July 16, 1827 - November 11, 1899
John F. Meginness served as a private in the 5th Infantry Regiment during the U.S. – Mexico War. He was part of the reinforcements sent to General Scott in Mexico during the summer of 1847. Meginness kept a journal during his time in Mexico. This journal, part of Special Collections at the University of Texas – Arlington, provides a common soldier’s view of daily life during the occupation of Mexico City. Following the war, Meginness became a successful newspaper editor, journalist, and local historian.
Meginness was born on July 16, 1827, in Colerain, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In May 1843 his family moved to Illinois but Meginness only stayed a short time and soon returned to Pennsylvania. He lived with relatives and eventually found employment at the Mantour Iron Works in Danbury. On April 9 1847, he enlisted in Company D, 5th Infantry Regiment. Meginness joined Captain Randolph B. Marcy who was recruiting for the regiment at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His excellent penmanship landed him the job of company clerk.
In June, Meginness left New York City with the rest of the Company D recruits for Vera Cruz. Marcy remained in Harrisburg on recruiting duty. Arriving at Vera Cruz on July 20 1847, Meginness and the other recruits joined the column under Major Folliott T. Lally for the march to Mexico City. Although he did not participate in any of the well-known battles of the war, he experienced first-hand the dangers of Mexican guerilla activity along the road linking the capital to the coast. Guerillas attacked Lally’s column at the National Bridge, and Meginness narrowly escaped being wounded in a skirmish near the site of the battle at Cerro Gordo when a musket ball passed between his arm and chest. Briefly attached to the command of General Joseph Lane at Puebla, the company was involved in a skirmish with guerillas at nearby Guadalaxara, where Lieutenant Ridgley, Lane’s acting assistant adjutant general, was killed while commanding the company. Meginness finally reached Mexico City on December 7 1847. Meginness, in formation on the plaza in Mexico City, witnessed the unloading of the wagons as the United States made its first three million dollar installment payment on the fifteen million paid for California. Meginness left Mexico on July 17 1848 and was discharged at East Pascagoula, Mississippi, in August. He took up residence in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania where he married and fathered ten children.
In June 1852, Meginness became the editor of the Jersey Shore newspaper, the Republican. When that paper was sold in 1854, he founded the short lived The News Letter. In May 1857, Meginness moved to Peru, Illinois, to become the editor of The Sentinel, a weekly publication. Through his friendship with Stephen A. Douglas he also worked as editorial writer for the Springfield Daily Register. In this capacity he was present at several of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In December 1858 he took charge of The Spectator at Carlinville, Illinois, and within two years became its sole owner. He sold the paper in October 1861 and moved back to Lycoming, Pennsylvania.
During the Civil War Meginness served as a clerk for the assistant quartermaster in Alexandria, Virginia, eventually becoming chief clerk in the bureau of transportation. At the end of the war he obtained a clerkship in the Division of Referred Claims, Paymaster General’s office, and was appointed to the first-class clerkship in the Third Auditor’s office of the Treasury Department where he remained until June 1, 1869.
Returning to Williamsport, Meginness became managing editor of the daily Lycoming Gazette and was appointed city editor when the paper merged with the evening Bulletin to form the Gazette and Bulletin. He served as editor in chief until 1872 when he was moved back to city editor. In 1876 he was made editor in chief again as ownership of the paper changed hands. He retired from this position in 1889.
Meginness established himself as an authority on Pennsylvania history, publishing more than twenty works on local history and genealogy, including Otzinachsou; or, a History of the West Branch of the Susquehanna (1856), and History of Lycoming County (1892). He also authored a biography of Frances Slocum, a resident of Wilkes-Barre who as a child had been kidnapped by Indians during the American Revolution and reunited with her family sixty years later.
In his later years Meginness travelled widely in the United States and made one trip to Havana, Cuba. He wrote extensively about his travels in a series of letters published in the Gazette and Bulletin under the name "John of Lancaster." Meginness died suddenly at his home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on November 11 1899.