Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men in Chicago, Photographically Illustrated by John Carbutt, 1868, Pages 569-576
Among the young men of Chicago whom the war elevated into public notice, not one reached that prominence with more sterling qualities, physically and intellectually, or with less covetousness of it, than Alexander C. McClurg. On his father’s side he is of Irish descent, and ancestrally may trace back his martial inclinations, his grandfather having sought America as an asylum from political punishment incurred in the rebellion of 1798, and his father, Alexander McClurg, having originally built the Fort Pitt Foundry, at Pittsburgh, which furnished iron arguments on every battle-field of the late war, and on every deck of the Union navy.
Alexander C, the subject of this sketch, was born in Philadelphia, but his boyhood was mainly spent in Pittsburgh, whither his parents had returned. He graduated at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, near Cincinnati, and, returning to Pittsburgh, commenced the study of the law in the office of Hon. Walter H. Lowrie, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. His constitution was not sufficiently robust to allow of the very close application which an ambitious student deems the condition of eminence at the bar. The gradual impairing of his health compelled him to relinquish his studies. In the autumn of 1859, he came to Chicago, to seek his fortunes in the more active sphere of mercantile life, and, immediately upon his arrival, identified himself with the book-house of S. C. Griggs & Co., then, as now, the leading establishment in that branch of business in the West. All his antecedents and his predilections peculiarly fitted him for the book business, and he brought to it not only fine natural tastes and acquirements, but determined energy and close application to the details of his calling.
He was already assuming a prominent position in the house when the war broke out. All his interests and his inclination impelled him to remain, but duty was paramount. His slight frame and rather delicate appearance offered a natural objection to the exposures and privations of the field, and the constant tenor of the advice of friends and relatives added to its force; but the calls of duty were more forcible even than these. Urged by the purest of personal motives, he enlisted as a private in Company “D” Sixtieth Regiment Illinois State Militia, commanded by Captain Bradley, now General Bradley, of the regular service, and one of the most accomplished soldiers Chicago sent to the war. The regiment was intended for the three months’ service, but it was not needed, and, after two or three months’ drill, the organization was disbanded, and Mr. McClurg continued for a time in business. The second urgent call of the President for troops found him willing to go if needed. On the 15th of August, 1862, the Crosby Guards, which he had partially raised, and which were named for U. H. Crosby, Esq., who had taken a direct interest in the enlistment of the company, were mustered into the service, and on the same day he was elected Captain of the company, which was subsequently attached to the Second Board of Trade Regiment.
Under the command of Colonel Frank Sherman, the regiment left for Louisville on the 4th of September, and Captain McClurg was now in active service. The details of that service we must briefly narrate. The regiment first moved to the defense of Cincinnati against the threatened attack of Kirby Smith, and returned to Louisville in time to participate in the battle of Perryville, only one month from the time they left Chicago. After their arrival at Nashville, Captain McClurg was detailed as Judge Advocate of an important General Court Martial, of which General Woodruff, of Kentucky, was President. He fulfilled the duties of this position with ability so marked as to attract the attention of Major-General McCook, who, in May, 1863, immediately after Captain McClurg’s recovery from a violent attack of fever, placed him upon his staff as Acting Assistant Adjutant-General. In this capacity he served through the active campaigns of Rosecrans against Tullahoma and Chattanooga, participating in the battles of Liberty Gap and Chickamauga. On the re-organization of the army after this latter battle, General McCook was relieved from command, and the Captain expected to be allowed to return to his regiment. He was, however, at once complimented by offers of positions on the staffs of Generals Thomas, Sheridan and Baird. As General Baird offered him the Adjutant- Generalship of his Division, he preferred and accepted that. The following letter, written some time after, is an evidence of the estimate which General Sheridan at that time set upon him:
- Winchester, Va., November 16, 1864.
My Dear Captain:
I am pleased to tender you my thanks for the valuable services you rendered while with the Twentieth Corps. I was anxious, immediately after you were relieved from duty with General McCook, to secure your services with me, but the only position on my staff then vacant—that of Mustering Officer—not being calculated to exercise your military ability, you declined it. Still, I should again have applied for you, had not my early transfer to the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac temporarily prevented. * * * * I will, at the earliest practicable moment, if agreeable to you, be pleased to obtain the services of one so thoroughly competent * * * *
I am yours, very truly,
Maj. Gen’l U.S. Vol.
Capt. A. C. McClurg, A. A. G., U. S. Vols.
When this letter was received, Captain McClurg was too importantly connected with the Western command to allow even of his accepting the offer of the already brilliant hero of the Shenandoah.
