Blackburn, James Knox Polk (1837–1923)

By: Nowlin Randolph

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: November 1, 1994

James Blackburn, soldier, was born in Maury County, Tennessee, in 1837 and moved with his family to Texas in 1856. He attended Alma Institute in Lavaca County for two years and then taught school until 1861. He joined the force under Benjamin McCulloch that accepted the surrender of Gen. David E. Twiggs in San Antonio. Shortly afterward he enlisted in a company of cavalry drawn from Fayette, Lavaca, and Colorado counties, which became one of the elements of the Eighth Texas Cavalry, or Terry's Texas Rangers. Blackburn was elected first lieutenant of his company a few weeks after the battle of Shiloh and soon became captain. He served with his command in all major engagements until the battle of Farmington, on October 7, 1863, when he was seriously wounded with a point-blank shot that passed through both thighs. He refused to permit the surgeon to amputate and fell into the hands of the enemy but was paroled for hospitalization. After a severe illness and a long period of recovery, he was finally able to return to the rangers in February 1865, but could not assume command until he had been properly exchanged. His exchange was not validated until the surrender of Joseph E. Johnston's army. Blackburn had spent his period of recuperation in Tennessee, and he decided to settle there, in Giles County, where he married Mary McMillan Laird. He became the owner of a plantation and for some time also represented the area in the Tennessee legislature. He died on July 6, 1923. Blackburn's Reminiscences of the Terry Rangers, one of the few accounts of service in the rangers by a participant, was published in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly in 1918 and reprinted separately in 1979.

Leonidas B. Giles, Terry's Texas Rangers (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1911).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Nowlin Randolph, “Blackburn, James Knox Polk,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994