“In the summer of 1865, soon after the close of the Civil War, in which he had played a gallant part as a Union officer, Lewis Hanback came to Kansas to practice law. For many years he was one of the eminent members of the Kansas bar, and he was also known and esteemed in public affairs. He was one of the members of Kansas history during the latter half of the [nineteenth] century.” — Kansas and Kansans, 1919.
Lewis Hanback was born March 27, 1839, in Winchester, Scott County, Illinois. He was the oldest of six children by William and Ann Hanback. His childhood was spent at Winchester and Madison, Indiana, after which the family moved to Quincy, Illinois. The father, William, died there May 1, 1855, and his wife passed away the following March. The family broke up after the parents’ death and the children became separated. Lewis was seventeen when he went to work as a farm hand. His education was not neglected. He had previously attended the local school at Winchester and later he graduated from the Cherry Grove Seminary in Knox County, Illinois. During the winter of 1860-61 he taught a term of country school.
Hanback enlistedApril 19, 1861, at Jacksonville, Illinois, when the Civil War began and the first call for troops came out. He joined the “Harding Light Guards,” later Company B of the Tenth Illinois Volunteer Infantry. When his term of three months ended Hanback re-enlisted in Company K of the 27th Illinois Infantry. The same day Hanback was mustered in as orderly sergeant he participated in General Ulysses S. Grant’s attack on Belmont, Missouri. Afterwards he was commissioned a second lieutenant of his company and promoted through the grades. Hanback served with Grant in Kentucky and at the sieges of Island Number 10 and Corinth, Mississippi. He then served on the staffs of Colonel G. W. Roberts, General C. G. Harker, and General L. P. Bradley, and took part in the battles at Stone River and Chickamauga and in the siege of Chattanooga. Under General Phil Sheridan he served in the battle of Missionary Ridge. Hanback reached the rank of captain when his enlistment time ended and he was mustered out September 20, 1864, at Springfield, Missouri.
After the war Hanback attended law school in Albany, New York, for a year. On August 9, 1865, he married Hester Cooper of Chapin, Illinois. Thirteen days later the couple moved to Topeka, Kansas, where Hanback was admitted to the Kansas bar and opened a law practice. In 1867 he served as justice of the peace, then city attorney and as Shawnee County Probate Judge from 1868 through 1872. Lewis became Assistant Chief Clerk to the Kansas House of Representatives and later Assistant Secretary to the Kansas Senate. In March 1878 Hanback was appointed Assistant U. S. District Attorney for Kansas.
While in Topeka the Hanbacks saw three of their children not live beyond infancy. Three other children lived to adulthood–Clara, Edwin, and Grace. The family went to Salina, Kansas, in 1879 when Hanback was appointed Receiver for the United States Land Office there. His formal entry into politics came in 1882 when he was elected to the at-large berth Kansas then had in the U.S. House of Representatives. A Republican, he moved his family to Osborne in May 1883 and was re-elected to a second term the next year.
In 1887 Hanback was defeated and retired from active politics. At Osborne he remained active in Masonic Lodge, Loyal Legion, and Grand Army of the Republic circles. He turned down an 1889 offer to become editor of the Osborne County Farmer but instead continued in great demand as a speaker who could make an audience laugh or cry at his discretion.
“He spoke extemporaneously and his eloquence electrified his audiences on patriotic occasions . . . As a boy I once heard him rehearse a battle scene in which the late Governor Lyman U. Humphrey [of Kansas] carried the flag across a bloody terrain, the speech being a prelude to an introduction of Governor Humphrey to an audience. When Hanback reached the climax every man in the room was standing on his chair shouting at the top of his voice. It was the most exciting moment we have ever witnessed at a political meeting.
It didn’t last long after Humphrey began speaking. He was a very poor speaker and dealt largely in statistics, with the result that his audience was soon peacefully sleeping. Hanback as a word painter has had few equals in Kansas. We shall not see his like again.” — Charles E. Mann, Osborne County Farmer, September 1914.
Hanback’s virtuosity with words served Osborne well. Literary debates were the rage of the day and the rivalry between Osborne and Smith Center was intense. In 1889 the Osborne Literary Society went to Smith Center for a much-anticipated debate. Hanback, disguised and hidden, was suddenly introduced as the last Osborne speaker. The Smith Center crowd cried foul and were in a somewhat riotous mood, but after Hanback finished speaking a roar of applause greeted his oration. All was forgiven and the night ended peacefully.
In 1891 Hanback moved back to Topekaand resumed his law practice. After a period as Adjutant General of Kansas he moved to the Kansas City suburb of Armourdale, Kansas, dealing in law and real estate. His last public appearances were at the Ottawa (KS) Chautauqua and at Chetopa, Kansas, where he addressed a meeting of the GAR. He contracted typhoid fever and two weeks later Lewis Hanback passed away at his home in Armourdale on September 6, 1897, shortly after he was named to Who’s Who in America.
Hanback was originally buried in the Armoudale Cemetery, but in 1910 a dispute arose over a proposal that he be buried elsewhere. Kansas City,Topeka,Wichita, and even Osborne all vied for the honor. In the end Congressman Hanback was reburied in the Topeka Cemetery under a suitable monument next to his wife and three children.