Lewis W. Ross

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Lewis Winans Ross
Hon. Lewis W. Ross, Ill - NARA - 525465.jpg
Lewis W. Ross photographed by Mathew Brady ca. 1865
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
In office
Preceded by Newton Walker
Succeeded by Horace Turner
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
In office
Preceded by Horace Turner
Succeeded by Reuben McDowell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 9th district
In office
March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1869
Preceded by William J. Allen
Succeeded by Thompson W. McNeely
Personal details
Born (1812-12-08)December 8, 1812
Dutchess County, New York
Died October 29, 1895(1895-10-29) (aged 82)
Lewistown, Illinois
Resting place Oak Hill Cemetery
Lewistown, Illinois
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Frances Mildred Simms (1822–1902)
Children 12
Residence Lewistown, Illinois
Alma mater Illinois College
Occupation Attorney, merchant, banker
Military service
Rank Sergeant, Captain
Battles/wars Black Hawk War
Mexican-American War

Lewis Winans Ross (December 8, 1812 – October 29, 1895) was an Illinois attorney, merchant, and U.S. Representative from Illinois' 9th congressional district. He was widely known as an antiwar Peace Democrat or Copperhead during the American Civil War.

Early life[edit]

Born near Seneca Falls, New York, on December 8, 1812, Lewis Ross was the oldest son of Ossian M. and Mary (Winans) Ross. In 1820, Lewis Ross moved with his family to Illinois, where his father had been given land in the Illinois Military Tract in return for military service in the War of 1812. In 1821, the family settled in an area that later became Lewistown, Illinois, named for Lewis Ross by his father.[1] Lewis Ross received his early education in pioneer schools, and then attended Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, graduating in 1838.[2] He studied law with Josiah Lamborn, a noted lawyer of the day, and was admitted to the bar, commencing the practice of law in Lewistown in 1839.[1]

Marriage and children[edit]

Lewis Ross married Frances Mildred Simms (1822-1902) in Lewistown, Illinois, on June 13, 1839.[3] Lewis and Frances Ross had 12 children:[4] John Wesley Ross (1841-1902), a distinguished attorney who served as president of the Washington, D. C., Board of Commissioners; Mary Frances Ross (1843-1844); Ossian Reuben Ross (1845-1863), who committed suicide while a student at the University of Michigan;[5] Ellen Caroline Ross (1846-1880); Lewis Cass "Lute" Ross (1848-1916); Frank Rutledge Ross (1851-1886); Henry Lee Ross (1852-1856); Alice Ross (1854-1855); Pike Clinton Ross (1855-1917); Frances Walker Ross (1857-1885); Jennie L. Ross (1859-1941); and an unnamed daughter who died in infancy (her gravestone is marked "Babe").

Military service[edit]

Ross saw service in the Black Hawk War of 1832 as a sergeant in Bogart's Brigade, Captain John Sain's Company, Odd Battalion of Mounted Rangers.[6] During the Mexican-American War, Ross organized a company of volunteers (Company K) that was assigned to the 4th Illinois Infantry, commanded by Colonel Edward D. Baker, and Ross was elected captain of the company.[7] Two of Lewis Ross’ brothers, First Lieutenant Leonard F. Ross and Private Pike C. Ross, were among those who served under him in Company K.[note 1] In 1861, Illinois Governor Richard Yates offered Ross a commission as colonel of volunteers, but Ross declined the offer.[9] Nevertheless, Lewis Ross was often addressed as Colonel Ross throughout his later life and in various histories concerning the period.

Political service[edit]

Lewis Ross served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1840 to 1842 (during which time Abraham Lincoln was also a member of the legislature), and again from 1844 to 1846.[10] In 1860, Ross was an unsuccessful candidate for the office of Lieutenant Governor of Illinois on the Democratic ticket. Ross served as member of the Illinois State Constitutional Conventions in 1862 and again in 1870. The proposed changes to the state constitution that were introduced in 1862 (known as the “Copperhead constitution”) were not ratified by the voters. However, Ross played a prominent role in the development of the Constitution of Illinois that was ratified in 1870.[9] Ross was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-eighth, Thirty-ninth, and Fortieth United States Congresses (serving March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1869).

While in Congress, Ross served as a member of the House Committees on Agriculture and Indian Affairs.[11] He also served as a member of the “Doolittle Committee,” a Congressional Joint Special Committee chaired by James R. Doolittle that investigated the condition of the Indian tribes and the way they were being treated by the military and civil authorities of the United States.[12] Among its other activities, this committee investigated the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, also known as the Chivington Massacre, in which members of the Colorado Territory militia, led by Colonel John Chivington, attacked a village of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians.[13]

Political views[edit]

Ross was a close personal friend and ardent supporter of Stephen A. Douglas in the latter’s senatorial and presidential campaigns.[9] During the Civil War, Ross was an antiwar Peace Democrat or Copperhead,[14] and the nature of his political views is apparent in his address to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1864.[15] In that address, he called for a cessation of the conflict through "mutual concessions and a fair and just compromise." Because of his antiwar stance and other views, Ross was suspected of being a Southern sympathizer by some of his fellow Illinoisans, and during the draft riots in Fulton County during the war, a cannon was reportedly trained on his house for several days.[16] Nevertheless, Ross' view of the war reflected that of many of his fellow citizens of Fulton County, as evidenced by the fact that he was re-elected to Congress twice.[14]

