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Richard Rowett (1830 - 1887)

by Donald "DOC" Skinner, VMD


          Rowett is best known today for his importation of an excellent strain of Beagles from England but during his lifetime this accomplishment paled at the exploits of a major civil war hero.

          He was a dark complected, bearded, compact man of medium height. Little is known of his early life since he was born in Cornwall, England on Nov. 17, 1830. Richard was the eighth child born to his parents in a large family of five boys and five girls. He and his brother Joe immigrated to America, some of his siblings went to Australia. Rowett was 21 when he arrived in America, his brother Joe arrived later in 1856. The two were very close; Joe greatly admired his older brother.

          Richard first settled in Indiana but later settled in Carlinville, Illinois where he became a naturalized citizen. Carlinville, like most of the country, was a hot bed of political controversy divided over the issue of slavery. Rowett was opposed to slavery even before coming to the United States. He was active in the formation of the Underground Railroad in Carlinville.  The area voted against Lincoln in the presidential election.

          Lincoln’s election ignited the south to secede from the Union. When Fort Sumter was fired upon on April 12, 1861, Lincoln asked for 75,000 volunteers to oppose the rebellious act of the south. Rowett and brother Joe helped raise a company from Carlinville known as the Carlinville invincibles. They became company K of the 7th Illinois volunteer infantry with Rowett as captain. The 7th Illinois was the first to answer Lincoln’s call. The brigade that included the 7th was part of the district of Cairo under the command of a little known brigadier general named Ulysses S Grant.

          In the first real battle of the war, Rowett and the 7th performed with valor capturing Fort Donelson in western TN. They later moved south near Savanah TN. Rowett was placed in charge after the commander became sick. He entered his second battle at Shiloh where his horse was shot out from under him. Shiloh on the first day of battle appeared to be a rebel victory; however, when Grant and reinforcements arrived the next day, the Union secured the victory. Rowett was twice wounded during this bloody battle in which nearly 24,000 men died. The battle of Shiloh saved the railroad network in Corinth. For his valor in the battle of Shiloh, Rowett was promoted to Lt. Col.

          The 7th became part of a 21,000- man force under general Rosencrans. The Confederates tried to retake Corinth but were repulsed again. Rowett again received praise for his valor. He had been in three major battles in as many months.

          Early in the war, Rowett found an abandoned thoroughbred horse in a cave in KY. He claimed the horse for himself and called him Charlie. Little did he realize at the time that the horse would later save his life on several occasions. The adventures of Charlie became a legend in its own right. Once Rowett eluded pursuing rebels by jumping Charlie over a deep chasm that the rebels would not chance. No doubt he was a man of eccentricities for when Charlie died after the war he made them rebury him because they had faced his head north instead of facing the enemy, south. When the 7th became mounted on mules this enabled Rowett to make more use of Charlie and the 7th to better handle the rebel skirmishes more effectively.

          About this time, Rowett was placed in charge of a prison and training camp a position not to his liking. After repeated protests he was allowed to return to the 7th   and General Sherman’s assault on Atlanta. After the capture of Atlanta, Rowlett was made commander of the 4th Div. Of XV corps. Which included his own 7th, the 50th and 57th Illinois and the 39th Iowa infantry.

          The confederate general, Hood marched north to threaten Sherman’s communication lines to Chatanooga; hoping to draw Sherman away from Atlanta. Sherman responded by sending 55,000 men to Rome, Georgia, including Rowett’s command. Meanwhile Hood learned of a large Union depot at Allatoona pass the contents of which was essential for the maintenance of Sherman’s army. Hood sent a division under general French to capture the depot at Allatoona pass. When Sherman learned of this he hurriedly sent 1,054-men by rail to defend the depot. It was during the ensuing bloody battle that Rowett rose to the occasion and although wounded in the leg repulsed attack after attack by the confederates. Due to the wounding of superiors, Rowett assumed command.

          The battle was well in hand when a stray mini ball struck Rowett in the head fracturing his skull. Rowett was credited with the victory at Allatoona pass. If the Purple Heart were in affect at this time Rowett would have had a chest full of them. Rowett gave much of the credit for the victory to the 16 shot repeating rifles that his men had purchased with their own money. He received commendations from General Sherman and Lincoln’s secretary.

          Surgeons placed a silver plate in Rowett’s head, in a life saving operation, after the battle. As a result of these wounds, the right side of his body suffered a partial paraysis and he limped the rest of his life, never fully recovering. For his gallant action at Allatoona, on the recommendation of general Sherman, he was promoted to brigadier general. Henceforth the hero of Allatoona pass would always be referred to as General Rowett.

          After the war he and brother Joe bought a farm with the money they had saved while in the army. The called the farm the meadows where they raised Jersey cattle, thoroughbreds and Beagles.

          Beagles as we know them today were unknown in this country until imported by Gen. Rowett, he had been introduced to them in England and enjoyed them. The so-called Beagles of the day were grade dogs of various combinations and builds that were used for hunting. As the breed increased in popularity other imports arrived but few rivaled the excellence of the Rowett strain. Rowett evidently had an eye for quality and the god given gift to pepetuate it. This was evidenced by having bred the15th winner of the Kentucky derby, Spokane. A thrill he did not enjoy since Spokane was sold due to Gen. Rowett’s failing health and won the derby after his death.

           The Gen. brought his Beagles from northern England in or near 1876. They were of excellent confirmation and field ability. Some of the other imports were of larger size, the English std. Being 16 inches. Some also were more like bloodhounds than Beagles so it was decided a standard should be established. This gave rise to the American-English Beagle club founded in 1884 by Beaglers from Philadelphia, PA.

          The club appointed a committee to establish a standard with a point system to determine a Beagle’s comparative degree of excellence. The committee consisted of Gen. Rowett, Norman Elmore of Granby, CT., and Dr. L. H. Twadell of Philadelphia. Due to his involvement with the thoroughbreds, the Gen turned down the club Pres. and asked Elmore to assign the point determination to the standard. Elmore must have been a conscientious breeder for he followed the lines of the Rowetts in deference to his own which he recognized as being inferior. This standard was recorded by Twadell and accepted by the A.K.C., which was formed a year later.

          In 1887 a second organization, the National Beagle club was formed which later merged with the American=English Beagle club and in 1891 was known as the National Beagle Club Of America. The standard was revised to further emphasize the running gear but since has remained essentially unchanged.

          After Rowett’s death much of his Beagle stock was taken over and successfully continued by Pottinger Dorsey and C. Staley Doub both from MD. Gen. Rowett’s contribution to the American Beagle was not realized during his lifetime. Today millions enjoy the breed and it has become the leading achievement of a man’s life that screamed PATRIOT! 

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).