James Edgar Montandon

James Edgar Montandon was born in 1831 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, to Swiss merchant Henry Montandon. The family moved to Adams County, Illinois, by 1835, and then to Fort Madison, in the Iowa Territory, around 1841. At the time, the entire territory contained about 43,000 white residents, and Fort Madison had fewer had 550. 

In 1849, Montandon enrolled at the University of Virginia to study law. He severely neglected his studies, and the faculty minutes frequently note his absences and his lack of academic progress. On the night of April 22, 1850, Montandon and two other students raped an enslaved 12-year-old girl in a field near the university. Several students caught them “in the act of perpetrating the crime” and quickly “interfered to prevent it.” The faculty chairman reported them to the “Civil Authority in Charlottesville, but the offenders had absconded.” Two days later, the faculty unanimously voted to expel them from the university.

Montandon returned to his father’s farm after his expulsion. The family moved to nearby Denmark, Iowa, in the early 1850s, and in July 1856 Montandon married Felicia Minerva Isbell. Her father Nathan Isbell was a Massachusetts missionary and a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. While selling Bibles in Missouri, he helped slaves escape by hiding them in the false bottom of his wagon. James and Felicia’s first child, Nellie Josephine Montandon, was born in February 1857. Around 1858, they moved to Chicago, Illinois, where James worked as a painter. Their second child, George Edgar Montandon, was born there on May 29, 1859.

On September 20, 1861, Montandon received a commission as a first lieutenant in the 51st Illinois Infantry. The regiment spent the winter stationed in Illinois before moving into Missouri and Tennessee in the spring of 1862. They took part in the month-long siege of Corinth, Mississippi, which surrendered on May 30, 1862. That September, he was appointed as quartermaster of the regiment, and in January 1863 he was detailed to serve as assistant quartermaster for his brigade. He was promoted to captain on June 12, 1863, and he spent the following months as an aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Charles Garrison Harker.

In October 1863, the army sought to reassign Montandon to General William S. Rosecrans’s Pioneer Brigade. Harker successfully petitioned his superior officers to allow Montandon to remain on his staff, since the quartermaster “has long been on duty in his old Brigade and probably understands its wants and necessities better than any officer in it.” Montandon served as assistant quartermaster at Bridgeport, Alabama, from March to September 1864, when he was transferred to Johnsonville, Tennessee. Henry Howland, Johnsonville’s chief quartermaster, praised Montandon as an “excellent officer, and a practical business man.” As a “quartermaster in charge of Government Shops,” Howland continued, “I know not his equal in our army.”

In November 1864, while Montandon was stationed in Johnsonville, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked the city. When local workers warned him of Forrest’s approach, Montandon immediately recognized the magnitude of the danger. The city contained $3 million of government property, and Montandon believed that, “if we were attacked by a large force, we could save nothing.”  Montandon helped prepare the city’s defenses, arming 500 government employees and placing them in the entrenchments. As Confederate artillery battered the town, the Union commander ordered his men to burn their supply vessels to keep them out of enemy hands. Montandon struggled to keep the flames from consuming his warehouses, but soon the “intense heat set fire to the stores on the levee.” That night, as Forrest’s cavalry rode away, the general observed that the “wharf for nearly one mile up and down the river presented one solid sheet of flame."

Montandon was promoted to major on July 31, 1865, but the regiment mustered out two months later before he received his new commission. He returned to Chicago after the war, but he moved to Topeka, Kansas, around 1869. He worked as a clerk and draughtsman for the Sante Fe Railway and quickly earned a reputation for his skill and accuracy. In 1873, he produced a massive 25 by 12 foot map of southwestern Kansas, detailing every town, road, and creek from the Missouri River to the state line. He was active in community life, attending veterans’ reunions, leading civic parades, and running for the position of county surveyor.

His health gradually deteriorated, however, and in 1881 he moved to the Arizona Territory to recover. He settled in Benson, a small town in southeastern Arizona, where he became a conductor for the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad. Although he had been a Democrat in the early 1870s, Montandon became a committed Republican partisan in Arizona. He joined the party’s Territorial Central Committee and regularly attended its territorial conventions. A Phoenix editor hailed him as an “able man of affairs and a true blue Republican.”

In 1892, he moved once again, this time to Tacoma, Washington. He worked as a clerk for a lumber company, and in his later years he lived with his daughter Nellie and her husband, John Scott. He died at their home in Tacoma on June 22, 1907.


James E. Montandon Defends Johnsonville, Tennessee

Name:Montandon, James Edgar
Alternative names:
  • Soldier
  • UVA (Union)
51st Regiment Illinois Volunteer InfantryA
Branch of service:Army
Commission1861-09-20Chicago, IL
Residence at UVA:Charlottesville, VA
UVA Begin Year:1849
UVA End Year:1850
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:First Lieutenant
Rank Out:Major
Highest rank achieved:
Birth date:1831
Birth date certainty:about
Birth place:Elizabethtown, NJ
Death date:1907-06-22
Death place:Tacoma, WA
Causes of death:
Occupations:Farmer, Clerk, Painter, Bookkeeper
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Montandon, James Edgarparent ofMontandon, Nellie Josephine
Montandon, James Edgarparent ofMontandon, George Edgar
Montandon, Felicia Minervawife ofMontandon, James Edgar

Compiled Service Record for James E. Montandon, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; United States Census, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, 1900, accessed through Ancestry.com; Iowa State Census, 1856, accessed through Ancestry.com; Kansas State Census, 1875, accessed through Ancestry.com; UVA Student Catalogue, Jefferson's University: Early Life, http://xtf.lib.virginia.edu/xtf/view?docId=2005_Q4_2/uvaBook/tei/z000000... UVA Faculty Minutes, Jefferson's University: Early Life, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/exist/cocoon/juel/juel_one?doc=/db/JUEL/fa... James E. Montandon and Felicia M. Isbell, Iowa, Select Marriages Index, 1758-1996, accessed through Ancestry.com; George E. Montandon, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925, accessed through Ancestry.com; LeRoy P. Graf, ed., The Papers of Andrew Johnson, Volume 7 (1986); James E. Montandon, Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls Database, accessed through ilsos.gov; Alfred Theodore Andreas, History of Chicago: From 1857 Until the Fire of 1871 (1885); James E. Montandon, Arizona, Voter Registrations, 1866-1955, accessed through Ancestry.com; Arizona Republic, February 26, 1892, accessed through Newspapers.com; Mohave County Miner, May 28, 1887, accessed through Newspapers.com; William Farrand Prosser, A History of the Puget Sound Country (1903); The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 21, 1900, accessed through Newspapers.com; James E. Montandon, Washington, Death Records, 1883-1960, accessed through Ancestry.com; Tacoma Daily Ledger, June 23, 1907, accessed through Tacoma-Pierce County Genealogical Society; Mary Ellen Snodgrass, The Underground Railroad: An Encyclopedia of People, Places, and Operations (Routledge: New York, 2015), 541; Myron J. Smith, Tinclads in the Civil War: Union Light-Draught Gunboat Operations on Western Waters, 1862-1865 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010), 291; “Report of Captain Howland, U.S. Army, regarding operations at Johnsonville, Tenn., October 30 to November 5, 1864,” Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 26 (Washington, 1914); Jerry T. Wooten, Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864 (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2019), 136, 150, 152; The Daily Commonwealth, January 20, 1872 and August 17, 1873; Arizona Republic, February 26, 1892.