During the 19th century, many military officers retained their military titles after the hostilities ended; they continued to be recognized for the rank they had held until their deaths. Most of these men had been known for their bravery on the battlefield, and retention of their military titles reminded people of their gallantry. Sedalia founder George R. Smith referred to himself and others referred to him as “General Smith” until his death in 1879.
Smith’s military career, however, raises many questions about the legitimacy of the title. According to local historian Bill Claycomb, Smith first began using the title when he was appointed adjutant general of Missouri during the infamous Mormon Wars, a series of skirmishes and mob actions between 1838 and 1841 that attempted to force members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to leave Missouri. The position of Adjutant General was a non-commissioned office; the adjutant is responsible for forming military companies and assuring that they are combat ready and have the supplies they need.
Claycomb notes Smith never saw military action, and likely never left his home in Georgetown to fill his position. He resigned shortly after his appointment over a disagreement with his superiors. He retained his title, however. The Encyclopedia of Missouri, published in 1901 by the Southern History Company, does not mention Smith’s role as adjutant during the Mormon Wars.
The Encyclopedia does mention Smith’s service as adjutant during the Civil War. He was appointed to the position of Adjutant General in 1861 by Governor Gamble. According to the Encyclopedia of Missouri History, Smith was responsible for organizing the first troops from Missouri to serve “in defense of the Union.” Smith never saw combat and held the position for only a short time, resigning, according to Claycomb, after a dispute with his superiors. His resignation reflected a pattern that was common in Smith’s various careers; these will be detailed in a future column.
Smith continued to be active in political affairs during the war. In 1863, he attended a convention of Missouri’s Radical Republicans, a group within the Republican Party who during the war wanted a more aggressive action against the Confederacy and who after the war wanted the Federal government to levy severe punishment against the former Confederacy. During the 1863 convention, attendees presented a petition to President Lincoln signed by a representative from each Missouri county asking that Lincoln step up the Union’s war efforts against the South.
In 1864, Smith participated in three political actions. He was an “elector” for the Republican party. He ran as a candidate for governor but was defeated by the party convention. He ran successfully for a seat in the state Senate and was chosen president pro tempore of the Senate.
Smith’s career after the war involved further political action, some detailed in the Encyclopedia. The Encyclopedia does not dwell on Smith’s business affairs after the war. The omissions are interesting in part because they are omitted.