John P. Slough

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John Potts Slough
John potts slough.jpg
John Potts Slough
Born(1829-02-01)February 1, 1829
Cincinnati, Ohio
DiedDecember 17, 1867(1867-12-17) (aged 38)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Union Army
Years of service1861–1865
RankUnion Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Brigadier general
Commands held1st Colorado Infantry
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

John Potts Slough (February 1, 1829 – December 17, 1867; last name pronounced like 'plough') was an American politician, lawyer, Union general during the American Civil War, and Chief Justice of New Mexico. He commanded the Union forces at the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

Early life and career[edit]

Slough was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He became a lawyer and practiced law in Cincinnati before being elected to the Ohio General Assembly. While serving there, he struck a fellow assemblyman and was expelled. He moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1860 and continued to practice law, becoming one of the city's more distinguished lawyers.

Civil War service[edit]

In 1861 the Civil War began and Slough joined the Union forces as a captain in the 1st Colorado "Pike's Peakers" Infantry Regiment. Members of his regiment were initially skeptical of his loyalty to the Union due to his association with the Democratic Party. In August 1861, Slough was commissioned colonel of the regiment. In 1862 a Confederate army was invading the New Mexico Territory. Coming to the aid of the Union forces in New Mexico, Slough marched his regiment to Fort Union and, as the senior ranking officer, assumed command of the post.

Slough received orders from Col. Edward R. S. Canby, commanding the Department of New Mexico, to remain at Fort Union. A Confederate force under William Read Scurry was moving to capture Fort Union. Disobeying orders, Slough took the garrison and marched toward Glorieta Pass to intercept Scurry. Slough and Scurry fought an initially indecisive action at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. The Texans were pushing the Coloradans back, but the battle was turned to a victory for the Union after Slough sent Major John M. Chivington on a flank attack, which destroyed the Confederate's supply train. The battle was considered a Union strategic victory but a Confederate tactical victory.

Following the battle, Canby sent orders to Slough to return to Fort Union immediately. Worried that he had already disobeyed orders by leaving Fort Union in the first place, he resigned his commission. Slough went to Washington, D.C., where he was given command of a brigade in the Shenandoah Valley during Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862. His forces were stationed at Harpers Ferry and saw little action. He was appointed brigadier general of volunteers of August 25, 1862, and became the military governor of Alexandria, Virginia. For the rest of the war, he commanded the District of Alexandria. In December 1862, he sat on the court-martial that convicted Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter of disobedience and misconduct.

Postbellum career[edit]

When the Civil War ended in 1865, Slough was appointed Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court by United States President Andrew Johnson. Sharp-tongued with a fiery temper, he was appointed to fight corruption, but observers thought he was too heavy-handed about it. He was trying to break down the system of patronage that was characteristic of the New Mexico courts.[1] Many sought his removal, especially after a decision in February 1867 attacking the system of peonage in New Mexico, which he thought was akin to the slavery he had fought in the Civil War to defeat.[1]

In 1867 William Logan Rynerson, a member of the Territorial Legislative Council, took part in a campaign to remove the judge, leading Slough to slander Rynerson publicly. The next day, Rynerson drew a gun on the judge in Santa Fe and said, "Take it back." Slough exclaimed, "Shoot and be damned!" and Rynerson fired. Mortally wounded, Slough drew a derringer but was unable to fire. He died on the next day.[2]

At his trial, Rynerson was found not guilty (by reason of self-defense), but many thought the court proceedings were corrupt. No federal officials tried to intervene in the trial, however.[2] The historian Richard Henry Brown says that the murder of Slough "helped affirm the position of New Mexico as 'apparently the only place where assassination became an integral part of the political system.'"[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Jason Silverman, "Frontier Law: The Assassination of a Chief Justice", Untold New Mexico, Sunstone Press, 2006, pp. 68-71. For more on Rynerson, see John Tunstall.
  2. ^ a b Gary L. Roberts, Death Comes for the Chief Justice: The Slough-Rynerson Quarrel and Political Violence in New Mexico, University Press of Colorado, 1990, p. 70

External links[edit]

  • "John P. Slough". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2008-08-14.