Rash's Surname Index

Notes for William Yarnall SLACK

William Yarnel Slack was born in Mason county, Ky., August 1, 1816. His father, John Slack, was a native of Pennsylvania, and his mother, Mary Caldwell, a native of Virginia. In 1819 John Slack removed from Kentucky to Missouri, settling in what is now the western or northwestern portion of Boone county, then Howard. He was a potter by trade, and was the first justice of the peace in his township. His fellow-citizens regarded him with great esteem, as a man of sober, sound judgment and high character.

Wm. Y. Slack received a common school education, and in early life began the study of law under Hon. J. B. Gordon, at Columbia, where he was admitted to the bar. At that time Columbia was well supplied with first-class lawyers, and young Slack concluded to locate in one of the new counties. In March, 1839, when but 22 years of age, he came to Livingston county and settled at Chillicothe, which locality was ever afterward his home. In April, 1839, he was admitted to practice in the circuit court of that county, and at once entered on a career of success and distinction. Business came to him unsolicited. His strong good sense, his knowledge of human nature, his calm conservatism, and his genuine legal ability were soon perceived, and he gained the general confidence of the people. In time it came about that he was engaged on one side of every important legal controversy in Livingston County, and his counsel and assistance were sought in the other counties of this judicial circuit.

In 1842 he was elected as a Democrat to represent Livingston county in the State Legislature, and served in the 12th General Assembly. Although a strong partisan and after a time a prominent politician, known throughout the State, his political work was afterwards not employed in his own behalf. He preferred the success of his party and the preferment of other of its deserving members to his own political advancement. Time and again he declined to be a candidate for office, when his election was certain, alleging that he could not do so without neglecting the interest of his clients. Yet he found time to attend nearly every State and Congressional convention of his party, and to make speeches in ever campaign for its principles and its candidates. In 1845 he was elected, practically without opposition, a member of the State Constitutional Convention. In 1859 he was a candidate against his own wishes for circuit judge but was defeated by a small majority by Col. J. B. McFerran, another Democrat.

In every great public emergency, W. Y. Slack was a patriot, selfish and personal considerations were laid aside when the question of duty was presented. Upon the breaking out of the Mexican Was he at once declared himself a volunteer for the cause of his county. In a public meeting at Chillicothe, after war had been declared, he said: It is too late now to discuss the question whether or not the war could have been avoided. It is enough for us to know that it is upon us. Our country has declared war,and I am for my country, gentlemen, first, last, and all the time.

Upon the organization of the Livingston county company of volunteers he was made captain of Co. L. 2d Missouri mounted volunteers. Giving up a lucrative and growing practice, Capt. Slack served his full time as a soldier faithfully and well. Assuming no airs and taking upon himself no unwarranted assumptions, he was at the same time a strict disciplinarian, kept his men well in hand, and would neither allow them to be imposed upon or to impose upon others. Of great personal courage, presence of mind, and evident ability, he gained the esteem and confidence of Gen. Price and his other superior offices, he held to the last the admiration and affection of his men. He came out of the war with additional reputation and character.

In time Capt. Slack came to be the leading citizen of Livingston county - not the wealthiest by any means - but standing first in public estimation in influence, in knowledge of men and affairs, in experience, in judgment and discrimination. His opinion was sought and his counsel heeded in nearly every question of a public nature and in hundreds of private affairs. He was appealed to in church quarrels, in personal differences, in business controversies, and for years the county court rarely built a bridge, laid out a road, or expended a dollar without first obtaining his opinion as to the validity or expediency of the action

Of a kindly, generous nature, Wm. Y. Slack was not the kind of a man to acquire great wealth. So many of his services were given gratuitously that he obtained a respectable competency in spite of himself. Many opportunities for speculation presented themselves in the early history of Livingston county, but he would not take advantage of them. All of his business transactions would bear the strictest scrutiny. His name was never spoken of in connection with any scheme of doubtful propriety. He was suspicion of no participation in any job, and his high integrity and purity of character were never assailed. Of personal enemies he had the fewest possible number.

Every enterprise of a public nature for the general welfare found in him a warm advocate. He was an enthusiastic friend of the Hannibal Railroad, and performed much work in its aid. He believed in churches and schools, in books and newspapers, in whatever tended to benefit and enlighten society and improve the general condition of his town, his county, his State and his country.

In 1860 he was a candidate for Presidential elector of the Breckinridge and Lane ticket. He had long been identified with the Southern Rights wing of the Democratic party, opposed Douglas and squatter sovereignty, believed that the shaveholdings States had suffered many wrongs and indignities, and that their interests would be greatly conserved by the election of the candidates of that party. He canvassed the district, making many able and earnest addresses. So great was his influence with the Democrats of his own county that Livingston gave a larger vote for Breckinridge than any other county in Northwest Missouri, Buchanan excepted.

