Edward Asbury O'Neal

Contributor: Pat M. Mahan

 

EDWARD ASBURY O'NEAL, ex-governor of Alabama, and one of Lauderdale county's most distinguished citizens, was born in Madison county, Ala. He is the son of Edward and Rebecca (Wheat) O'Neal, the former of who was a native of Ireland, and the latter of South Carolina, but of Huguenot extraction. Edward O'Neal, soon after his marriage in South Caroline, settled in Madison county, Ala., and died there when Edward Asbury was but three months old. His widow survived him some years, dying in Madison county, in 1856. There were two sons born to them, viz: Basil Wheat O'Neal, who was a planter in Texas for many years, and died there in 1881, and Edward Asbury O'Neal. After receiving an academic education, including English literature and the classics, Edward A. O'Neal entered LaGrange college, and graduated from that institution in 1836, with the degree of bachelor of arts, and with the first honors of his class. He was a law student with Hon. James W. McClung, of Huntsville, and was admitted to the bar in 1840. He was associated in the practice of the law, at different times, with Robert Armstrong, William Basil Wood and John E. Moore, the latter, an elder brother of Col. Sydenham Moore. In his first case, one before Daniel Coleman, he greatly distinguished himself, and sprang at once into popular favor. In 1841 he was elected, at a called session of the legislature, solicitor of the fourth judicial circuit, to fill out the unexpired term of George S.Houston, and served four years. From that time forward, for many years, Mr. O'Neal devoted himself exclusively to the practice of the law. He was a strong believer in the right and justice of secession, and advocated that course for the state prior to its culmination in war. When this height was reached, he had the courage to accept the wager of battle, and to take up arms for the purpose of making it a success. But it is a remarkable thing that on the many who distinguished themselves as advocates of secession in northern Alabama, only Mr. O'Neal, and not to exceed four others, had the consistency to go to the front when the war came on. On June 4, 1861, Mr. O'Neal left Florence, commissioned as captain, for Richmond, Va., in command of three companies of soldiers. Upon reaching Richmond, he was at once made major of the Ninth Alabama infantry, and became lieutenant colonel of it in the fall. In March, 1862, he was appointed colonel of the Twenty-sixth Alabama infantry, and commanded this regiment at Yorktown, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and the battles around Richmond. At Seven Pines, he had his horse killed under him, and he was himself severely injured by a piece of a shell. At Chancellorsville, his command won the honors of the day. In 1863, he commanded Rhode's division, and led it in the battles of Gettysburg and Mine Run, in which battles he distinguished himself for courageous bearing. Early in 1864, his regiment was sent back to Alabama to recruit its depleted ranks, but it was not permitted long to remain. It was ordered to Dalton, Ga., where Col. O'Neal took command of Cantey's brigade. This brigade he led during the remainder of Gen. Johnston's famous retreat before Gen. Sherman to Atlanta, and after Gen. Hood was placed in command of Johnston's army, Col. O'Neal was relieved and served on detached duty the rest of the war. A commission of brigadier general was issued to him, but on account of irregular mail communications, it never reached him. He was mustered out of service just four years after leaving Florence, in 1861, for the war. Returning home, he resumed the practice of the law. In 1875, Gen. O'Neal entered into the political fight, which resulted in the restoration of the democratic party to power in the state. In August, 1875, he was elected to the constitutional convention and served in that convention as chairman of the committee on education. As such chairman, he framed and secured the adoption of section nine, article thirteen, which authorized the re-organization of the entire educational system, public and private, of the state. In 1880, Gen. O'Neal was an elector on the Hancock ticket, and made speeches throughout the state advocating his election to the presidency. In 1882, he was elected governor of the state, and was re-elected in 1884. Upon his retirement from office, his administration of the affairs of state received nothing but commendation and praise, and is believed to have been, in fact, one of the strongest and best the state has ever had. Gov. O'Neal was married at Huntsville, Ala., April 12, 1838, to Miss Olivia Moore, eldest daughter of Dr.Alfred Moore. To this marriage there were born nine children, two of whom died in infancy. One of these children, Emmet O'Neal, was for a long time associated with his father in the practice of the law. He was born at Florence, Ala., September 29, 1853. He was educated at the Florence Wesleyan university, at the university of Mississippi and at the university of Alabama, graduating from the latter institution in 1873. He at once entered upon the study of the law in the office of his father, and was admitted to the bar in 1876. Since his admission to the bar, he has given his exclusive attention to the practice of the law. In 1880, he was a delegate to the convention that nominate Gen. Hancock for the presidency of the United States. He was served as a member of the state democratic executive committee, and as an alderman of Florence. He is a director in the W. B. Wood Furnace company, and in the Sheffield Marble and Phosphate company. He is a member of the Knights of Honor and of the Knights of Pythias. He has been a delegate to the various state conventions for several years, and in 1892, was elector at large of the state on the Cleveland ticket. He is, at the present time, city attorney of Florence. He was married at Tuscaloosa, July 24, 1881, to Miss Lizzie Kirkman, daughter of Samuel Kirkman, Esq., of Florence. To this marriage there have been born two children, viz.: Lizzie K. O'Neal and Kirkham O'Neal. 

 

Source: Memorial Record of Alabama. Vol. II. Brant & Fuller. Madison, Wis., 1893. pp. 362-364