Lemuel Foster Smith was born on April 10, 1844, in Michigan, the son of William (1805-1848) and Rebecca D. (Foster, 1807-1853?).
While still a young boy Lemuel settled in Owosso, Shiawassee County, along with his older sister Bianca (1834-1895). By 1860 he was living with his younger Freedom (1847-1922) and they were both living with their older sister Bianca Beebe and her husband Alpheus, a clerk, in Owosso.
Lemuel stood 5’7” with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion, and was 19 or 16 years old and probably still living in Owosso when he enlisted in Company G on May 13, 1861. (His older brother William Hayden enlisted in either the Fourth or Fourteenth Michigan infantry.) By late June of 1862 he was reported in the hospital at Yorktown, Virginia, and he remained hospitalized through August. He was reportedly wounded slightly in the face during the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, December 13, 1862. .
Lemuel was on duty with the regiment on February 22, 1863, when he wrote to the editor of the Owosso Press, from Camp Pitcher, Virginia, near Brandy Station.
Today is one of unusual excitement with the army of the Potomac. The birth-day of the Father of that country, the unity of which we are here to maintain. In every direction can be heard the boom of our cannon as they fire the national salute. But the inclemency of the weather has put a damper on speech making and all out door jollification and the artillery has every thing its own way. The snow is about six inches deep, and still comes down.
The soldiers are now suffering more than ever before, since we have been in the service. The snow drives through our smaller tents without the least difficulty or mercy. Our wood is beginning to grow scarce also. When our Brigade came to our present camp we were surrounded by woods, but the Michigan boys to whom the axe is no new weapon, have laid it all low, and we are now going over the same ground chopping the stumps close to the ground and trimming up the small timber.
A soldier is considered unusually lucky if he happens to possess a pair of gloves or mittens, and those at home who wish to do something for their friends in the army can be assured that no gift will come with a warmer welcome to the recipient, . . .than a pair of mittens. Our camp now presents one monotonous and unrelieved snowscape with here and there a curl of blue smoke and a soldier grubbing in the snow for wood, or shovelling the snow from the tent door. The curl of blue smoke issues apparently from the apex of a snow bank, but underneath can be heard the war songs sung loudly if not well, and now and then, to the uninitiated, meaningless ejaculations of “what’s trump” or “that is my trick,” but the general absence of greenbacks essentially hinders the enticing game being prosecuted for anything but fun.
But the fire burns low and I must turn out and grub for wood.
Six days later Lemuel wrote home to his sister Freedom from Camp Pitcher.
Your welcome letter and pretty pictures have just been received by me. I was very glad to receive them and I do not feel a bit ashamed to show them to any of my fellow soldiers. I think that they are very nice and thank Adda and Leveelien [?] and yourself very much for them and shall be very glad to repay them by sending mine when it is so that I can do and Adda and Cel are as natural as they can be; they have not changed a particle as I can see but you look a little different than you would – but I cannot see where it is.
You spoke about my getting a furlough. I should like very much to come and make a visit but it is a good deal of trouble to get one and after trying for a month you may not get one after all. But I am in hopes that this cursed war will be to an end before a great while longer so that I may come home and enjoy life again. I had my face hurt some at the Battle of Fredericksburg by a shell. It went into the ground in front of our Co. and then burst; a piece tore one fellow’s arm off, and the dirt flew with such force that it went right into a great many of our boys’ faces. Some of the dirt flew into my face and neck so that it was all a blister and it has left some[thing] of a scar.
But if I am fortunate enough to get out of this place with scars I shall think that I have done first rate. Tell Cel and Adda that the next time you write if they do not put in a few lines that if ever I come home I will give them a good trouncing. But I must stop and put you three girls in my knapsack. Perhaps you were not aware that you were going to sleep under a soldier’s head tonight. I hope that it will cause me to dream about you as I have often done before. But when I awoke it was all a dream. But I will wait patiently for it to come real. No more. Do write soon and I will answer.
Lemuel was still in winter quarters with the regiment when he wrote to his sister Freedom on March 16, 1863.
I do not know what I am to write to you for I have written all of any importance in my letter to Bianca but I will try and do as well as you did. Yes Freedy when friend Durfee was killed we lost a good friend and a generous heart. I must say that I feel bad about it although I have seen so many men killed in Battle it seems more [tragic]to hear of one getting crushed to death and especially a friend such as he always was to me. But such is life. There is knowing when you may have another full as dear to you taken away. It is nothing but what we may expect at any time. I will write to Jim Williams as soon as I get through with this. When cousin _____ was once here I read a letter from Mary a letter from Mary to him. They are in Hudson but I do not know how they are getting along but I should think by what she said that she had been working at a hotel so it seems she works out. Have you ever received that piece of red cloth that I sent you? I sent one about an inch long to have you sew thee name Kearney on it for we all have to wear it in memory of our old Gen. I must stop and write to James. Your ever loving Bro
By late July of 1863, Lemuel was working as a nurse in a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At this point there is some confusion in Lemuel’s military service record at the National Archives. Found in his records is the following letter from one Betsey E. Smith of Rawsonville, Wayne County, who claimed to be the wife of one Lemuel Smith. On March 3, 1863, Mrs. Smith sent the following letter to the Adjutant General’s office seeking information as to the whereabouts of her husband.
