James Overton Broadhead

James Overton Broadhead was born on May 29, 1819, in Charlottesville, Virginia, to Achilles Broadhead and Mary Carr. He attended school in Albemarle County before enrolling at the University of Virginia in 1835. He spent a year at UVA, studying law, mathematics, and ancient languages. His family moved to St. Charles County, Missouri, around 1836, leaving Broadhead to fund his own education. He worked as a teacher in Baltimore until 1837, when his mother’s failing health prompted him to join the family in Missouri. Broadhead later became a friend and protégé to Edward Bates, who later became attorney general during Abraham Lincoln’s administration. Bates helped Broadhead earn admission to the Missouri bar in 1842. He married Mary Snowden Dorsey on May 13, 1847, in Bowling Green, Pike County, Missouri. They lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and had four children: Charles Snowden, born in 1851; Mary Winston, born in 1855; John D., born in 1858; and Nannie Dorsey, born in 1863.

Broadhead was active in politics, securing election to the Missouri Constitutional Convention in 1845, the state house of representatives in 1846, and the state senate in 1850. He belonged to the Whig Party until its collapse in the early 1850s, becoming a Know Nothing in 1856 and a Republican in 1858. He supported Abraham Lincoln during the election of 1860, insisting that Democrats had subverted democracy in order to expand slavery into the nation’s western territories. He believed Democrats had declared war on Mexico in 1846 “for the purpose of acquiring slave territory” and had “force[d] the institution upon an unwilling people” by supporting Kansas’s pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution in 1858. He hoped that Lincoln’s election would maintain slavery “just where it is and as it is”—preserving the Union while securing southerners’ constitutional rights.

When the Deep South began to secede, Broadhead recognized that “to be quiet and resistless was to submit, and this we could not do.” In January 1861, he helped organize an Unconditional Union Party, and the following month he helped form a Committee of Safety to coordinate Unionist efforts in St. Louis. By April, the Committee had organized four regiments of volunteers for the Union army and the state’s Reserve Corps commissioned Broadhead as a major. At the same time, he served as a representative at Missouri’s Constitutional Convention in 1861, where he argued forcefully against secession. Ultimately, the convention voted 98 to 1 to remain in the Union, and Lincoln appointed Broadhead assistant U.S. attorney for Missouri that spring. He used his power to indict Missouri’s secessionist governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, for treason as a result of Jackson's plots to remove the state from the Union.

From November 1861 until August 1862, Broadhead served as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. On June 8, 1863, the Missouri State Militia commissioned him a lieutenant colonel in the 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry Regiment. The commission was mainly symbolic, and the following day he became Provost Marshal General of the Department of Missouri, then encompassing Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, the Indian Territory, and southern Iowa. As Provost Marshal General, he worked to restore Missouri’s loyalty to the Union, but also showed leniency towards the state’s Confederate sympathizers. According to his radical Republican opponents, Broadhead declared that, “every damned Abolitionist in the country ought to be hung.” Broadhead was nominated for a seat in the U.S. Senate in November 1863 with the support of conservative Unionists but narrowly lost to the radical-supported candidate, St. Louis lawyer Benjamin Gratz Brown.

Following the war, Broadhead left the Republican party after it began to empower free blacks and disenfranchise ex-Confederates, eventually joining Missouri’s Conservative Unionist party. He ran as the party’s nominee for the 1866 Congressional election but lost. Broadead eventually joined the Democratic party in 1868, and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1868 and 1872. In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Broadhead as a special prosecutor to investigate tax fraud in the Whiskey Ring scandal. Broadhead’s investigation led to 110 convictions and the recovery of more than $3 million in taxes. In 1878, he co-founded the American Bar Association and served as its first president. He served in Congress from 1883 to 1885, and when his term expired, became President Grover Cleveland’s special commissioner to France. Broadhead served as minister to Switzerland from 1893 to 1897 before returning to Missouri to become chair of international law at the St. Louis Law School. He died on August 7, 1898.

Image: James O. Broadhead (courtesy Library of Congress).


