John Henry Smith: Oldest Brother Goes to War

John Henry Smith 1823-1864

The Young Boy

The oldest brother of my great-grandmother Ann Marie Smith (Butts) had reached twelve years old when my great-grandmother Ann was born.  Being the oldest child of Isaac and Mary Maria Krigbaum Smith, John Henry Smith came to Knox County, Ohio from Maryland with the family when at nine or ten years old.

By the time they moved to Ohio, the Smith family had grown to include five children.  The community they moved to had been settled by fellow Maryland Catholics and in the 1830s, you had to be adventurous to move to Ohio.  While most of the immigrants from the East coast into the Northwest Territory got busy felling trees and clearing thick growth so they could turn the fertile land into farms, father Isaac Smith set up his cobbler’s bench. He served an immediate every day need of the community.  I do not doubt that young John Henry Smith, practically considered a   grown up at ten, would have been helping his father. He might deliver shoes, help to soften leather, and stoke fires.

As the years passed, the family grew. Four more children arrived by 1845, although two died before they were one year old. The youngest boy, George Washington Smith, who had made the trip from Maryland as a baby, died at seven years old. In the years between his eleventh and fifteenth birthday, John saw three siblings die. (See a summary of the Isaac Smith family here).

John Henry Smith Starts a Family

John Henry Smith wedding

Marriage license from the Justice of the Peace in Mt. Vernon, Knox County.

Soon after he came of age, Henry, as he was probably called, married Rebecca Jane Draper in  Mt. Vernon, the county seat. They chose a wedding before a Justice of the Peace rather than a Catholic ceremony. Rebecca and Henry married in March and in November of the same year, Henry’s oldest sister, Mary Jane, married Cyrus Stephens. 

John Henry Smith started a very small farm in Knox County, and his first son, Jeremiah Warden Smith was born in 1847.  Late the year before, Henry’s mother had given birth to a girl who died five months later. That meant that Jeremiah, the family’s first grandson, must have been particularly welcomed.

The good luck/bad luck persisted, as Henry’s wife Rebecca gave birth in March 1848 to a daughter, Lillis Jane, but in January of the following year, Henry’s brother Jeremiah died at twenty-two.

The 1850 farm schedule shows that Henry is farming a very small farm in Union Township, Knox County, Ohio. The farm –35 improved acres and 50 unimproved– looks poor compared to others in the area. He owns only one horse and one cow and 15 pigs and his largest crop, which is not very large, is corn.

I wonder if his father Isaac gave him the land he had purchased in 1835 from the Ohio River Survey.  That land was listed as in Morrow County, but Morrow was created in the 1840s  from part of other counties, including Knox. Most of the men I track from this period build up a farm and add acreage so that they can give land to their sons. However, Isaac may have let his land lie fallow, since he made his living by shoemaking.

The census report of 1850 when he lives on a farm in Union Township (the township where his father lives in Danville) makes me think that Henry and his wife might have been struggling to care for their family.

Henry and his wife named their third daughter, Victoria for the popular English Queen, who had by then (1856), ruled nearly thirty years.

The Union Army Calls

In 1860, the family lives in the township just north of Danville, Jefferson Township. Now he is listed as a farm laborer rather than an owner.  Another sign that things are not going well as the country goes to war with itself.

Henry, now forty-years old, fills out the registration form required of men by the Civil War.  All around him the pressure is building for men to join the army with parades and rallies and exhortations in newspapers  Perhaps he figures that despite his advanced age, he can’t be worse off than he is struggling at farm work, and on the 26th of February, 1864, John Henry Smith enlists in the Union Army.

The Battles of the 121st

The army assigns him to Company K in the Ohio 121st Infantry Regiment as a Private.  His Regiment find themselves pressed into service soon after their training as reinforcements for the battle in the South, with the objective of winning Atlanta. After training and travel south, he fought at Kenesaw Mountain Georgia. It was quite an initiation. He probably spent most of the time on Kenesaw digging ditches and building fortifications. Of the battle itself,  Major General William T. Sherman later called it “the hardest fight of the campaign up to that date.”

