George W. Clark, Confederate soldier, attorney, and state official, was born in Eutaw, Alabama, on July 18, 1841, the son of James Blair and Mary (Erwin) Clark. He was the youngest of seven boys in a family of nine children. He enrolled in October 1857 at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, where he pursued undergraduate studies before the outbreak of the Civil War. In his final year there, 1860–61, the university was placed under military rule. In January 1861 a corps of cadets to which Clark belonged was taken by river steamer to Mobile, Alabama, and then to Montgomery, but its members were allowed to return shortly thereafter to Tuscaloosa and resume their studies. Clark remained at the university until the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861. He graduated that June, enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private, and later became a third lieutenant in Lynchburg, Virginia, with the Eleventh Alabama Infantry. He and three of his brothers were in Gen. Robert E. Lee's army. Two brothers were killed, and one lost his left arm. Clark participated in the Chancellorsville campaign, the battle of Gettysburg, and several other battles. He was wounded in July 1863 and August 1864. He eventually achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was nearby in Danville, Virginia, when General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.
At the end of the war Clark returned to Alabama and began studying law under his father's tutelage. He served as a justice of the peace from 1865 to 1867. In October 1866 he received his license to practice law. He sailed to Galveston, Texas, in January 1867 and traveled around the state for several months before he returned to Alabama to prepare for his permanent move. "The county in which I lived had about five Negroes to one White," he wrote in his memoirs, "and I knew that it would be impossible for me to remain there in case the Reconstruction measures passed, and these seemed certain, so I therefore began to look for a different location." The South was under Union military rule at the time (see FIFTH MILITARY DISTRICT), and a yellow fever epidemic along the Gulf Coast delayed Clark's return to Texas until December 1867. He settled for a short time in Waco, moved to Weatherford for a year, and returned to Waco in December 1868.
He became politically prominent as a member of the state Democratic committee in 1872 and helped to induce his friend Richard Coke to run for governor. Clark lived with Coke's family in the spring of 1872 and acted as secretary of state under Governor Coke until the arrival of the regular appointee. He then took appointment in 1874 as Texas attorney general. From 1876 until 1878 he served as a Coke appointee on a commission to revise the laws of the state. He was appointed in November 1879 to fill a vacancy on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and served until October 1880, when he retired to resume his private law practice in Waco. He became a prominent railroad attorney.
In the spring and summer of 1887, Clark served as chairman of a successful campaign to defeat a bitterly controversial state constitutional amendment for prohibition. His name appeared often in daily newspaper accounts of the election held that August. "Indeed, the chairman of the prohibition State committee concedes the defeat of the amendment by 60,000," commented the Houston Post, "while the chairman of the anti prohibition committee [Clark] claims the victory by 100,000, and from the tenor of reports printed to-day it would appear that Judge Clark's figures are more nearly correct." The amendment lost by 91,000 votes. Clark was praised in the press for "the masterly manner in which he has managed the campaign." In 1892, as a candidate supported by railroad interests, Clark opposed James Stephen Hogg in his gubernatorial reelection bid. Hogg won the election and effectively ended Clark's political career.
Clark continued to practice law in Waco, but by 1908 he had begun to lose his sight. He was married in Austin on November 4, 1874, to Mary Pauline Johns, who died in Waco on May 6, 1903. They had two children. Clark died on March 28, 1918, after a six-week illness.
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Glynn Austin Brooks, A Political Survey of the Prohibition Movement in Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1920). Dallas Morning News, March 29, 1918. Galveston Daily News, August 6, 1887. Houston Daily Post, August 6, 1887.
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Clark, George W.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 26, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 9, 2020