John R. Smith, physician, farmer, slaveholder, and Confederate military officer, was born in Texas about 1827. He was the oldest of five children born to William Smith from Virginia. In 1850 John resided in Sabine County, where he worked as a physician, although it is not clear where he received any formal training for this employment. Sometime before 1860 he was married to Francis A., also from Texas. In 1860 John lived with his wife and four children in Gonzales, where he worked as a farmer. He estimated that his real property was worth over $6,000 and his personal property to be worth $10,000, including the ownership of ten slaves.
Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Smith enrolled for service in the Confederate military on April 21, 1862. On May 7, 1862, he organized a company of men from Gonzales that subsequently became Company B of the cavalry battalion that made up part of Waul’s Texas Legion. On that same day, he was elected captain. This company was nicknamed “Captain Smith’s Spy Company.” On October 20, 1862, Waul’s Legion was reorganized to contain a cavalry battalion of six companies, an artillery battalion of two companies, and two infantry battalions of six companies each. At this time, Smith was promoted to the rank of major. As part of the cavalry battalion, Smith served in the Department of Mississippi and eastern Louisiana, fought skirmishes in Mississippi, fought with Nathan Bedford Forrest in western Tennessee and Kentucky, and saw action in John Bell Hood’s operations in northern Georgia before ending the war in Alabama. Smith, however, left the unit for health reasons and resigned on January 11, 1864. He reported that since joining the military he had “been unfit for duty at least one third of the time,” and the regiment’s surgeon reported he suffered from “chronic inflammation of the nostrils and vocal organs.”
After resigning his commission, Smith returned to Gonzales County. Sometime later, he and his family relocated to Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas, where he worked as a farmer and at least two of his six children worked as laborers on the family land. It is not clear when Smith died, but he could not be located on the 1900 census.