Skip directly to content

Joseph Humphrey Sloss

Kayla C. Scott, Alabama Department of Archives and History
Joseph Humphrey Sloss (1826-1911) served two terms in the U.S. Congress, representing Alabama's Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives during Reconstruction. In addition, he was a lawyer, a U.S. Marshal, a major in the Confederate cavalry during the Civil War, and a mayor of Tuscumbia, Colbert County.
Joseph Humphrey Sloss
Sloss was born in Somerville, Morgan County, on October 12, 1826. His parents were James Long Sloss, a clergyman who emigrated from Ireland and was educated at Princeton, and Letitia Campbell Sloss. He had five siblings. His sister Anna Eliza married planter and businessman Alexander Donelson Coffee, his brother Thomas served as a captain in the Civil War and became a judge in Texas, and his sister Letitia Vandyke Sloss married future Union officer Friend S. Rutherford of Illinois. The family was related to James Withers Sloss, founder of Sloss Furnaces. Educated in Florence, Lauderdale County, by his father who pastored the Presbyterian church and taught school there, he continued his studies in Athens, Tennessee, where he studied law under his uncle Thomas Nixon Vandyke. Sloss was admitted to the bar at the age of 18 and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he practiced law for four years. Sloss then relocated to Edwardsville, Illinois, where he married Mary L. Lusk on April 2, 1850. The couple had five children. It was in Illinois that Letitia met Rutherford, a lawyer and staunch Republican who was acquainted with Joseph Sloss through their respective law practices.
Sloss served in the Illinois State House of Representatives in 1858 and 1859. He was residing in Edwardsville when the Civil War began in 1861 but returned to north Alabama soon after it started. Sloss volunteered for the Confederate Army and raised a company in Lauderdale County that became part of Col. Phillip Roddey's Fourth Alabama Cavalry. (Roddey was a Moulton, Lawrence County, native who rose to the rank of brigadier general.) Sloss was elected captain of Company F soon after its formation. For his bravery on the field, he was promoted to major in 1863 and served in this capacity until the end of the war. The Fourth Alabama Cavalry fought in several battles under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, including the 1864 Battle of Brice's Crossroads in Mississippi and the April 1865 Battle of Selma. Following the war, Sloss practiced law in Tuscumbia, forming a partnership with future Alabama governor Robert Burns Lindsay in 1865 that continued into 1871 with Lindsay assuming the governorship in December 1870. While in Tuscumbia, Sloss would edit The Tuscumbia Times and the North Alabamian and Times.
Sloss served in Alabama politics and public life for most of the next 20 years. He was elected mayor of Tuscumbia in 1866 during the Reconstruction era. He was quickly removed from office by Gen. John Pope over questions about the validity of the election, only to be reelected in the following contest. The papers of the time period raised many questions regarding the motives for this removal and highlighted the controversy surrounding Reconstruction era politics. Sloss was one of the first, but far from the last of a long list of politicians whom Pope would remove from office during this era.
Elected to the U.S. Congress twice, Sloss served as a Democrat from the Sixth Congressional District from March 4, 1871, through March 3, 1875, in the Forty-second and Forty-third Congresses. The district covered much of northwestern Alabama. Sloss filled the seat left open by William Crawford Sherrod, who declined to run for reelection. The bills he introduced while in office mostly supported the expansion of railroads in the state and improving navigation on the Tennessee River. He also supported individual cases of relief for veterans and introduced a bill that, if successful, would have removed a tax from alcohol made solely from fruit. Like most Democrats of the era, he voted against measures to enforce voting rights for African Americans and prohibiting discrimination in public places. His bid for re-election in 1874 was unsuccessful, losing to Goldsmith Whitehouse Hewitt.
In February 1877, Sloss was appointed to the post of U.S. Marshal for the northern district of Alabama, a position he served in until September 1882. The job required him to live in Huntsville, Madison County, so he and his family left Tuscumbia at this time. Sloss became editor of the Huntsville Advocate in 1882, a position that along with his interest in real estate, led him to step down from the marshal appointment. During his time in political office his name also appeared in newsprint as he received praise. Most often though, he was attacked regarding his Civil War service, the possibility of being a Republican, and affiliating with Republicans politicians and politicians with questionable political motives.
Politics were not the only source of scandal in Sloss's life. In the summer of 1874, George F. Long had been courting Sloss' daughter, Mary, but Sloss and his wife disapproved of Long's character and forbade the relationship to continue. Not only was Long known as a "layabout" who had been out of work for months, but he had a reputation for associating with disreputable people and getting into fights. One such scrape ended with him bleeding profusely from a severe cut in his throat. Banned from seeing Mary, Long began to publicly insult her character. Enraged, Sloss took his shotgun and went into Tuscumbia to search for Long. Sloss waited inside a store and shot Long as he passed by. Sloss turned himself in to the police, who released him due to his standing in the community. He was never charged for the attack. Although Long was initially thought to be dying, he eventually recovered but had lasting health problems. In September 1874, following Long's semi-recovery, Mary snuck out of the house and married him. Mary's mother, with pistols in hand, tried to stop the wedding but arrived too late. Mary did not live a full year after the marriage took place and died on July 4, 1875.
Sloss was still living in Madison County with his wife in April 1900, but records indicate that he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, a few years before his death. He died in Memphis on January 27, 1911, and was interred in the Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville, Madison County.
Published:  November 21, 2019   |   Last updated:  November 21, 2019