June 28 through July 19th they join the battle at Peach Tree Georgia.

August 6 and again August 20 and August 28, the Ohio soldiers will be fighting in the battles of Atlanta.

September 1 finds them at Jonesboro for the final battle of the Atlanta campaign. After four months, the Union forces finally defeated the South.  That long siege, the most critical in Sherman’s mind, had continued until Sheridan torched Atlanta and the South surrendered Atlanta on September 2.

John Henry Smith had survived one of the most critical battles of the war.  From here on out, it was mop up operations.  The Union soldiers were reduced to foraging and living off the land, since at the beginning Sherman’s March to the Sea, they were cut off from supply lines.

Annie’s Husband Also Goes to War

On October 24, John Henry Smith’s brother-in-law, enlisted for a 2nd tour of duty in the Union Army and joined Sherman’s troops. That was my great-grandfather, Henry Allen Butts.

November 3 the Ohio 121st had moved on to fight at Louisville Georgia. By November 21 they fought at Milledgeville, Georgia. Sherman now split his troops and turned one half toward the Atlantic on the march across Georgia (with Henry Allen Butts). He sent the other half to Nashville (with John Henry Smith), to chase down Confederate General Hood. Hood had surrendered Atlanta and wanted revenge.

On December 18, Henry Allen Butts wrote a letter home to John Henry Smith’s sister, Annie in which he said, “ you stated in your letter that henry had been home. I was glad to hear he got home to see his littel ones.” Earlier in the same letter, he explained that the reason he had not written earlier is that they had been on the march since mid November. Given the slow pace of mail, I’m guessing that Henry Smith’s visited home came after his training and before he marched to Kennesaw.

Henry’s Last Battle

On December 15 the south attacked Union forces at Nashville, Tennessee. I have not discovered the details, but John Henry Smith probably suffered a wound in that battle. He died on December 17 and fellow soldiers buried him at what became the Nashville National Cemetery.

The government needed the cemetery because of the 6000 Confederate and 3600 Union casualties suffered in the area.

John Henry Smith gravestone

John Henry Smith gravestone at the Nashville National Monument. Photo by KBlums from Find a Grave.

Henry Smith left behind a wife and three children, Victoria, 8, Lillis, 16 and Jeremiah, 17 years old. His wife, unlike many widows of the day, did not immediately remarry.  When his two daughters reached marrying age, they married brothers from the Blubaugh family who lived just 4 houses down the road.

How I Am Related

  • Vera Marie Kaser (Badertscher)  is the daughter of
  • Paul Kaser, the son of
  • Mary Isadore (Mame) Butts (Kaser), the daughter of
  • Ann Marie Smith (Butts), the sister of
  • John Henry Butts.

Notes on Research

United States Federal Census, 1860,  Jefferson, Knox, Ohio

United States Federal Census Non-Population Schedule, Agriculture, 1850, Union, Knox, Ohio;1860,  Jefferson, Knox, Ohio

Ohio, County Marriages, 1774-1993, Knox, Ohio, USA, 30 Mar 1845, Film #002243649, Ancestry.com

U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865, United States Park Service, John H. Smith, Ohio Reg 121, film record M552, roll 101

U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006, National Cemetery Administration, Nashville National Cemetery, J. Henry Smith

U.S., American Civil War Regiments, 1861-1866, Historical Data Systems,121st Infantry Regiment, Ohio, Ancestry.com

U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865, Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio Roll of Honor of Ohio Soldiers, J Henry Smith, Historical Data Systems.

U. S. Find a Grave https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/3201726, John Henry Smith

Smith Family Bible, transcriptions from Mary Martha VonVille

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2 thoughts on “John Henry Smith: Oldest Brother Goes to War

  1. Michael

    I appreciate reading personalized stories of Civil War servicemen. It brings the war to life, and illustrates the hardships suffered by families across the country.

    Did Henry’s widow apply for a Civil War pension following his death in Nashville?

    Reply

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