James Hagan was born on June 17,
1822, in County Tyrone, Ireland.' At an early age his family emigrated to the
United States, settling on a farm near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He grew up in
Philadelphia and attended Clermont Academy there. When James was fifteen his
uncle, John Hagan, a rich New Orleans merchant with business interests
throughout the Southwest, took him into the family business, sending him to
Mobile, Alabama, to manage the Hagan business affairs in that city. Young Hagan
thus entered society with the advantages of wealth and position.
During the Mexican War Hagan enlisted in Hays's Texas Rangers, a cavalry outfit. He served in Zachary Taylor's army, and won recognition for "conspicuous and distinguished gallantry" at the Battle of Monterrey. In 1848 he was commissioned captain of the 3rd U.S. Dragoons. After that war he returned to Alabama. Abandoning the mercantile life, Hagan purchased a plantation and devoted his time to its management. In 1854 he married the beautiful and socially prestigious daughter of Alabama's attorney general.
Upon the outbreak of the war Hagan was chosen captain of a cavalry company, the "Mobile Dragoons," which helped guard the Gulf Coast. Desiring more active duty, Hagan, "a natural horseman, and reckless in his fighting," transferred to Wirt Adams' 1st Mississippi Cavalry Regiment and was commissioned that regiment's major. In September, 1861, the regiment was ordered to Kentucky to join the Confederate main army and later fought in the Battle of Shiloh. On July 1, 1862, Hagan was commissioned colonel of the newly organized 3rd Alabama Cavalry. The 3rd fought in all the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee. Hagan led his regiment in General Braxton Bragg's Kentucky invasion of 1862, and at the Battle of Perryville headed a mounted charge described by his brigade commander as "one of the most brilliant of the campaign." In early 1863 Hagan inherited the command of Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler's old cavalry brigade. That spring and summer Hagan's brigade screened the left front of Bragg's army. At this time General Wheeler recommended Hagan for promotion to brigadier general. General Bragg, however, blocked the promotion on the grounds that Hagan was in a state of "dissipation" (i.e., he was an alcoholic). In November, 1863, suffering from wounds and disappointed over nonpromotion, Hagan resigned his commission and returned home to Mobile. In the spring of 1864, recuperated, he requested and was granted a revocation of that resignation and returned to his regiment. During the siege of Atlanta the tegiment dismounted and manned the trenches. In August, 1864, upon the elevation of Brigadier General William Allen to divisional command, Hagan received permanent command of the brigade (now consisting of five regiments and one battalion of Alabama cavalry), which he led till the end of the war. During the war the dashing Hagan was wounded three times: shot in the leg near Franklin, Tennessee, in the winter of 1862; shot through the body near Kingston, Tennessee, in November, 1863; and shot through the arm at the Battle of Monroe's Crossroads in North Carolina on March 10, 1865.
After the war Hagan returned to Mobile. The fortune left to him by his uncles he had converted to Confederate money, and he was, therefore, left penniless. In the 1870s and 1880s he worked as a manager of a plantation on the Alabama River and then returned to Mobile. In 1885 President Cleveland appointed him "crier" for the U.S. District Court in Alabama. Of Hagan one source says, "Courteous in the old-school vein, genial, convivial and simple-minded as a child, the veteran was popular with all classes and ages in Mobile. His native wit—never caustic, while ever ready—left a wealth of stories and honsmots to his credit; and his broken fortunes never dampened his exhaustless flow of humor and spirits. Hagan died in Mobile on November 6, 1901, and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery.
CMH, Heitman, Wood, CV, SHSP, and Lonn list Hagan as a general, the first citing a February, 1865, promotion. In the April 15,1865, report of General Wheeler, Hagan's corps commander, Wheeler called three of his colonels, including Hagan, "general." A May 13, 1865, letter from General Wheeler to Hagan stated "I have been informed by the War Department that your commission as brigadier general did not reach you from the fact that it was sent to Genl Lee after his appointment as general in chief [i.e., after January 23, 1865], and there was not sufficient information at his Headquarters as to the disposition of troops to enable his A.A. Genl to forward papers—I was also informed that many other papers were lost from the same cause." A March, 1865, War Department memorandum confirms this promotion by mentioning Hagan as brigadier general. In his postwar pardon application, Hagan explains that he signed his May 9,1865, parole as colonel, but that subsequently he learned he had been appointed general. Hagan was called colonel on February 28, 1865, by the secretary of war and on March 10, 1865, by the general-in-chief, in both cases after his alleged promotion.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.