James Hagan was probably born in Ireland, although there are conflicting records that claim he was born in Philadelphia. His family believes he was born in Ireland, and taken to Philadelphia as a young boy, where he was educated. As a young man, he moved to New Orleans to work with his uncle John Hagan, a wealthy merchant. He later moved to Mobile to run his uncle's business there.
When the Texas war for independence from Mexico began, he, along with Capt. William Walker, Col. Lawrence Hunter and Maj. James Boykin (all of Dallas County) volunteered their services. Lt. James Hagan served under Gen. Scott in the cavalry. After that war, he returned to Mobile and bought a plantation in Wilcox County, living both there and Mobile, where he married Elizabeth (Bettie) Oliver, daughter of the Hon. Samuel W. Oliver, in 1854. He remained a planter until the outbreak of the Civil War.
He raised and trained a group of men in Mobile, and soon joined Gen. Joseph Wheeler's 3rd AL Cavalry as a Captain. He was soon promoted to Col., and was in several fierce battles. He was wounded three times during the war. Near the end of the war, he was appointed the rank of Brigadier General and served as such for a short time. However, the commission was not officially delivered until after the war had ended, the mails being disrupted at that time.
After the war, he returned to planting. In 1885, he was appointed crier in the US Court in Mobile, a position he held until his death.
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