After the Presidential election he saw clearly, and was willing at all times to acknowledge, that civil war was inevitable, and from the first, announced that when the time came he would certainly go with the South. Yet at no time was he a fire-eater, nor an irreconcilable. He opposed all violent and inflammatory proceedings, discussed the situation temperately, argued his views calmly and with dignity, and counseled the most careful and considerate action. Believing that the war ought to have been averted, he also believed that it could not now be prevented.

May 18, 1861, chiefly upon the recommendation of Gen. Price, who always admired him, Gov. Jackson appointed Capt. Slack brigadier general of the 4th division of the Missouri State Guard. As detailed elsewhere he at once set to work to put his division in order against the day of battle. With no military chest, no ordnance to quartermaster存 department, no commissariat, this was no easy task, but his success was excellent. His chief efforts were to convert the people from Unionists to Secessionists, and in this he accomplished a great deal.

As mentioned elsewhere, on the night of June 14, 1861, the Federal troops arrived in Lexington. The same day Gen. Lyon moved from St. Louis against Gov. Jackson at Jefferson City; on the 16th was fought the engagement at Booneville, and on this day Gen. Slack left the forks of Grand river with his small division for Lexington. Here on the 18th Gen. Price arrived, and soon after Gen. Rains and Gen. Slack存 division, under the former, set out for Southwest Missouri. At this time Slack's division numbered about 500 mounted men under Col. Rives, and 700 infantry under Col. John T. Hughes and J.C.C. Thornton.

Gen. Slack bore a prominent part in the battles of Carthage and Wilson's Creek. In the latter engagement, as elsewhere described, he was wounded nigh unto death. Kind and skillful hands ministered to him until his faithful and devoted wife reached him, after accomplishing a toilsome and perilous journey in a carriage form Paris, Monroe county, to Springfield. Mainly from her care and nursing and the skillful treatment of his old family physician and then military surgeon, Dr. W. Keith, he recovered in less than two months so as to resume command of the division. Thought not able to go north with the army under Gen. Price when it moved from Springfield against the Federals on the Missouri, he set out in an ambulance as soon as it was at all permitted him to do so, accompanied by his wife and Dr. Keith, and arrived at Lexington the day after Mulligan's surrender. He received a great ovation from his troops.

He took command of his division October 11, following, and remained with it throughout the fall and winter campaign in Southwest Missouri. When the troops of the Missouri State Guard were being mustered into the Confederate States service he used great efforts to induce his men to join it, and nearly all did so. January 23, 1862, he was placed in command of the 2d brigade of Missouri Confederate volunteers, composed of Col. Bevier存 and Rosser存 battalions of infantry. Capt's. Lucas and Landis batteries of artillery, Col. McCullough's battalion of cavalry, together with Hughes' battalion, Gause's battalion and some other battalions, companies and squads.

Early in the desperate battle of Pea Ridge, or Elkhorn Tavern, Ark., March 7, 1862, Gen. Slack was mortally wounded, at the head of his brigade, and while placing it in position. The ball which struck him entered an inch above the old would received at Wilson's Creek - in the right hip, ranging downward, producing paralysis of the urinary organs, which resulted in inflammation and gangrene. He was caught by his aide-de-camp, Co. Scott, when about to fall from his horse, and with the assistance of others carefully conveyed in an ambulance to a house in Sugar Hollow where his wound was skillfully dressed by the brigade surgeon, Dr. Peter Austin. The next day when the Confederates retreated, he was conveyed to Andrew Roller's, east of the battle ground; accompanied by Maj. Cravens, Dr. Keith and Sergt. Street. Here he remained until the 16th, when, afraid of capture, he was removed seven miles further away from the field, to Moore存 mills, where he rapidly grew worse, and at 3 a.m., Thursday, March 20th, he breathed his last. the next morning he was buried eight miles east of the battle field. In the spring of 1880 his remains were removed to the Confederate cemetery at Fayetteville, Ark., where they yet lie.

Gen. Slack was twice married. His first wife was Mary E. Woodward, daughter of Maj. Woodward, of Ray county, Mo. To her he was married in July, 1842, and she died February 9, 1858, leaving two children - John W. and Emma I., the latter becoming Mrs. Vaughn. January 12, 1859, the General married Isabella R., a daughter of Dr. Gustavus M. Bower, of Monroe county, Mo. To this union two children were born - Wm. Y., Jr. and Gustavus Bower.

Note: The source of this information is from the History of Livingston County. It has been edited for minor mistakes contained in the original article.

Return to The Pennocks of Primitive Hall website.

The information in this database may contain errors. If you find any questionable data, or if you have something to add my findings, please feel free to e-mail me by clicking on the "E-MAIL" link above. Thank you!

Page built by Gedpage Version 2.21 ©2009 on 07 July 2020