George E. Smith, Jr. (1842-1915), was born in Antioch in 1842 to parents, George and Mercy. The Smiths were natives of Salem, Massachusetts, and came to Lake County in 1839.
The Smith family home and farm was located north of the town of Millburn on Route 45 (then known as the West Milwaukee Road). George and Mercy Smith are standing at right in this photo taken circa 1885. LCDM 93.45.79.
When the 96th Illinois Regiment was formed, George Jr. enlisted in Company D, on August 6, 1862. Smith was an infantryman until 1864 when he was selected for duty in the Ambulance Corps.
Like other regiments, the 96th Illinois Infantry had little in the way of a system for getting wounded and dead off the battlefields before the Ambulance Corps was created in March 1864. Six “stalwart men” were selected to serve in the 96th’s Ambulance Corps as stretcher bearers, including George Smith. All of these men were of “good size and were chosen as being possessed of considerable strength and good courage.”
At the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain in June 1864, Smith and fellow stretcher bearer, Harlow Ragan, carried sixteen men to the hospital one and half miles away, traveling a total of 50 miles in a period of 20 hours. According to the regiment’s history, “It was a terrible day’s work for them, and they were not unfrequently [sic] the target of Rebel sharpshooters.”
Despite this hazardous work, Smith’s letters home—preserved in the museum’s Minto Collection—were unusually cheerful, but often contained a longing to return home. He relayed a bit of whimsy when he wrote to his sister Susie, imagining that he was home enjoying huckleberry pie and “old turenne apple sauce and Sitron [sic].” He opens another letter with: “I am going to peek in and see some day so look out. I want some more of those big apples from the old spider. Such apples as those cost .05 [cents] a piece here and sour at that.”
Although George fought in sixteen battles, and was in every action the regiment had, without sickness or injury, only a few of his letters mention specific fights or battles in the three years of his enlistment. In one, he tells of bedding down in camp at night to the “flash of gunn [sic] & shell along the line, like heat lightning along the horizon of a warm summers night with the exception of the heavy jarring report.”
The letter below was written by George to his sister Susie, 147 years ago today:
Camp Near Chatahoochee River Geo.
July 7,th 1864
I with pleasure seat myself this fine morning to pen a few lines in answer to yours of the 25 which I received yesturday morning which found me well. I am sorry to hear that you were ill. but are in hopes as the 4th is over that you are by this time better or if not my sincere hope is that this does will perfect a cure take 4 pages of this for the first dose & then think of me every 4 hours to keep up nanseation untill I call gain. Let me see about a week from tomorrough from Saturday where or no you will receive this, another will come in due time.
The first paragraph illustrates George's good nature and lightheartedness, and is typical of his letters home. [Note: George's spelling and grammar have not been corrected in the transcription].
The letter continues:
Well I suppose you would like to know how we come down here by this river. well i suppose you know the terms as well as I do. these dam collored anumals which we call Johneyes or Rebs you see desputed our right so we just to spite them sayed that we would come anyhow. & here we are anyhow on the morning of the 3rd we waked up to find the enemy lighting out so we of course lit out in pursuit. Passed through Marietta about now I have agood view of the country around Marietta the top of a large semanary our scirmishers had hot work all day the enemys rear guard desputing the ground step by step when towards night we stoped by river beyond Marietta where the rebs had agan formed their lines. and fortifyed & every reb that tryes to cut it loose is shot down.
You have probably seen the act to raise souldiers pay which is 3 dollars a month more on privates pay towards buying that Cow & Pigs & set of Crockery when we get home & this cruel war is over & a man can think himself enny thing but a mark to bee shot at. & there will be time to refreshing on that Jenny & huge has piece of buisness the boys are all well no more wounded lately
Your affectionate Brother Ned
Geo. E. smith Jr.
There are 33 letters written by George Smith preserved in the museum's Minto Collection. They are available for research at the archives, and also available online at the Illinois Digital Archives where the museum's digital collections are housed.
In 1865, George Smith returned home to Millburn to farm and breed stock. He married Susanna G. White in May 1870. In 1885, they moved to Otis, Colorado where they continued farming.
George Smith died on October 26, 1915, in Denver, Colorado.
This weekend, July 9 - 10, 2011, is the museum's annual Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve, Wauconda. Join us for the region's largest re-enactment, and to view the museum's Civil War and quilt exhibitions.