Doniphan, Alexander William

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Doniphan, Alexander William

Alexander William Doniphan (dŏn´Ĭfən), 1808–87, American lawyer and soldier, b. Mason co., Ky. He began (1830) to practice law in Lexington, Mo., and served three terms in the state legislature, becoming involved in the Mormon issue. In 1838, Doniphan, as brigadier general of the state militia, was ordered against the Mormons by the governor but flatly refused to carry out orders to execute Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders. At the opening of the Mexican War he organized a mounted regiment of Missouri volunteers that formed part of Stephen W. Kearny's force in his march on Santa Fe. When Kearny continued to California, Doniphan was left in command in New Mexico, where he subdued and made peace with the Navajo. In Dec., 1846, turning over the command at Santa Fe to Sterling Price, Doniphan, on Kearny's orders, set out with 856 men for Chihuahua to join John Wool's army. Not far along the way his undisciplined but capable fighting outfit routed (Dec. 25) the Mexicans in a farcical engagement at the Brazito River, near El Paso, which was easily occupied. They then pushed on to a point c.15 mi (24 km) N of Chihuahua, where, in the battle of Sacramento (Feb. 28, 1847), they again defeated the Mexicans. Chihuahua was taken the next day. Since Wool was not there as planned, Doniphan began another long march E to Saltillo, which was reached late in May. A few days later Doniphan and his men were commended by Zachary Taylor at Monterrey; then, their terms of enlistment being completed, they went down the Rio Grande, sailed for New Orleans, and returned to Missouri. The entire march, covering some 3,600 mi (5,793 km) and conducted with small loss under adverse circumstances, is one of the famous expeditions in American history. Doniphan, who returned to law practice at Richmond, Mo., opposed secession and favored neutrality for Missouri in 1861. Although offered high command by the Union, he took no active part in the Civil War.

See contemporary accounts by F. S. Edwards (1847, repr. 1966), F. A. Wislizenus (1848, repr. 1969), and J. Robinson (1848, repr. 1972); J. H. Smith, The War with Mexico (1919).

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