Maj John James Key
(b. 1817, Washington, Ky.; d. October 15, 1886, Washington,D.C.). John James Key, a judge and a Civil War major, was the oldest child of Marshall Key and
Harriet Sellman Key. He worked in the Mason Co. clerk’s office with his father and during the 1840s served at least one term as Mason Co. clerk. On
December 7, 1842, Key wed Mary S. Reed, and the couple had one child, Joseph R. Key. After Mary died, perhaps during childbirth, John married
Hester Ann “Hetty” Rudd on April 18, 1849. Key and his second wife had at least three daughters. In June 1853, Key bought some Perry Co., Ind., real
estate, including 102 acres owned by federal judge Elisha Mills Huntington, a brother-in-law of his wife Hetty. Key was elected as a Cannelton, Ind.,
town trustee and spearheaded a successful effort to make Cannelton the Perry Co. seat. Soon after being admitted to the Indiana bar, he was chosen
prosecuting attorney but refused to qualify, to allow his brother-in-law Christopher Rudd Jr. to assume the post. When the Court of Common Pleas
was established in 1860 for five Indiana counties, including Perry Co., Key was appointed the first district judge. In November 1861 he resigned to
join the Union cause as a colonel in the 60th Indiana Regiment. Later he became a major in the U.S. Army as adjutant to Gen. Henry W. Halleck.
John Key’s younger brother, Col. Thomas Marshall Key, was Gen. George B. McClellan’s aide-de-camp. When a fellow officer asked John Key why General McClellan’s forces did not exercise their advantage at the battle of Antietam during September 1862, Key allegedly replied: “That is not in the
game. The object is that neither army shall gain much advantage over the other; that both shall be kept in the field until they are exhausted, when we
will make a compromise and save slavery.” Upon learning of Key’s statement, President Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865) summoned him to the White House on September 27, 1862, to interrogate him. Though there was no evidence of disloyalty, Lincoln dismissed Key from the military. Lincoln
made it clear that the discharge was an honorable one, but Key begged the president for reinstatement. Ensuing communications from the president
to Key are cited by the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History as among the most important 600 documents in U.S. history.
Key’s setback was made more difficult when he learned that his only son was killed on the battle field on October 8, 1862, at Perryville, Ky. In early
1863, Key relocated to Terre Haute, Ind., to practice law and sell insurance. For a while, he was a partner with attorney Daniel W. Voorhees, a Democratic congressman and a future U.S. senator from Indiana. In 1876 Key accepted an invitation from U.S. attorney general Alphonso Taft to negotiate cotton claims for the United States in England. In 1878 the
family moved to the Georgetown section of the District of Columbia, where Key handled claims against foreign governments. He died in 1886 and
was buried at the Holy Rood Cemetery in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
McCormick, Mike. “Major Statement Got John James Key Booted from Military by Lincoln,” Terre Haute (Ind.) Tribune-Star, June 16, 2002, D5.
Terre Haute: Queen City of the Wabash. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2005.
— “Unlikely Key Conceives Lincoln’s Letter Historic Significance,” Terre Haute (Ind.) Tribune Star, June 23, 2002, D5.
Above excerpted from page 518 of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTHERN KENTUCKY THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY ISBN 978-0-8131-2565-7