The Honorable Senator Maxwell McCaslin, born March 1, 1802, Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia (West Virginia), was the son of Irish immigrants Francis and Jane Booth “McCausland.” The family moved to Waynesburg, Greene County, Pa. in 1807, where Max apprenticed as a bricklayer, pursuing a career as a masonry merchant through 1829. He moved to Wheeling with his wife Joanna Taylor, entering a partnership with B.B. Woodruff and James Bell, “droving” cattle for the Army to St. Louis and Philadelphia during the Black Hawk War.
Col. McCaslin’s military life began in 1822, enlisting as a member of the Franklin Rangers and the Washington-Greene Vanguards, ultimately rising to the regiment’s adjutant. Elected major in June 1828, McCaslin became Commonwealth Brigade Inspector in 1835, and Captain of Infantry in the Franklin Blues. In 1845, while a member of the state House of Representatives, Governor Shunk commissioned Maxwell “first aide” and colonel in the Pennsylvania Militia. As noted, McCaslin represented Greene County in the House from 1843 through 1845; the state Senate, 1848-1854; served as Speaker of the Senate, 1850 and 1854; was a presidential elector for Franklin Pierce in 1851, and emerged as a dedicated anti-Buchanan – pro-Cameron Democrat. His backing of Cameron and President Pierce (1852-56) earned an 1855 appointment as Osage River, Miami Indian Reservation agent in Kansas. In Bleeding Kansas during the 1857 Oxford Fraud, McCaslin protested the election-day invasion by non-resident Missourians to President James Buchanan, implicating a number of Buch’s friends in the process – comrades who engineered an election-day victory for slave states, but whose victorious margin exceeded the county’s qualified voters five to one. The President “awarded” the whistle-blower by relieving him of his government post. Infuriated, McCaslin bided time in Miami until the outbreak of the Civil War, aligning with the “War Democrat” faction.
After exposure to Buchanan’s high jinks, and with the advent of Lincoln’s ascendancy to the White House, Maxwell decided to put his military training to the test, moving to a farm he owned in Parkersburg, Virginia (W.Va.). He was commissioned colonel of the 15th West Virginia Inf., September 6, 1862, by W. Va. Gov. Pierpont; promoted Colonel; organized a company on Wheeling Island; and served through September 7, 1864, participating at Romney, Cloyd’s Mtn., Lynchburg, Snicker’s Ferry, Third Winchester (Opequon), Fisher’s Hill, Cedar Creek, and the Siege of Petersburg. Retiring from the military in poor health, he returned to Greene County, Pa. to recuperate. On April 14, 1865, during a visit to Washington D.C., Max attended Ford’s Theater, witnessing the assassination of President Lincoln.
The Colonel returned to state politics in 1868 as Kansas’s (unsuccessful) Democratic candidate for Secretary of State and remained an active member in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) veterans association throughout his life. He is described as a “tall commanding figure, with a countenance expressive of stern quality and great decision of character: of a noble generous nature with a high sense of honor.” He died at Paola, Kansas, January 7, 1880, age 78.
Portrait: Col. McCaslin, Barrett Collection, USAMHI; also: William Hanna, History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (1882), 307; also: Marriage Records of Berkeley County, Virginia, 1781-1854, comp. Guy L. Keesecker (Martinsburg, West Virginia: Keesecker, 1969), 52; also: Pioneer History of Greene County, Pennsylvania, ed. Lewis K. Evans (Waynesburg, Pennsylvania: Waynesburg Republican, 1941), 166; also: “M. McCaslin, Brownsville, to Simon Cameron, December 30, 1854,” Roll 2, Cameron Papers, PSA; also: The Republican Citizen (Miami County), January 1880; also: George F. Emerson, Sketches of the Lives of the Members of the Pennsylvania Legislature (Philadelphia: C. Sherman, printer, 1849).