He continued as the Adjutant-General of Baird’s Division, doing valuable service, while our army was beleaguered in Chattanooga by Bragg’s forces, and at the battle of Mission Ridge. In the latter brilliant action his horse was twice shot under him, and he received special and distinguished mention for personal gallantry and important service.
On the 12th of April, 1864, he was assigned to the position of Adjutant-General of the Fourteenth Army Corps, under General John M. Palmer, of Illinois. Shortly afterwards, the corps moved on the campaign against Atlanta, with its five months of incessant battles and skirmishes. Three weeks previous to the capture of Atlanta, General Palmer was relieved, and Major-General Jeff. C. Davis was assigned to the command. He immediately requested Captain McClurg to retain his position at the head of the staff, and applied to the President for his assignment as Adjutant-General, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. The appointment was at once made by the War Department, whereupon Colonel McClurg was declared, in general orders, Chief of Staff. The application for promotion General Davis based upon his gallant conduct in the battle of Jonesboro’. Then followed the tedious chase of Hood, and Sherman’s memorable march to the sea, the details of which have been written and rewritten in the newspaper press and in contemporaneous histories, and sung by poets all over the land, until they are as familiar as household words. In all the privations and exposures, in all the battles and victories, in all the reconnoissances and skirmishes, and in all the glories and triumphs of that great march, General McClurg bore an active and honorable part. When the corps finally made its triumphant entrance into Washington, and participated in the review of the Grand Army, he was at his post. Shortly after this, General Stoneman, then assigned to the Department of the Tennessee, telegraphed to him, although they had never met, to accept the Adjutant-Generalship of that department; but he declined the offer. The war was now over, and duty no longer demanded that he should remain in the service. As soon as the work of disbanding his old corps—the Fourteenth—was completed, he was honorably mustered out of the service. He enlisted for the war as a private. He returned with a “star” upon his epaulets, and the names of the following engagements inscribed upon the sword presented to him at his departure: Perryville, Stone River, Liberty Gap, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Mission Ridge, Ringgold, Resaca, Adairsville, Big Shanty, New Hope Church, Kenesaw Mountain, Chattahoochie River, Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, Jonesboro’, Savannah, Averasboro’, Bentonville.
At the close of the war, he received very complimentary letters from Generals Baird, Mitchell, Davis and others, testifying to his bravery as an officer, and to the eminently satisfactory manner in which he had performed his staff duties. General Davis was especially anxious that he should go into the regular army, and voluntarily gave him a letter to Mr. Stanton, recommending him for a high position, which letter, however, has never been used. From letters written by Generals Sherman and George H. Thomas, we make the following extracts
General Sherman writes:
- * * * * It is both proper and right that I should personally acknowledge my sense of personal obligation to the many young gentlemen who came into the volunteer army from civil life, to serve our common country at a time of her greatest peril, and who filled their positions with so much credit to themselves and the service. Among these I recognize yourself, especially during the time you were the Adjutant-General of the Fourteenth Corps, under the command of General Jeff. C. Davis, during the siege of Atlanta, the march to Savannah, and the subsequent campaign which closed the civil war. Accept my best wishes for your success in civil life.
General Thomas says:
- It affords me pleasure to remember that you came personally under my notice early in the war, and continued so until September, 1864, when the Fourteenth Corps, of which you were Chief of Staff, was removed from my command. The fact that you enlisted as private and gradually rose to the grade of Brevet Brigadier-General, is evidence that you were earnest and devoted in your duties, and gave satisfaction to your superior officers ; and it is but just to add, that I always recognized in you a very active and able officer, as well as a courteous gentleman.
It was the unanimous and freely expressed desire of all his superior officers with whom he had had staff relations, that he should go into the regular army, and perhaps his own inclinations lay in the same direction; but with the close of the war his duties were closed, and his original intention, together with the preferences of relatives and friends, led him to resume the business of civil life. When he laid aside his sword, he re-entered the firm of S. C. Griggs & Co., and refilled the place which had been kept for him, where he still remains. As one of the junior members of the firm, he has contributed largely to its prosperity, and to the potent influence it wields in moulding the educational, literary and artistic character of the West.
