Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Booknotes: John P. Slough

New Arrival:
John P. Slough: The Forgotten Civil War General by Richard L. Miller (UNM Press, 2021).

As we all know, if you happened to toss a rock into a roomful of Civil War volunteer generals you faced a very good chance of hitting someone who was both a lawyer and former legislator. Richard Miller's John P. Slough: The Forgotten Civil War General recounts the eventful and tragically brief life story of one such a man. Practicing law and politics in his native Ohio, Kansas, and Colorado until 1861, the then Denver resident Slough traded all that for the uniform of a Union officer when the Civil War broke out.

Not exactly "forgotten" in some circles (Trans-Mississippi students will immediately recognize him for his key role in the 1862 New Mexico Campaign and Valley Campaign students might recall his part in defending Harpers Ferry), it is certainly the case that General Slough is far from a household name among Civil War readers. From the description: "John Potts Slough, the Union commander at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, lived a life of relentless pursuit for success that entangled him in the turbulent events of mid-nineteenth-century America. As a politician, Slough fought abolitionists in the Ohio legislature and during Kansas Territory's fourth and final constitutional convention. He organized the 1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry after the Civil War broke out, eventually leading his men against Confederate forces at the pivotal engagement at Glorieta Pass."

As amply demonstrated during his antebellum public life and first foray into military service, Slough could be an irascible colleague and subordinate. He resigned his commission after the New Mexico Campaign but reentered the Union Army soon after with a brigadier general appointment that took him to field service in the Shenandoah at Harpers Ferry and later a district-level command at Alexandria that he held for the duration of the war. Readers might also recall that he was one of the military court appointees to the Fitz John Porter trial.

After the guns fell silent, Slough's difficult nature continued to follow him. More from the description: "After the war, as chief justice of the New Mexico Territorial Supreme Court, he struggled to reform corrupt courts amid the territory's corrosive Reconstruction politics." He also fought the entrenched peonage system that proved difficult to eradicate completely after the U.S. took control of the territory after the War with Mexico. "Slough was known to possess a volcanic temper and an easily wounded pride. These traits not only undermined a promising career but ultimately led to his death at the hands of an aggrieved political enemy who gunned him down in a Santa Fe saloon." He was only 38 years old. The publication of a Slough biography is certainly unexpected, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

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