James Cavanaugh

James Cavanaugh was born November 27, 1832, on Grand Menan Island in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of William (b. 1807) and Nancy (Starr).

In 1826 William moved from Tyrone, Ireland to St. Johns, New Brunswick, followed shortly afterward by his wife Nancy. In 1837, when James was five years old, the family moved to New York City, “where in early childhood he attended the common schools and received his primary education.” He was apprenticed at the age of 13 years to a morocco leather manufacturer, and he worked at that trade until 1851 or 1852, during which time he acquired “the details of a trade in which he became an acknowledged expert and a craftsman of more than ordinary skill. He perfected a system for the tanning and dressing of lambskins and the manufacturing of white kid gloves, and brought both art and science to bear upon the complicated business.”

James moved to Detroit, Michigan, in 1851 or 1852, “and on account of his health abandoned his former occupation and engaged in business as a carpenter and ship-joiner.”

He married Michigan native Annie L. Nolan (b. 1833) in 1856, and they had at least eight children: Mary V. (b. 1858; Mrs. J. E. Dooly), Mrs. Elizabeth “Lizzie J.” Genter (b. 1860), William S. (b. 1862), James (b. 1864), Katie (b. 1867, Mrs. Kate Gray or Talley), Charles (b. 1869), Frank, Frederick L. (d. 1903), and Lewis.

James continued to work as a carpenter in the Detroit area until 1857, when he and his wife to Grand Rapids. Upon arriving in Grand Rapids James resumed his trade of carpentry, and in 1859-60 he was working as a carpenter and residing at the southeast corner of Fourth and Broadway in Grand Rapids (west side), By 1860 he was a carpenter living with his wife and one child in Grand Rapids' Fourth Ward; he may also have served as city marshal in 1860.

Sometime during 1860 he joined the Valley City Guard, a local militia company in Grand Rapids, which would serve as the nucleus of Company A, the first company to be organized in the Third Michigan regiment in April of 1861. In fact, James was quite possibly promoted to Third Sergeant of the VCG sometime in early 1861.

In any case, he stood 5’8” with blue eyes, light hair and a light complexion and was 28 years old and probably working as a carpenter in Grand Rapids when he enlisted as Second Sergeant in Company A. on May 13, 1861. (Company A was made up largely of men from Grand Rapids, and many of whom had served in various local militia units before the war, specifically the Valley City Guards, or VCG, under the command of Captain Samuel Judd, who would also command Company A.)

According to George Miller of Company A, Cavanaugh was Orderly Sergeant by November of 1861 and had gone home to Michigan, along with Captain Charles Lyon of Company K, in order to recruit for the Regiment over the winter.

James soon returned to the Regiment, however, and, George Miller wrote on January 27, 1862, “Our worthy friend Cavanaugh returned (from recruiting in Michigan) to camp before yesterday.” While Cavanaugh had been in Michigan, Miller added rather cryptically, he had seen George’s father who asked how things were in the Regiment. Cavanaugh “told him a big lie. He said he did not want him to know the worst, but he was joking, I guess.” Soon after his return to the Regiment Cavanaugh resigned his commission and was discharged for an “oblique inguinal hernia on the left side occasioned since enlistment” on January 31, 1862 at Camp Michigan, Virginia.

James returned to Michigan where he reentered the service as Captain in Company B, Twenty-first Michigan infantry at the organization of that unit on July 16, 1862, at Detroit for 3 years. The regiment was organized at Ionia and Grand Rapids and mustered into service on September 9., and left Michigan for Louisville, Kentucky, on September 12. James was serving with the Regiment during the battle of Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862, and he also claimed in later years to have been with the Regiment at the battle of Stone’s River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee. In any event, by the end of November he had been promoted to Brigade Inspector, and was on duty attending a general court martial at Nashville, Tennessee, from November of 1862 through February of 1863. He resigned on account of disability on March 26, 1863.

After his discharge from the army James returned to his home in Grand Rapids sometime in early April, and was appointed Assistant Provost Marshal of Grand Rapids in 1863 (having served briefly as city marshal just before the war). By 1865-66 he was working in the sash-and-blind industry at 53 Ionia Street but soon afterwards moved to Muskegon, Muskegon County where he lived out the remainder of his life. Upon arriving in Muskegon James joined in partnership with Patrick Ducey and D. Kelly to manufacture sashes, doors and blinds in the Muskegon area, and in 1869 he was instrumental in organizing the Muskegon fire department and remained as head of the department until 1880.

In 1875 James was appointed superintendent of the Muskegon water works and remained in that position until 1882, when he became involved in the saw-milling industry. In 1878 he sold his interest in sash-and-blind business and became variously employed, working at one time for the Monroe Manufacturing Company of Muskegon. By 1880 James was working as the Superintendent of Water works and living with his wife and children in Muskegon’s Second Ward.

In May of 1883 he joined the Grand Army of the Republic Phil Kearny Post No. 7 in Muskegon, and at one time served as post commander; and in 1888 he became a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association.

By 1894 he was residing in the Fifth Ward in 1894. “Mr. and Mrs. Cavanaugh,” noted one source, “are devout members of the Catholic Church and are liberal givers in behalf of religious work and benevolent enterprise. The pleasant home is upon Terrace Street and is a most attractive residence, of modern design and handsomely furnished.” James was also a Democrat.

James died a widower, of “La Grippe” (influenza) in Muskegon on February 18, 1907, and was buried in St. Mary’s cemetery in Muskegon.