“As I am in great suspense to know the whereabouts of my husband, Lemuel Smith, I beg the privilege of writing to you for information. Mr. David Car, of Belleville, has reported that he has been sent on board a man of war and as I have heard nothing from my husband since I was in Detroit (that was the 16th of February) I have taken the liberty to write to you to find out where he is of you will be so kind as to write me an answer by the next mail I will very much obliged. When I was at the barracks [Detroit?] they (the officers) told me that he would start for the south to join his Regiment that knight [sic] or the next morning, and I supposed that was the fact. But Mr. Car has come from Detroit and said that he was sent on board a man of war (for which I know not -- how he could be sent or what for) as long as he belongs in Broadhead's or the Michigan first cavalry. [I]f you will be so kind and obliging as to let me know where he is and whether he has gone back to his Regiment or not -- and the particulars about it I will be very thankful to you. Please write me and answer immediately if possible for I am anxious to hear where he is.” [It is unclear what Mrs. Smith meant by referring to Broadheads or the First Michigan cavalry.]
It is not known if the Adjutant General replied and if so what he told Mrs. Smith. The reference to Broadhead’s Cavalry and the First Michigan cavalry is curious and adds to the mystery.
As far as one can tell there was only one Lemuel Smith who served in any Michigan regiment and that was the Third Michigan Lemuel. Given his youth at the beginning of the war -- as young as 15 or 16 years old -- this would make him seventeen or eighteen by 1863 and probably younger. Moreover, it is unclear when he would have had the opportunity to marry a woman back in Michigan. And yet Lemuel’s postwar history is fairly well documented as well. It is of course possible that Lemuel came home to recover from his illness, was married while in the barracks at Detroit and that he subsequently abandoned his new wife. This is pure speculation, however, and there is little evidence to substantiate that claim.
In any case, Lemuel remained hospitalized through August. He eventually returned to duty and by December 7 was witht eh regiment at Brandy Station, Virginia, back with the regiment when he wrote to his sister Freedom who was then back in Owosso, Shiawassee County.
Yours bearing date of Nov. 29 has been received and as I received yours and Bianca’s at the same time I will write both letters and put them in one envelope. I have written all the news in Bianca’s letter but now Freedom don’t you want to send me a Christmas present? If you do I will tell you what would be the most acceptable and it is a pair of mittens to keep my hands warm for it is very cold handling a gun without them at this time of the year. You can also send me a roast turkey inside of them. I will send you cousin Foster’s letter. He is now going to school in Ann Arbor. I will also send you two envelopes to send to me. They are quite appropriate for one in the Army.
You must excuse this short letter as I have to write four today. I must hurry through. Write soon to your affect. Brother,
He reenlisted on December 24, 1863, at Brandy Station, Virginia, crediting Owosso’s First Ward. He was presumably absent on veteran’s furlough in January of 1864, and probably returned to the Regiment on or about the first of February.
Lemuel was wounded during the Wilderness campaign, subsequently hospitalized, and was still absent in the hospital when he was transferred to Company F, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864. Lemuel was listed as absent wounded, then reported AWOL from May through June, and absent sick in July.
Lemuel was back with the regiment my early spring of 1865 when he wrote home to his sister. The regiment was on the march on April 5, 1865 when he wrote,
We are resting for a short time to draw rations and I will write you a few lines to inform you that I am still with the living. I do not know when I can send this letter away but I will get it ready for the first opportunity. I received your welcome letter the morning of our charge and since then have had no time for writing – hardly getting time for eating. I have4 not seen Wm. Yet but am in hopes of seeing him soon. You of course hear more news than we do for we hear nothing. But we know that we whipped the rebs nicely. I do not think we will have any rest until this war is at an end which is not far distance. Prisoners are coming in all the time, and they say that they won’t fight much more.
Tell Cecil Rice that I have not seen her Sugar yet and don’t think I shall for these mail carriers are not honest sometimes. Tell ____ that her sugar has not come and that I will write and ______ her as soon as I can. Also give them my love. The boys are in the best of spirits – have not had anything to eat since yesterday morning except what they have foraged at houses we get such as bacon meal fresh pork mutton chicken turkeys, ducks etc. etc.
