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Alexander William Doniphan


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The Louisville Courier-Journal, speaking of the Mexican war, says:
Doniphan's exploits have been compared with those of Xenophon.
Doniphan, with the first regiment of mounted Missouri volunteers, left
Fort Leavenworth on June 12, 1846, and marched across the plains to
Mexico, fought three important battles—Brazito, Sacramento and El Paso—
conquered the states of Mexico and Chihuahua, and traveled more than
6,000 miles in twelve months, not a word being heard by the government
from him in the meantime.
Alexander William Doniphan was born near Maysville, Mason county,
Kentucky, July 9, 1808. He is of English descent, though his paternal
English ancestors immigrated to America in the latter part of the seventeenth
century, and settled on the Potomac river, below Fredericksburg,
Virginia, where the family name is still preserved by other descendants.
His father, Joseph Doniphan, was the second son of Alexander Doniphan,
in honor of whom Colonel Doniphan was named. By the law of primogeniture,
which then prevailed in Virginia, Joseph Doniphan inherited no
real estate, and what he subsequently acquired was the result of his own
industry and frugality. When the war of the revolution began, he was
about seventeen years of age, and as King George county, where his
father resided, was one of the first sections of that state to be overrun by
the British army, both he and his brother George enlisted in the Colonial
army. George was killed at his brother's side, but Joseph served with
honor till the close of the struggle. The activity and excitement of the
war aroused in young Doniphan a spirit of adventure, and, as he had to
carve out his own fortune, he was attracted to the far west by the stories
of its wonderful beauty, its fabulous fertility and its climatic salubrity.
Soon after the declaration of peace and the cessation of hostilities, he
accompanied that grim old pioneer, Daniel Boone, to the wilds of Kentucky,
encountering hardships and perils for which the life he had previously
led had given him a relish. After a short stay in Kentucky, he
returned to Virginia, and there married Miss Ann Smith, a daughter of
Captain William Smith, of Fauquier county. He removed with his family
to Mason county, Kentucky, in 1790, and died there in March, 1813,
after a residence of twenty-three years, leaving his wife and seven children,
three sons and four daughters, of whom only two, Mrs. Susan
Frazee, widow of Dr. E. S. Frazee, of May's Lick, Kentucky, at present
residing with her youngest son, near Rushville, west of Cincinnati, Ohio,
and the subject of this sketch are now alive. The oldest brother, Dr.
Thomas S. Doniphan, father of Colonel John Doniphan, of St. Joseph,
Missouri, served as a surgeon in the war of 1812, and died near the old
homestead in Kentucky.
Upon the widow now devolved the responsibility of providing for and
educating her seven children, and right nobly did she discharge her trust.
Alexander being the youngest child, the solicitude of his mother centered
in him, and until his ninth year she carefully supervised his training. At
that age, he was sent to his older brother, George, then living at Augusta,
Kentucky, where he received the best educational training the village
could supply. When he was fourteen years old the Methodists established
a college at Augusta, and from this institution he graduated in 1827, with
distinguished honors, being then in the nineteenth year of his age. Orville
H. Browning, secretary of the interior under President Lincoln; Charles
Clark, late governor of Mississippi; Alex. M. Spencer, late mayor of Cincinnati;
and others who afterwards became more or less distinguished,
were schoolmates of young Doniphan. After graduating, he devoted
himself for six months to the study of ancient and modern history, and
began the study of law in 1828, under the learned and able jurist, Martin
Marshall, of Augusta, through whom he received a thorough training in
common and statute law, obtaining a license to practice in the states of
Ohio and Kentucky in the fall of 1829, at the age of twenty-one. During
the winter of the latter year, he traveled extensively in the western and
southern states, and located at Lexington, Missouri, in the spring of 1830.
He had spent his patrimony and more, in acquiring an education and in
fitting himself for his profession and when he reached Missouri, without
either money to maintain himself or friends, or acquaintances to assist
him, he was entirely dependent on those qualities that have never betrayed
him—energy, perseverance and intellectual endowments. They proved
equal to the emergency, and he succeeded well in Lexington; but
he determined, for reasons satisfactory to himself, to change his residence
to Liberty, Missouri, which he did in 1833. Here he remained for thirty
years, devoting the vigor of his younger manhood, and the experience of
his maturer years, to the practice of the law, in which he rapidly rose to
With an ambition modified and restrained by sound judgment, an intellect
capable of grasping and mastering the most intricate and abstruse
propositions of law, a mind trained to reason correctly and reflect coolly,
and an impulsive and impressive oratory, it is not strange that he won his
way to distinction at the bar without the use of those arguments to which
the weak resort. He grew in popular favor by the generous impulses of
his own nature, and the superiority of his talents, and it is a singular fact
that, though he was at times opposed in sentiment to the great body of his
old associates and constituents, he never forfeited the affection of his
friends or the respect of his enemies. In 1836, he was elected to represent
Clay county in the ninth general assembly of Missouri, and, though young,
he made a creditable record in that body. Twice afterward, in 1840 and
in 1854, he was chosen to fill the same position, which he always did with
honor to himself and to the satisfaction of his constituents. In December,
1837, he married Jane Thornton, daughter of John Thornton, a well
known, respected pioneer of Clay county. Mrs. Doniphan was a lady of
refined sentiment, cultivated taste, and purity of character.
