Smith, George W. (unknown–1890)

By: James L. Hailey

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: October 1, 1995

Brevet Major George W. Smith commanded a detachment of United States Seventeenth Infantry stationed outside Brenham following the Civil War. Smith, a much decorated Vermonter, had participated in the battles of Gettysburg and the Wilderness. He and his troops became embroiled in a controversy between the local newspaper editor and the Freedmen's Bureau representative. Friction between federal officials and local citizens resulted in the shooting of two soldiers by local residents and the burning of buildings in Brenham. Major Smith's soldiers were charged with setting fire and looting several local stores on September 7, 1866. Smith maintained the innocence of his men and refused to turn them over to local officials. After lengthy hearings by both federal and state officials, the issue of guilt remained unresolved. Smith was transferred shortly after this incident to Seguin. Two and one-half years later Smith was accused of theft of Freedmen's Bureau funds and convicted by a court martial board. However, he appealed his conviction, and it was overturned. Lack of evidence caused the review board to negate the conviction, but they issued a report very critical of the major. He resigned his commission in 1869. Smith died in 1890.

Charles W. Ramsdell, "Presidential Reconstruction in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 11, 12 (April 1908, January 1909). William L. Richter, The Army in Texas during Reconstruction, 1865–1870 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987). William L. Richter, "The Brenham Fire of 1866: A Texas Reconstruction Atrocity," Louisiana Studies 14 (Fall 1975).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James L. Hailey, “Smith, George W.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995