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Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Callis moved to Tennessee in 1834 with his parents, who settled in Carroll County, and thence, in 1840, to Lancaster, Wisconsin. He attended the common schools. He studied medicine for three years, but then abandoned its further study. He went to Minnesota in 1849. He moved to California in 1851 and engaged in mining and the mercantile business. He went to Central America in 1853. He returned to Lancaster, Wisconsin, in the fall of that year and again engaged in mercantile pursuits.
He helped form the Lancaster unit that became Co. K of the Seventh Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. When the unit was Federalized, he entered the Union Army as a lieutenant, and was promoted to captain, August 30, 1861. The Seventh Wisconsin was part of the famed "Iron Brigade of the West." Due to the high casualty rate among its officers, Callis led the regiment at the Battle of South Mountain, Antietam and several other engagements. He was promoted to Major on January 5, 1863. He was shot in the chest on the first day at Gettysburg and lay on the battlefield until the Confederate withdrawal three days later. After a lengthy recovery, he rejoined the Army and was appointed by President Lincoln military superintendent of the War Department at Washington, D.C., in 1864. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel February 11, 1865.
Following the war, he settled in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1865. He resigned his commission in the Regular Army on February 4, 1868.
Upon the readmission of the State of Alabama to representation was elected as a Republican to the Fortieth Congress and served from July 21, 1868, to March 3, 1869. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1868. He returned to Lancaster, Wisconsin, and engaged in the real-estate business. He served as member of the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1874. He retired from active pursuits. He died in Lancaster, Wisconsin, on September 24, 1898 and was interred in Hillside Cemetery.
- John Benton Callis at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-02-14
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