Finding UVA's Unionists (Part 2): James Overton Broadhead


James O. Broadhead to William F. Broadhead, February 7, 1858

James O. Broadhead Speaks at Opposition Party Meeting in Missouri

James O. Broadhead Endorses Abraham Lincoln in 1860

Excerpt of James O. Broadhead's Speech Before the Missouri Convention, March 14, 1861

James O. Broadhead to Montgomery Blair, September 30, 1861

James O. Broadhead to Bernard Gaines Farrar, February 2, 1862

James O. Broadhead Protests Radical Reconstruction

James O. Broadhead Meets with President Andrew Johnson

Obituary of James O. Broadhead

Name:Broadhead, James Overton
Alternative names:
  • Soldier
  • UVA (Union)
3rd Regiment Missouri State Militia Cavalry (2nd Organization)F&S
Branch of service:Army
Commission1861-06-08St. Louis, MOaccepted44
Muster In1861-06-09St. Louis, MO44
Muster Out1864-02-06Resigned
Residence at UVA:Charlottesville, VA
UVA Begin Year:1835
UVA End Year:1836
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:Lieutenant Colonel
Rank Out:Lieutenant Colonel
Highest rank achieved:
Birth date:1819-05-29
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Charlottesville, VA
Death date:1898-08-07
Death place:
Causes of death:
Occupations:Attorney, Politician
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Broadhead, James Overtonparent ofBroadhead, Charles Snowden
Broadhead, James Overtonparent ofBroadhead, Mary Winston
Broadhead, James Overtonparent ofBroadhead, John D.
Broadhead, James Overtonparent ofBroadhead, Nannie Dorsey
Broadhead, Mary Snowdenwife ofBroadhead, James Overton

Compiled Service Records for James O. Broadhead, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; United States Census, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, and 1860 Federal Slave Schedule, accessed through Ancestry.com; “UVA Student Catalogue,” Jefferson's University: Early Life (http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/public_person?person=34801#m1); James Overton Broadhead Papers, Missouri History Museum; “James Overton Broadhead,” Report of the Twenty-First Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association (1898); Kirby Ross, “James O. Broadhead: Ardent Unionist, Unrepentant Slaveholder,” Civil War St. Louis, available from http://www.civilwarstlouis.com/History2/broadheadprofile.htm; “Presidential Electors,” Glasgow (MO) Weekly Times, October 23, 1856; “Opposition Mass Convention of Missouri,” Glasgow Weekly Times, March 8, 1860; “Republicanism in Missouri,” Fremont (OH) Weekly Journal, October 19, 1860; St. Louis Democrat, June 10, 1863; “The Whisky Ring Trials,” The New York Times, December 12, 1875; Journal of the Missouri State Convention Held at Jefferson City and St. Louis, March 1861 (St. Louis: George Knapp & Co., 1861), 114-123; “Third Cavalry, Missouri State Militia,” Journal of the Senate of the State of Missouri (Jefferson City: J.P. Ament, 1863), 294; The Commonwealth of Missouri: A Centennial Record, ed. C.R. Barns (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand & Co., 1877), 450;  James O. Broadhead, “War Between the States – Federal History,” Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis, Vol. 4, ed. William Hyde and Howard L. Conard (St. Louis: The Southern History Company, 1899), 24-25; Henry W. Scott, “James Overton Broadhead,” Distinguished American Lawyers, With Their Struggles and Triumphs (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1891), 89-91; James O. Broadhead, “Early Events of the War in Missouri,” War Papers and Personal Reminiscences, 1861-1865, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: Becktold & Co., 1892), 1-28; “James Overton Broadhead,” Report of the Twenty-First Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association (Philadelphia: Dando Printing and Publishing Company, 1898), 683-685; In Memoriam: James Overton Broadhead (St. Louis: Legal Publishing Company, 1899); James O. Broadhead, “St. Louis During the Civil War,” published in NiNi Harris, A Most Unsettled State: First-Person Accounts of St. Louis During the Civil War (St. Louis: Reedy Press, 2013); “James Overton Broadhead,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, available from http://www.bioguide.congress.gov; William E. Parrish, "James Overton Broadhead," American National Biography Online, https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0400149; Brian Neumann, “Finding UVA's Unionists (Part 2): James Overton Broadhead” (http://community.village.virginia.edu/unionist/node/523).