John Camden West, Jr. was a lawyer, a judge, an educator and an author in Waco, Texas. He was born on April 12, 1834 in Camden, South Carolina from which he and his father got their names. He was 20 years old when he graduated from the University of South Carolina. He had a brother, Charles S. West, who by that time was already practicing law in Austin, Texas, and John joined him there in 1855.
John’s brother Charles, also born in Camden, received his education at Jefferson College in Pennsylvania and the College of South Carolina. In the custom of the day, he studied law in the apprenticeship of another attorney, James Chesnut, Jr. and was admitted to the bar in 1850. Charles served as an attorney in Texas, including several years in the 1880s in the Texas Supreme Court. John and Charles also had a sister, Catherine, who married John Alexander Green, brother of Confederate General Tom Green, also a familiar name to many Texans.
John studied law with his brother Charles and passed the Bar exam in 1858. He moved to Waco in 1859 to take the position of headmaster of the Waco and Trinity River Classical School, which eventually became the successful Baptist college known as Waco Classical School (and later Waco University). He served in this capacity until the Civil War broke out in 1861.
West enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army in Hood’s Brigade in April, 1861. He was the only married man in the company and already had two children. A month later, before the company left Texas, he was appointed by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to serve as District Attorney for the Western District of Texas for the provisional government. He served in that capacity for several months before resigning and joining the 15th Texas Infantry Regiment, organized by Col. Joseph Speight of McLennan County in March, 1862. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Cook’s Texas Heavy Artillery in the defense of Galveston. Almost two months later, Confederate President Davis appointed him as District Attorney of the permanent government. West again briefly served before he enlisted a third time in April, 1863, in Company B, formerly Company E, of Hood’s Texas Brigade, where he would remain until his honorable discharge in February of 1864. During his latter service, he participated in battles at Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Knoxville, among others.
From time to time, he would travel through and around areas in South Carolina where his relatives former acquaintances lived. He also encountered friends and relatives as the army moved around the country. West carried a Bible and other books to read when he could, to occupy what free time he had. He always carried a dagguereotype of his wife with him and was comforted by it.
After the war ended, John returned to Waco where he established a law practice, served on the school board and served as justice of the peace. He also served as mayor of Waco after being elected in 1875. West had settled somewhat away from the central business district in an area to the west of Waco Creek which flows into the nearby Brazos River. He lived for 68 years in the home he built there. His property adjoined that of his old commander, Joseph Speight. West did not actively farm his property. It was very scenic and he called it Minglewood. West allowed the City of Waco to use it for recreational purposes and other public gatherings for many years.
In the mid 1880s, there was a movement to relocate a somewhat older Baptist institution known as Baylor University from Independence, Texas to Waco and to merge the two entities. Part of the requirement for this transaction was for the combined entity to have at least a 20 acre campus, so West and Speight agreed to convey Minglewood and several acres of the Speight farm to the City of Waco, which in turn conveyed it to the newly reconstituted entity to be known as Baylor University. The transaction was consummated and Baylor University began a new life in Waco, Texas where it still resides.
Around 1900, he and his wife decided to publish his diary from the Civil War, appropriately named A Texan in Search of a Fight. He had also saved letters he had either sent or received, along with various official documents, the text of which he transcribed into his book. It is very readable and is still available in print or download. It chronicles his military experiences and also the more mundane events that occurred as he was traveling with the troops and also to the front and back from his home in Texas.
Time passed and West became a respected and beloved citizen of Waco. On his 91st birthday on Easter Sunday, April 12, 1925, he celebrated with family and friends at his Minglewood home. He was in good spirits, having received flowers and a steady stream of visitors, per the Waco News-Tribune.
West was the last survivor of Company E of the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment when he died at age 93 at his home in Waco on July 12, 1927. At the time of his death, he was the longest-tenured member of the Waco Bar Association and also his local Baptist Church. West is interred in Oakwood Cemetery, a few miles east of where he lived most of his life.
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