In the same year in which Colonel Doniphan was married, Governor
Boggs called out a strong militia force to quell the disturbances of the
Mormons at a place in Caldwell county, Missouri, by them called Far
West. The defiant attitude of these people threatened to result in local
war. General Doniphan commanded a brigade under Major-General
Lucas, and by his address and soldierly bearing succeeded in bringing
them to submission without bloodshed. About the middle of May, 1846,
Governor Edwards, of Missouri, made a requisition for volunteers to join
General Kearney in his expedition to New Mexico. General Doniphan
joined Captain O. P. Moss' company from Clay county as a private. On
the 18th of June, eight companies, which were to compose the 1st regiment,
having arrived, an election of officers was had, which resulted in
the choice of A. W. Doniphan as colonel. In taking charge of the regiment,
Colonel Doniphan temporarily abandoned a lucrative practice and a
young family, to which he was tenderly devoted, to lend his aid in subduing
the enemies of his country. The expedition was commanded by
General Kearney until Santa Fe was reached, when that gallant officer
took a portion of the command and went to California, leaving Colonel
Doniphan, the first regiment and all other forces in New Mexico. It was
the design of Colonel Doniphan to march upon Chihuahua as soon as
Colonel Price, who was known to be bringing reinforcements, should
arrive to take command of Santa Fe; but on the 11th of October he
received instructions from General Kearney to proceed to the country of
the Navajos, a brave, war-like, and semi-civilized tribe of Indians, whose
territory lay on the western slope of the Cordilleras, and chastise and subdue
them. Winter was approaching; the mountain summits were almost
inaccessible; the dangers and difficulties were formidable, but the courage
and intrepidity of General Doniphan did not allow him to count the cost.
He therefore set about the execution of his orders with all possible dispatch,
and, after a wearisome and exhausting march, reached the Navajos'
country, and secured a treaty of amity. He then turned his face
toward the Del Norte again to prepare for his expedition against Chihuahua,
reaching Valverde about the 10th of December. Doniphan was
to press on to Saltillo to join the forces of General Wool. The enterprise
was fraught with danger, but this fact operated as a stimulus to
excite rather than as a difficulty to daunt the young warrior and his gallant
followers. He set out with eleven hundred and fifty men, including
the first Missouri, one hundred men from the second Missouri, and two
companies of the Missouri artillery battalion. On Christmas day a part
of his command was attacked by twelve hundred Mexicans at Brazito,
The engagement was short, sharp and decisive. In half an hour the
Mexicans were forced from the field, leaving their dead and wounded
where they fell.
On the 28th of February, 1847, near the city of Chihuahua, was fought
the battle of Sacramento. Having traversed an unknown territory with
a handful of troops, surrounded by enemies, and liable at any time to be
attacked by a superior force, Colonel Doniphan was not now to be intimidated
by a prospect, even of immediate peril. The American force numbered
nine hundred and twenty-four effective men of all arms. The
Mexican troops, under Major General Jose A. Hiredia, numbered four
thousand, two hundred and twenty. Notwithstanding the superior force
of the enemy, the fact that he had chosen his own position and fortified it
well, such was the tact of General Doniphan that, after an engagement
of three and a half hours, the Mexicans were utterly routed, with a loss
of three hundred and twenty killed, five hundred and sixty wounded, and
seventy-two prisoners, together with a large quantity of specie, stores,
stock, guns and other munitions of war. The American loss was two
killed and eleven wounded, three of the latter mortally. The city of
Chihuahua was entered next day. Here Colonel Doniphan had hoped to
join General Wool, but learned that he was at Saltillo, besieged by Santa
Anna. This, however, proved to be untrue, and in a few days he heard
of the victory at Buena Vista, and not long afterward of the battle of
Cerro Gordo. The war was now virtually closed, and the troops slowly
made their way to New Orleans, where they were mustered out of service,
June 28, 1847. Upon their return to Missouri, the citizens of St. Louis
gave the soldiers a grand reception, and they were welcomed by Senator
Benton in a speech, to which Colonel Doniphan responded. Everywhere
the commander and his heroic army were received with demonstrations
of honor, showing that the people appreciated the dangers they had
encountered and the results they had achieved. Colonel Doniphan
returned to his home at Liberty, and resumed the practice of law. He
remained in Liberty till in 1863, when he returned to St. Louis, where he
remained till 1869. In 1861 he was one of the five delegates appointed to
represent Missouri in the celebrated peace conference, and was one of the
five from the border states, who, by special invitation, held an interview
with President Lincoln, to counsel and advise as to the best method of
preserving peace, maintaining the Union, and settling the difficulties that
then environed the nation, and the only one now living. It was while
absent on this mission that he was chosen to represent his senatorial district
in the state convention. By his marriage to Miss Thornton, the Colonel
had two sons, to whose training he devoted much time and labor,
but both died in youth. To his wife he was most warmly devoted, and
her death, which occurred July 19, 1873, left him depressed and stricken.
Before her death both he and his wife united with the Christian Church.
In 1869 Colonel Doniphan returned to Western Missouri, and located
in Richmond, where he now (1881) resides. Colonel Doniphan was a
man of great physical strength, as his erect carriage, firm, elastic step,
and graceful, easy movement, at the age of seventy-three, evince. He is
six feet three inches in night, compactly built, with a large frame and
well developed muscles. Of an impulsive nature, which is restained by
reason and an overmastering will power; brave, fearless, true to his con-
victions of right and duty, a sincere friend, a frank and open foe, he has
gathered about him a host of friends, whose confidence and esteem are
his highest eulogium.
Ray County History 1881: Pages 498 - 502

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