George Washington Smith, Union soldier, merchant, and politician, was born in 1844, probably in the state of New York. In 1862 he enlisted in Company B, 123rd New York Infantry, a company raised in Kingsbury, New York, and commanded by his uncle, George W. Warren. Smith served as orderly sergeant for a time and was promoted to second lieutenant in 1863 and first lieutenant in 1865. He was slightly wounded twice, at Gettysburg and at New Hope Church. After the war he moved to Jefferson, Texas, with his uncle George, and they opened a mercantile business in the community. When his business failed, Smith went into radical politics and was elected as delegate to the state Constitutional Convention of 1868–69 by the Black voters of Jefferson. He alienated much of the White population of Jefferson through his attempts to collect debts owed him from his business, by his outspoken advocacy of Black equality, and by socializing with Black friends. By October 1869 he was a recognized leader of Blacks in Jefferson. On the night of October 3, Smith and a Black man named Anderson Wright spoke at a Republican political gathering. Later that evening they were fired on by a group of four White men, including Col. Richard P. Crump, a leading citizen of Jefferson. Smith returned fire with his revolver and wounded two of his attackers. When Smith, anticipating reprisals, sought sanctuary at the nearby army post, Crump and the local civil authorities brought assault charges against him. In spite of Smith's protests that the townspeople would kill him if the army did not protect him, the civil authorities persuaded the military commander, Maj. James Curtis, to turn Smith over to them. Curtis sent a squad of soldiers the next day to protect the prisoner. On the evening of October 4 a crowd of some seventy Whites assembled under the auspices of the Knights of the Rising Sun, a Klan-like organization, and marched to the jail. They overpowered the military guard, dragged several Black prisoners off, and killed two of them. Smith resisted the attempts of the crowd to break into his cell and appears to have killed the first man to push through the door. He was finally felled by gunshots through the cell window, and the mob then crowded into his cell and took turns firing into his corpse. Many of his assailants were subsequently imprisoned, tried, and, for the most part, acquitted, in the notorious Stockade Case. Smith was described in glowing terms by Radical Republican papers, in which he was viewed as a martyr to southern terrorism, and was vilified by the local Democratic papers as an incendiary radical who mixed with Blacks on terms of equality.
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Henry C. Morhous, Reminiscences of the 123rd New York State Volunteers (Greenwich: People's Journal Book and Job Office, 1879). New York Daily Tribune, July 31, 1869. Allen W. Trelease, White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Smith, George Washington,”
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