COLONEL JOHN ADAIR McDOWELL, civil engineer, was born at Columbus, Ohio, on July 22, 1825. He entered Kenyon College, at Gambier, Ohio, where he was graduated in August, 1846. He then studied law for two years with Judge Joseph R. Swan, at Columbus, Ohio, but, in 1848, he gave up the law and began his engineering career, being engaged on the Little Miami Railroad. In 1849, Mr. McDowell went across the plains to California, where he remained for about three years, during which time he was admitted to the Bar and practiced law; he was also, for a time, the mayor of Monterey. In December, 1852, he returned to Ohio, and, until the close of 1854, was occupied in surveying and in general engineering work in Kentucky and Ohio. In February, 1855, he removed to Keokuk, Iowa, where he built the railroad around the rapids, and surveyed the harbor. He lived there until I861, during part of which time he was city engineer of Keokuk. When the Civil War broke out, Mr. McDowell hastened to Washington and obtained the acceptance by the Secretary of War of five independent regiments from Iowa, which were immediately raised and mustered into the United States service. These were the 4th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Colonel Granville Dodge; the 5th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Colonel William H. Worthington; the 6th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Colonel McDowell; the 7th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Colonel Lauman, and the 1st Iowa Volunteer Cavalry, commanded by General Fitz Henry Warren. On August 9, 1861, Colonel McDowell went to Missouri, with his regiment, reporting to Major-General John Charles Fremont, then in St. Louis, and was by him assigned to command Lafayette Square, in that city. In September, 1861, he was brigaded under General Fred. Steele, and participated in the demonstration on Springfield. Thence, he marched to Lamine Crossing, where he remained until March, 1862. Thence, he was ordered up the Tennessee River and assigned to command the 1st Brigade of General Sherman's Fifth Division of the Army of the Tennessee. He participated, with his command, in the battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862, where he was injured. He moved with the army on Memphis, and down into Northern Mississippi, and thence to Grand Junction, Tenn. Continued exposure had now so affected his health that, in March, 1863, he resigned from the army and returned to Keokuk, Iowa. Shortly afterward he was appointed special agent of the United States Treasury Department, and exercised the functions of that office in Vicksburg, Miss., and Helena, Ark., until the close of the War in 1865. Colonel McDowell then returned to Keokuk, where he again engaged in the practice of engineering until 1868, when he was elected mayor of the city. This office he held for two years, when he was elected clerk of the District Court for Lee County. In 1873, he removed to Chicago, and entered upon the practice of his profession, remaining here until 1877, when he accepted a clerkship in the Department of Agriculture in Washington, a position he held only a year, when he was appointed to take charge of the construction of the new Custom House building in Chicago. This occupied Colonel McDowell until December, 1880, when he resumed the practice of engineering in this city. He was married, in 1853, to Miss Geraldine Cowles, of Worthington, Ohio. Mrs. McDowell died in Boston, in 1873, leaving four children, — Gerald R., Malcolm H., Selden Lord and Lucy F.
SOURCE: Alfred Theodore Andreas, History of Chicago, p. 432