Richmond is ours at last. We were in Petersburg. It is a very pretty city. Here is the fall-in call so here goes – write more soon.
He added to this letter five days later from Clover Hill.
“Hurrah Hurrah Hurrah” yesterday I was twenty-one years old and a happy day for all. Gen. Lee surrendered his army at this place. They are now about a half mile from here with arms stacked. Last night it rained very hard so that the roads are very bad. Oh if you could only see our boys they do not know what to do with themselves firing cannon throwing of hats hurrahing and speechmaking by our generals. General Meade and Grant rode among our boys and it would have done your heart good how the boys cheer them. Now all the talk is when we will come home. Our corps is going to guard prisoners. The mail is going out so good byre. Write soon.
By late May Lemuel was in Washington along with his regiment, which gave him the opportunity to see some of the Grand Review as well as some of his family and friends. On May 25 he wrote to his sister Freedom,
Your kind letter came duly to hand this evening. It found me in a very lonesome condition but it has nothing for me now for ever since Gen Lee’s surrender I have been homesick. It seems as though I ought to be at home improving my time at a better advantage. Well I presume I shall have to await Uncle Sam’s motions. I have partly given up hopes of being at home the fourth of July but still there is no telling – but I will not go farther on this subject – although it is uppermost in my mind.
Well the Grand Review passed off very quietly. I went over yesterday to see Sherman’s army pass in review but could not see much the streets were crowded so much. I saw Cousins Wallace and Oscar Ball in the City [Washington] but I don’t think much of them, Oscar in particular. He has been a deadbeat on the Gov, is a big coward and that is enough to condemn him among soldiers I don’t know what there business is but they are wearing citizens’ clothes. I see Harvey and ___ quite often, also Bro Will but for all that I get lonesome – all 1862 men are going first. I expect they will pick up all of the pretty young girls in Mich before us Vets get home. I wish I could comply with Bianca’s wish and keep house and let her go and see Alpheus. I’ll bet we could run the house keeping don’t you Freedy? With your letter came one from Cousin Gus – he is still in NY City – he writes that their folks have got a boy that weighed 12 pounds when born
Yes Freedom your saying was true. I think our childish quarrels are at an end suffice of the past is to forget it “let by gones be bygones a few years and we will be old people.” I am now going on 22 years of age. Oh if you could only be placed in my shoes this moment and hear these 62 men cheer for some of them start home tomorrow morning. It would not fail to make you homesick I know. The Gov. of Penn is speaking to his troops this evening and they are cheering him all the while. It is now 10 P.M. and I will close hoping to hear from you soon.
Give my love to Willie also to the rest of my many friends. When you find the fellow you are going to marry just tell him to wait until I come home so that we can be married together and it will not cost anymore. Ha Ha Good night and a kiss from Lemuel F. Smith Esq
He was mustered out on July 5, 1865, at Jeffersonville, Indiana.
After the war Lemuel returned to Owosso and lived much of the remainder of his life in that village, and worked for a time as a train car inspector in Holly, Oakland County for the Detroit & Milwaukee railroad.
He married Michigan native Louisa F. Chapel (b. 1849), probably in Owosso (they had apparently been neighbors in 1860) and they had at least one child.
In late September of 1875 he was transferred to Wayne, Michigan, where he began working as a car inspector for the Flint (?) & Pere Marquette railroad. He was a Mason and a Baptist.
Lemuel was reported to be a “highly respected” member of the Owosso community when he died on October 13, 1875, in Wayne. According to one local report, Lemuel died
of inflammation of the lungs, after an illness of ten days, . . . This announcement came very suddenly upon our community, as Mr. Smith’s illness was not considered dangerous until a short time previous to his death, and a telegram to Mr. Chapel [his father-in-law] stating that he was dying, was the first intimation to friends here that a fatal result was apprehended. Mr. and Mrs. Chapel at once proceeded to Wayne, and on Saturday the remains were brought to this city [Owosso]. Funeral services were held at the Baptist church Sunday morning, Rev. W. L. Farnum officiating. The church was filled to overflowing, and great numbers wre obliged to remain outside. Mr. Smith was a member of the Masonic fraternity, and he was buried according to the rites of that order. The members of the Owosso Lodge were in attendance, and about sixty Masons from Holly, many accompanied by their wives, came by special car.
The family of Mr. Chapel desire us to return their heartfelt thanks to the members of the Masonic order and especially to those from Holly, for their sympathy and attention on the occasion of Mr. Smith’s death and funeral.
Lemuel was buried in Oak Hill cemetery in Owosso.
In 1879 Louisa applied for a widow’s pension (256544). She probably remarried and in 1881 an application was made out for a minor child of Lemuel’s (no. 364303?).