legion, a militia unit, in 1878 and became adjutant general of Kentucky in 1883. The unit became the 1st Kentucky Volunteers in the Spanish–American War, and Castleman was commissioned a colonel in the U.S. Army. His unit participated in the invasion of Puerto Rico, and after the war he was promoted to brigadier general and served as military governor of the island.

Social Issues[edit]

When a dispute over whether African-American soldiers serving in the US Army arose among some Southerners during the First World War, General Castleman said, "I unhesitatingly say that I will at any time salute an officer, superior or inferior, who salutes me, without regard to the color of his skin. The regulations and laws, and the fundamentals of courtesy and discipline, upon which these regulations and laws are based, prescribe this. It is no time to stand against them. I want to urge every soldier to be a soldier in the full sense of the term. We are at war, and soldiers are under the rules of the American army. We are all one under the flag. We salute the rank, not the individual."[3]

Business career[edit]

He graduated from the University of Louisville School of Law in 1868, married, and founded an insurance company, Barbee and Castleman, with his father-in-law. The company represented Royal Insurance Company of Liverpool in the Southern United States.

In 1870, Castleman bought a 60-acre (240,000 m2) tract of land called Schwartz's Wood in what was then the outskirts of Louisville. He intended to build a country estate there, but as Louisville expanded around it quickly, the land became much more valuable as a subdivision. It became the western half of Louisville's Tyler Park neighborhood.

Political career[edit]

Castleman never ran for office, but his military and business reputation gave him considerable influence. As a Delegate to the 1892 Democratic National Convention, he successfully lobbied for the nomination of Grover Cleveland. After Governor William Goebel was shot in 1900, Castleman was again appointed adjutant general of Kentucky and was instrumental in averting civil war in Kentucky in the fallout of the assassination.[4]

In Louisville, he had great influence as Commissioner of the Board of Parks for over 25 years, during which time he helped establish Louisville's Olmsted Park system, which spurred development in various parts of Louisville and became one of the city's prized possessions over the next century.

Castleman was vocal about and in favor of segregation of the parks he helped create. [5]

However, Castleman's contribution to the Louisville'park system has been called into question, and it is claimed that Castleman took credit due to (the Northener, "carpetbagger") Andrew Cowan. Cowan prepared the original plan for Louisville's parks. "It was Cowan who successfully lobbied for the state legislation to create a Louisville Park Commission. It was Cowan who first invited Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect, to Louisville and who secretly coached the firm on how to price their work in order to win the bid.... If Castleman had his way, Olmsted never would have been hired."[6]

In 1905, he was a key figure supporting Louisville's Fusionist Party, an anti-corruption party. Although the Fusionists never won many elections, they eventually caused reform in Louisville's election system to come about.

Death and legacy[edit]


  1. ^ Burnette, Eric (May 26, 2017). "Thank Andrew Cowan for Louisville parks, not Castleman". Courier-Journal.
  2. ^ "General Castleman". The Wisconsin State Journal. May 25, 1918.
  3. ^ Lea, Albert (November 22, 1917). "DRAWING COLOR LINE". Albert Lea Evening Tribune.
  4. ^ Kleber, John E. (2015). The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. p. 169.
  5. ^ Novelly, Thomas. "A controversial statue: 5 things to know about John B. Castleman". Courier Journal. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  6. ^ Burnette, Eric (May 26, 2017). "Thank Andrew Cowan for Louisville parks, not Castleman". Courier-Journal.
  7. ^ "Gen John Breckinridge Castleman". Find A Grave. Retrieved 6 February 2017.

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