Later life[edit]

Although he was encouraged to run for the office of U.S. Vice President in 1868, Ross retired from politics after his service as a congressman in order to manage his considerable real estate holdings in Lewistown and Havana and to pursue his business interests. In 1878, Ross was involved in the incorporation of the Fulton County Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company,[17] which ultimately built a line between Galesburg and West Havana, Illinois.[18] In 1893, Ross was elected President of the Lewistown National Bank, and he took an active role in the bank's affairs until his death.[19]

Death and legacy[edit]

West view of the residence of Lewis W Ross.jpg

Lewis Ross died in Lewistown, Illinois, October 29, 1895, as a consequence of a burst blood vessel in his head.[9] He was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery in an area devoted to several members of the Ross family, including his grandmother (Abigail Lee Ross), his father, mother, wife, and 9 of his 12 children.[20] Original correspondence and other documents related to Lewis Ross are housed in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, including letters exchanged between Ross and Stephen A. Douglas, letters from Ross to his wife during the Mexican-American War, an account book for general stores in Lewistown and Havana run by Lewis Ross and his sons, and an account book listing his real estate and personal property.[8]

Ross was the basis for the character of Washington McNeely in Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology.[21] Two of Ross' sons provided the basis for other characters in that work. The suicide of Ross' son Ossian Reuben is alluded to in Masters' depiction of the character of Harry McNeely, Washington McNeely's son, and Lewis Cass was the basis for the character of Lucious Atherton in another part of the work. However, Lewis Ross' other children do not bear any obvious relationship to the other offspring of the Washington McNeely character. The "great mansion-house" mentioned in the verse refers to the Ross Mansion, a New England style building modeled after a mansion on the Hudson River that Ross admired.[16] The mansion was demolished in 1962, and the land was designated by the City of Lewistown as Ross Mansion Park, which is located at the corner of Broadway Street and Milton Avenue.[22]


  1. ^ Several newspaper accounts of Lewis Ross' death stated that he had participated in both the Battle of Veracruz and the Battle of Cerro Gordo. However, a letter from Ross to his wife, dated April 8, 1847, and written while he was onboard the General Worth on his way to New Orleans, states that Vera Cruz had already been taken by that time.[8]


  1. ^ a b Bateman, Newton; Selby, Paul; Heylin, Jesse (1908). Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Fulton County. Chicago: Munsell Pub. Co. Retrieved 14 January 2017. 
  2. ^ Illinois College; Capps, Edward (1929). Book of memorial memberships. Jacksonville, Ill.: The Illinois College Alumni Fund Association. Retrieved 14 January 2017. 
  3. ^ "Illinois Statewide Marriage Index". Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  4. ^ "Death of Mrs. F. M. Ross". The Fulton Democrat. October 29, 1902. 
  5. ^ "A Student of the Michigan State University Commits Suicide". Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Ill.). October 23, 1863. 
  6. ^ Illinois; Elliott, Isaac H. (1882). Record of the services of Illinois soldiers in the Black Hawk war, 1831-32, and in the Mexican war, 1846-8: containing a complete roster of commissioned officers and enlisted men of both wars, taken from the official rolls on file in the War department, Washington, D.C. With an appendix, giving a record of the services of the Illinois militia, rangers and riflemen, in protecting the frontier from the ravages of the Indians from 1810 to 1813. Springfield, Ill.: H.W. Rokker, State printer. Retrieved 14 January 2017. 
  7. ^ Chas. C. Chapman & Co. (1879). History of Fulton county, Illinois. Peoria, Ill.: C. C. Chapman & Co. Retrieved 14 January 2017. 
  8. ^ a b "Ross Family Papers 1822-1846". Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Lewis W. Ross Dead". Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Ill.). October 30, 1895. 
  10. ^ Pease, Theodore Calvin (1923). Illinois Election Returns, 1818-1848. Springfield, Ill.: Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library. Retrieved 14 January 2017. 
  11. ^ City Directories for Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C.: Wm. H. Boyd. 1868. p. 63. 
  12. ^ Prucha, Francis Paul (1984). The great father: the United States government and the American Indians. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 485–486. 
  13. ^ Kraft, Louis (2011). Ned Wynkoop and the lonely road from Sand Creek. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press. 
  14. ^ a b Anderson, William M. (1992). "The Fulton County war at home and in the field". Illinois Historical Journal. 85: 23–36. 
  15. ^ "Speech of Hon. Lewis W. Ross, of Ill., delivered in the House of Representatives, June 15, 1864". Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  16. ^ a b Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Illinois (1939). Illinois; a descriptive and historical guide. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co. p. 576. 
  17. ^ "New Narrow-Gauge Road". Daily Illinois State Journal. September 26, 1878. 
  18. ^ "Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railroad". Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  19. ^ "Career of the Late Capt. Ross". Evening Star (Washington, D. C.). November 5, 1895. 
  20. ^ Lewis W. Ross at Find a Grave
  21. ^ Masters, Edgar Lee; Hallwas, John E. (1992). Spoon River Anthology: an annotated edition. Urbana, Ill.: Univ. of Illinois Press. 
  22. ^ "City of Lewistown Illinois – Ross Mansion Park". Retrieved 8 April 2015. 

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website http://bioguide.congress.gov.

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
William J. Allen
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 9th congressional district

1863 – 1869
Succeeded by
Thompson W. McNeely