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Soldiers charged with setting fires and looting in Brenham

September
07
1866

On this day in 1866, federal soldiers under Bvt. Maj. George W. Smith reportedly set fire to and looted several stores in Brenham. The incident grew out of a controversy involving newspaper editor D. L. McGary's frequent attacks on the local Freedmen's Bureau in the Brenham Banner. McGary was arrested by federal authorities; after his release, on September 7, three soldiers were shot during an altercation at a dance. Other soldiers returned to the scene, arrested two citizens, and set a fire that burned part of the town. Smith maintained the innocence of his men and refused to turn them over to local officials. The episode helped Brenham gain a reputation for the "unreconstructed" Southern mentality of its white residents. After lengthy hearings by both federal and state officials, the issue of the soldiers' guilt remained unresolved. Smith was transferred to Seguin, where he was later convicted of theft of Freedmen's Bureau funds. Though his conviction was overturned on appeal, he resigned his commission in 1869, the same year that a convention of Democratic editors met in Brenham and denounced, among other things, the idea of black suffrage. Smith died in 1890.

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