August 17, 2012

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Traces of their legacy dot the state's landscape

Missouri offers a wealth of military history if you know where to look.

According to the Dictionary of Missouri Biography, there are roughly 30 generals with a strong connection to the state, a majority of them with connections to the Civil War era. William T. Sherman, John Pope, Enoch Crowder, and Maxwell Taylor are four prominent names worthy of a mention, but the most famous five generals related to Missouri are Alexander "Will" Doniphan, Sterling Price, Ulysses S. GRant, John J. Pershing, and Omar N. Bradley.


One of Missouri's least-remembered generals in the public mind today is Will Doniphan, but in his era, he was a superstar. Once a state representative, he might have been a Missouri senator or governor if border warfare and the Civil War hadn't torn apart his Whig Party.

Doniphan is best known for leading the Frist Missouri Volunteers to victory in the Mexican War. He marched his ragtag band on a 5,500-mile trek. one the way, he read about how to be a general from books on infantry tactics he borrowed from his commander.

A quick study, he defeated larger Mexican forces in two majory battle at El Brazito and Sacramento and occupied the cities of Santa Fe, El Paso del Norte, and Chihuahua. While parked in Santa Fe for a month, this lawyer from Liberty led a committee that created a enw government for the New Mexico Territory by melding legal concepts from Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. law to create a new code.

When the Civil War came to Missouri, Doniphan was a firm supporter of the Union, though he tried to remain neutral and find a midle ground between strong positions on both sides of the conflict. He refused to choose sides, and in an era of such strong feelings, those remained neutral became politicall irrelevant.

A good place to begin exploring Donpihan's life is Liberty, northwest of Kansas City, where he made his reputation as a lawyer. There is a downtown park dedicated to Donpihan one block north of the town square. His 1830s home was located on the south side of the park.

Doniphan's name lives today in the annals of hte Mormon Chrch because he first gained notoriety as the attorney for the Mormon leadership. When armed conflict broke ot between Mormons and their neigbors in 1838 in wester Missouri, Doniphan was a brigadier general in the state militia. After a kangaroo court-martial of Mormon leader Joseph Smith and six others, Donpihan's commanding general, Samuel D. Lucas, ordered Donpihan to execute them. Publicly refusing the order, Doniphan stalked out of camp at the head of his troops and dared Lucas to charge him with insubordination.Lucas blinked, the captives were saved, and Donpihan became a hero to the Mormons.

Another trace of this general can be foun din the name of the soutehrn Missouri town of Donpihan, the seat of Ripley COunty, named for him in 1847. But perhaps the most fitting tribute to Missouri's lawyer general is a bronze statute of him on the west side o the Ray County courthouse in Richmond, where he spent his final years until his death in 1887.


A gentleman farmer from the Keytesville area, Sterling Price also found himself in the middle of the Mormon War of 1838. Although this favorite son of Missouri thought many of the accusations against the Mormons were unfounded, he nevertheless supported Governor Lilburn Boggs when he called up the state militia. Price commanded a militia unit from Chariton County that answered to General John B. Clark, who had received the governor’s execution order. After Doniphan’s public refusal to carry out their execution, Price took the Mormon prisoners to trial in Independence.

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