William Bowen Campbell

William B. Campbell, lawyer, soldier, state legislator, congressman, and governor, was born on Mansker's Creek, Sumner County, on February 1, 1807, the son of David and Catherine Bowen Campbell. He studied law at Abingdon, Virginia, with his relative, Governor David Campbell. He returned to Tennessee in 1829, settled in Carthage, and was admitted to the bar in 1830. In 1831 Campbell was elected as district attorney, and four years later, his district sent him to the Tennessee General Assembly. That same year, he married Frances Owen, daughter of Dr. John Owen of Carthage. He resigned his seat in the legislature to serve as captain of a mounted volunteer company in the Creek and Seminole War under Colonel William Trousdale. When he returned from the war in Florida, he was elected and served as a Whig member of the twenty-fifth, twenty-sixth, and twenty-seventh sessions of the United States Congress.

When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, Campbell was elected colonel of the First Tennessee Volunteers, which saw action at Monterey, Vera Cruz, and Cerro Gordo and earned recognition as the “Bloody First.” At the storming of Monterey, Campbell's command “Boys, follow me!” became the slogan for the Whig Party in the Tennessee gubernatorial campaign of 1851. In the summer of 1847 Campbell was elected judge of the circuit court, where he served four years.

In 1851 Campbell ran as the Whig candidate for governor and defeated Democratic incumbent William Trousdale. After serving one two-year term as governor, Campbell retired to private life in 1853 and accepted the presidency of the Bank of Middle Tennessee. In 1859 he returned to public service as circuit court judge.

During the presidential campaign of 1860 Campbell supported John Bell, the Constitutional Union candidate. Following the election of Lincoln, he canvassed the state in opposition to secession. Commissioned as brigadier general of volunteers in the Union army by President Lincoln in 1862, Campbell resigned later that year because of poor health.

Following the readmission of Tennessee to the Union in 1866, Campbell was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Congress, where he supported the conservative Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson. Campbell died at Lebanon on August 19, 1867, and was buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery.

In 1942 the War Department established a World War II army training camp on the Kentucky-Tennessee border between Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and Clarksville, Tennessee. The adjutant general of the United States Army named the camp in honor of William Bowen Campbell to perpetuate the memory of this outstanding soldier, lawyer, judge, and public figure who devoted nearly four decades to the service of his state and country.

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  • Article Title William Bowen Campbell
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 14, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018