William Ferguson Slemons (1830–1918)
William Ferguson Slemons was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented the Second District of Arkansas in the Forty-Fourth through the Forty-Sixth Congresses, serving from 1875 to 1881.
William F. Slemons—a descendant of the family of Thomas Slemons, who was born in Perth, Scotland, and came to the United States in 1723, ultimately settling in Pennsylvania—was born on March 15, 1830, near Dresden, Tennessee, to J. B. Slemons and Elizabeth Slemons. After limited early formal education, he attended Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee. Slemons moved to Arkansas in 1852. While he briefly taught school in Hamburg (Ashley County), he also began the study of law, including some formal training at Cumberland School of Law in Lebanon, Tennessee. He was admitted to the Arkansas state bar in 1855 and opened a private law practice in Monticello (Drew County). In December 1855, Slemons married Martha S. Howard, with whom he went on to have seven children.
A supporter of secession, Slemons served as a delegate from Drew County at the Arkansas Secession Convention in 1861. After the state joined the Confederacy, Slemons joined the Confederate army in July 1861. As a leader in Arkansas’s original Second Cavalry Regiment (unit numbers shifted over the course of the war with periodic reorganization), his Civil War service included being under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest while serving in Arkansas, Tennessee, eastern Louisiana, and Mississippi. In 1864, he joined General Sterling Price’s cavalry unit as it invaded Missouri. Later that year, while fighting in Kansas, Slemons had his horse shot out from under him, and he and a large part of his regiment were captured. For the remainder of the war, he was held captive by Union forces, first in Johnson Island in Ohio and then in Rock Island, Illinois. Devoted to the Confederate cause, he was unwilling to take the oath of allegiance and was the last man to leave Rock Island, doing so only when General Ulysses S. Grant paroled him to Arkansas.
Upon his release, Slemons returned home to Monticello and resumed the practice of law. He served as district attorney from 1866 to 1868, but the advent of Reconstruction led to his ouster and his return to private practice. In the midst of the political turmoil that characterized Reconstruction-era Arkansas, in 1874, running as a Democrat, Slemons defeated former Union army officer and Republican activist John Middleton Clayton for the first of his three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although he had demonstrated solid electoral strength in each of his reelection campaigns, even thwarting the comeback effort of former Congressman Oliver P. Snyder in 1876, Slemons chose not to seek re-nomination in 1880. Instead, he returned to Monticello and his legal practice. He served first as a county judge and then as a probate judge for Drew County from 1903 to 1907. He served as justice of the peace from 1908 to 1918.
Slemons died on December 10, 1918. He is interred in Union Ridge Cemetery near Monticello.
For additional information:
Holley, Donald. “Amid Showers of Shot and Shell: William F. Slemons and the Civil War.” Drew County Historical Journal 3 (1988): 2–16.
———. “The Man for the Times and Place: William F. Slemons and the Postwar South.” Drew County Historical Journal 4 (1989): 2–21.
“A Majestic Oak Has Fallen, a Strong Man Has Gone.” The Monticellonian, December 13, 1918, p. 4.
“William Ferguson Slemons.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=S000484 (accessed October 22, 2020).
William H. Pruden III
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