Alexander William Doniphan
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).
During a campaign that began in late October 1846 at Santa Fe, New Mexico, and would end at Saltillo, Coahuila, in late April 1847, Colonel Doniphan led an American force that seized control of the capital of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. He also marched into Navajo Territory and obtained a treaty recognizing the U.S. government.
Doniphan then led his troops back to the Rio Grande, on to Socorro and toward El Paso. On Christmas Day, his troops, numbering 856, fought a Mexican force at Tamascalitos outside El Paso del Norte, killing 43 and wounding 150 Mexican soldiers. His force suffered only seven wounded. On 27 December they occupied the city.
On 8 February 1847, Doniphan marched south toward Chihuahua City. On 28 February, he routed the Mexican army in the Battle of Rio de Sacramento and occupied the state capital the next day. The Mexicans suffered 300 killed. After occupying the capital for nearly two months, Doniphan and his men departed for Saltillo on 28 April. They then returned to New Orleans by ship via Brazos Santiago. In one year, Doniphan and his men had covered 3,600 miles by land and 2,000 by water—one of the most successful military marches in U.S. history.
[See also: Kearny, Stephen Watts; Mexican‐American War.]
Jacob S. Robinson , A Journal of the Sante Fe Expedition Under Colonel Doniphan, 1932.
K. Jack Bauer , The Mexican War, 1974.
John M. Hart