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Trans-Mississippi Musings

TMM Bio: Alonzo W. Slayback

Posted by The Muse (themuse) on Aug 12 2018
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Alonzo W. SlaybackAlonzo W. Slayback sided with the south early in the war, raising a regiment and serving as its colonel in the Missouri State Guard. In 1864, Slayback was authorized by Brig. Gen. Jo Shelby to raise a regiment, which he did by recruiting (and possibly conscripting) during Price’s 1864 invasion of Missouri. His battalion was attached to the Iron Brigade in Shelby’s Division.

Conspicuous among the men who, by their talents and accomplishments, grace a Bar long renowned for its intellectual giants, is the subject of the present sketch, Colonel Alonzo William Slayback. He was born July 4, 1838, at Plum Grove, Marion County, Missouri, the homestead of his maternal grandfather, J. A. Minter. His father, Alexander L. Slayback, was a lawyer of eminent ability, and his mother a woman of great strength of character, adorned with all the virtues and graces of the highest order of cultured, Christian womanhood. His grandfather was Dr. Abel Slayback, of Cincinnati, one of the most distinguished physicians of his day.

The early education of young Alonzo was conducted almost entirely by his mother, and to her teachings and example he is doubtless indebted for much of that sterling spirit of self-reliant independence and that high sense of honor which have so strongly characterized his career. At ten years of age, having completed his preparatory studies, he was sent to the Masonic College at Lexington, where, after a course of eight years in the different branches of a collegiate education, he graduated in 1856, carrying off the first honors in a class of seven. His ambition from boyhood having been to become a lawyer, his studies, during the last four years of his college life, were directed mainly to that end. At the termination of his course, he taught school and studied law alternately—an experience which is noticeable in the early struggles of many of the most noted lawyers of the West. In September 1857, he was admitted to practice at St. Joseph, Missouri, where he successfully followed his profession until 1861.

The great civil war was upon the land. Born and reared on Southern soil, surrounded from childhood with Southern institutions, and imbued with a deep, impassioned love for his native section, he promptly decided upon the course he should pursue. Espousing the cause of State Rights, as interpreted by the Governor, Claiborne F. Jackson, he raised a regiment of cavalry, was elected its Colonel, and joined the command of General Price, at Lexington, in June 1861. At the expiration of their term of service, he enlisted in the Confederate service, and had partially recruited another regiment, when the transfer of General Price's troops to Tennessee temporarily put an end to these operations in the West. At the battle of Elkhorn, however, he was assigned the command of a regiment hastily gotten up for the occasion, partly of State and partly of Confederate troops, and they did splendid service. Soon afterward, transferred to the east side of the Mississippi, he was promoted for meritorious conduct at Corinth and Farmington. Acting under orders of the Secretary of War, Colonel Slayback re-crossed the Mississippi, and reported to General Hindman, who assigned him to duty with the cavalry at the front. After many months' patient effort, and man}' stirring adventures, he succeeded in raising another regiment of cavalry, which was attached to Shelby's old brigade, and in this command he served until the close of the war.

Few men of his age left the battle-scarred ranks of the fallen Confederacv with a brighter record for bravery and promptness upon the held. His comrades on many a hard-fought plain, in many a fiery fray, gray, grisly, war-worn veterans, all unite in declaring that no man was oftener found in the battle's red front, where the shot flew thickest and the struggle was fiercest, than Colonel Slayback. During his term of service, he took part in more than forty battles and skirmishes, and only sheathed his sword when he saw that hope was at an end. At the close of the eventful struggle, feeling that all he had loved and fought for was lost, and that no country remained for him except at an enemy's will, he resolved to seek a home in some foreign land. With forty-eight of his old regiment, who elected him as their captain, he joined Shelby's expedition to Mexico, and for a year wandered up and down in that distracted country, sharing the vicissitudes, misfortunes and romantic adventures of that resolute band, in search of employment fit for soldiers.

But his mother still lived, and with a mother's love yearned for her gallant boy. With a heroism that could only come of mother-love, she resolved to seek him amid the wild, war-rent land of the Montezumas. After a long and perilous journey to Mexico, she found him, and persuaded him, though not without difficulty, to return to his native soil. He came back from Mexico in 1866 and settled in St. Louis, where he has ever since practiced his profession, with constantly increasing distinction.

His success in the race for forensic honors has been most remarkable. Nine years ago a comparative stranger, with the strange air of the camp and of foreign lands upon him, he to-day stands peerless among the jury lawyers of Missouri, and his name is a household word throughout the State. The records of the various courts show that, as a jury advocate, he has gained a larger and lost a smaller proportion of cases than any other active practitioner at the St. Louis Bar. His practice is now one of the largest in the city, and he is held in high repute for the depth and variety of his legal learning; the eminent readiness of his wit, logic and documentary illustrations and authorities; the skill with which he conducts his cases, not only at nisi prius, but in the appellate courts; and the impassioned fervor of his oratory, which seems almost resistless before a jury. Out of thirty-six jury cases in 1874, he appeared in twenty-five for the defendant, gained nineteen, had three hung juries and only lost three; in eleven, he appeared for the plaintiff and gained all but one in which he was nonsuited. And in 1873, out of over forty cases, he only lost one. In the examining and cross-examining of witnesses, he has few rivals in the West; displaying an acute knowledge of human nature and a delicate ingenuity well calculated to elicit the truth from the most unwilling.

A consistent Democrat in politics, Colonel Slayback has never been a time-server or office-seeker. Although no man in St. Louis has taken a more active part in the various political campaigns of the past nine years, his efforts have always been in behalf of his principles, of what he believes to be right, of his party and his friends. Handsome and commanding in person, strong in his convictions and the innate honesty of his nature, full of noble and generous impulses, and gifted with an imagination that soars and language that burns—no man in Missouri is more powerful before the multitudes. With a mind richly stored with historic, philosophic, and poetic lore, he rises to the full height of any theme he handles, and where he fails to convince he captivates.

In the midst of all his arduous professional and political labors, he finds time to indulge in the sweets of literature, and many of his purely literary addresses and magazine articles are of an exalted order of merit.

In 1859, Colonel Slayback was married to Miss Alice A., daughter of the late William B. Waddell, of Lexington, Missouri, a lady of rare wifely qualities and accomplishments, and fitted by her excellent practical mind to be a help-meet to her husband in his lofty aspirations and ambitions.

Colonel Slayback is still a young man, full of the fire of youth, of wonderful energy and tireless diligence, learned in his profession, gifted with pre-eminently engaging social qualities which draw around him multitudes of friends wherever he goes. Eloquent of tongue, and with all that straightforward courage and sincerity, that unfaltering integrity of purpose and whole-hearted generosity of impulse which lit a man for leadership, he is welcomed and appreciated in every circle, social and political, and his hold upon the hearts of the people at large is growing firmer and stronger with every year. Should he live out the allotted span of man, it requires no prophet's pen to predict for him an exalted and enduring place in the history of his city, his State and the Republic.


Last changed: Aug 12 2018 at 10:42 AM