It is due to General McClurg that we should speak of him both as a gentleman and a soldier. He is a gentleman in the best sense of that much abused word, and may base his title to the term not only in external polish of maimer, but in innate dignity of character and inflexibility of moral purpose. His address is such as commands respect from all. These elements of the man, joined with a strong will, determined physical courage and conscientious application to duty, won for him his military success. The union of these qualities was signally marked at the battle of Jonesboro’, in an incident narrated to us by an eye-witness. An appa- rently impregnable position of the enemy, guarded by a battery pouring forth a most galling fire of grape, was to be charged. Inevitable annihilation seemed to threaten the troops that should make the attempt. Naturally the regiments hesitated and wavered. It was the crisis of the battle—defeat here was defeat everywhere, and instantly, without waiting even to draw his sword, General McClurg leaped over the works behind which our men were protected, and rushed forward, waving his handkerchief, which happened to be in his hand, and shouting, in a loud, clear voice, “Forward!” The coolness and promptness of the action were electric in their effect. The men followed him; and, after one of the bloodiest charges of the Atlanta campaign, the position was taken, and victory was secured.
Bluster and bravado were foreign to his manner. His native dignity never suffered from the contaminations of the camp or the excesses of the battle-field. He always preserved an equability of temper under the most trying circumstances, and his quiet courage never wavered, even in the most desperate straits. At Bentonville, he performed such gallant and valuable service that the correspondent of the “New York Herald” spoke of him as cutting his way through a rebel division.
His demeanor to inferiors and superiors was uniformly marked by the same courtesy, and he commanded the respect and admiration of each.
How intimate and confidential were the relations which subsisted between himself and General Jeff. C. Davis, whose Chief of Staff he was during the last year of service, and how completely that gallant soldier relied upon him, is well known to every member of the old Fourteenth Corps. What General Davis (a man who was well known to be chary of commendation) thought of him, is evident from a sentence or two in the letter which he voluntarily addressed to Mr. Stanton:
- * * * * The delicate and arduous duties of Chief of Staff have been so zealously and wisely executed by him, and his assistance has been so valuable to me, that I feel myself unable to requite the debt of gratitude I am under to him; and I therefore take the liberty, on parting with him, to ask that he be appointed to a position in the regular service. His preference would be for the Adjutant-General’s Department of the staff, and his great experience in this department of the service has qualified him in an eminent degree. * * * *
I earnestly hope that my request in behalf of this gallant and distinguished officer will be complied with, and his services thus rewarded.
In another communication addressed to the War Department, he styles him “one of the most zealous and distinguished staff officers in the service.” All his staff duties were efficiently performed, with the utmost punctuality and regularity, and his evenness of temper and gentlemanly dignity, no more nor no less than he had possessed in civil life, made it a pleasure then, as it is now, to transact business with him.
As we have before stated, he entered the volunteer service with the purest of personal motives. He conscientiously felt that it was his duty to go, and in all his various stations he labored with enthusiasm and love! He had no unworthy personal ambition to gratify beyond the complete fulfillment of his duty, wherever he was placed. The small jealousies of the service were foreign to him, and he was never absent from his post to secure advancement through the influence of friends at home. His promotions were rapid, but they never came from his motion or of his seeking. The high offices that he filled came to him, not he to them, because the soldierly manner in which he executed his duties unmistakably pointed him out as the man best qualified to fill them. All those qualities which shone so brilliantly in his military career, are to-day just as bright in his social and business intercourse with men.
It is characteristic of the man that, in the portrait which accompanies this sketch, he appears in the uniform of a Colonel—that in which he was best known to his comrades in the service—and not in the uniform which his later rank entitled him to wear
We may well close our sketch by saying that his career in the service was another illustration of the spirit of Tennyson’s lines:
- Not once or twice in our fair island story
The path of duty was the way to glory.
A. C. McClurg after the 1871 Fire
In 1859 A. C. McClurg joined Griggs as a junior partner after he returned a general from the Civil War. The Griggs company building was burned down in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. After the fire, Griggs sold his share of the company and it became Jansen, McClurg & Co. In May, 1883 Jansen, McClurg & Co. have rented the Rutter building, on the north-west corner of Madison street and Wabash avenue. McClurg became senior partner in 1887 and the company took the name of A. C. McClurg & Co. The building was again destroyed in a fire in 1899, but McClurg financed a new building. McClurg died in 1901, but the company retained his name in subsequent decades.
When Jansen, McClurg & Company revitalized The Dial magazine in 1880 as a platform of politics and literary criticism, the magazine gained national prominence, but it was sold three years after Browne’s death in 1913. In 1912 A. C. McClurg published its first Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes book. McClurg would publish the first ten novels of the series. In October, 1917 the A.C. McClurg & Company hardcover publication of John Carter of Mars was released. The novel was retitled A Princess of Mars.
By 1923, the company’s operations focused exclusively on wholesaling. The company remained in business until 1962.
The original first editions of Tarzan of the Apes (1912) and A Princess of Mars (1913), as published by the A. C. McClurg Company in Chicago.