Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sidney Byron Smith

Sidney Byron Smith was born on August 31, 1838, in New York, the son of Torry (b. 1794) and Jane (b. 1804).

Vermont natives “Torry” and Jane were presumably married in Vermont where they were living in 1830 when their son Henry was born. (Torry was listed as living in Burlington, Chittenden County, Vermont in 1830.) Sometime between 1832 and 1838 the family moved to New York, eventually moving further westward and settling in Michigan by 1840. By 1850 “Byron” was attending school with his siblings and living with his parents on a farm in Ada, Kent County. By 1860 “Byron” was working as a farm laborer for a wealthy farmer named Harriet Strong in Ada. His parents were still living in Ada as well.

Sidney was 22 years old and possibly living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when he enlisted as Third Corporal in Company A on May 13, 1861. He was probably taken sick (or possibly wounded) in early spring of 1862 and sent to the City Hospital in New York City, from which he was discharged on June 16, 1862 . However, he was reported a Sergeant and still sick or wounded in the hospital in July of 1862. In any case, he eventually returned to the Regiment and was promoted to Second Lieutenant of Company D on January 1, 1863, at Camp Pitcher, Virginia, commissioned the same day, replacing Lieutenants Alfred Pew and Byron Hess.

On May 3, 1863, Sidney was struck in the left foot by a cannonball at Chancellorsville, Virginia, resulting in the amputation of the foot. “When struck by the shell which crushed his foot,” wrote the Eagle on July 24, “Lieutenant Smith supposed both feet were swept off, and so expressed himself to the ambulance attendants. In his delight at finding one leg left; and seeing that his left boot was torn to pieces by the shell that crushed the foot in it, he remarked that the pair were spoiled by the loss of one, and they might as well be thrown away, which was actually done, neither the Lieutenant or his bearers reflecting at the moment that he would not need but one boot hereafter, and that one the uninjured one on the right foot.” Colonel Pierce, commanding the Third Michigan, wrote in his official report of the battle that in his estimation Smith was “as gallant an officer as ever drew a blade. . . .”

In early May Sidney wrote to Judge Tracy, a relative living in Grand Rapids, informing the Judge that his foot had been amputated but that he was getting along finely. You “must not worry nor trouble yourself about me, nor come after me on any account, as I will not return home. I am determined to stay here, and if I live, see the thing through.’” The Grand Rapids Eagle, which had reprinted the letter in its columns, added, “Thus talks a loyal hero while suffering from a terrible wound received in a bloody battle for the Union.”

But Smith did in fact return home and by the end of July had undergone another operation on his foot. “Smith has been compelled,” the Eagle informed its readers on July 31, “to undergo a new operation, no less severe than the reamputation; or, at least, the redressing of his foot, unskillfully amputated in the hospital. His system has received a severe shock, and he will not recover for many days, though doing well. The operation of redressing his wound was performed by Surgeons Shepherd and Depew.”

Although Sidney was reported transferred to the Veterans’ Reserve Corps on July 30, 1863, according to the Eagle of September 14, 1863, Smith, who had been home recovering from his wound much of the summer, left Grand Rapids in early September “to rejoin his comrades in the field. The LT went back, as hitherto, with a determination to die in the glorious cause of his country, or come back among the veteran heroes, victorious.” In fact, he served for a time as Quartermaster in the First Provisional Regiment. (There was one ‘S. B. “Smith listed as a guard at Camp Lee in Grand Rapids, in November and December of 1863.)

Sidney was eventually discharged (although no record apparently exists) and after the war worked in the Freedman's Bureau until mid-1868 when he returned to Michigan. A photograph was taken of him on April 23, 1866, in Leesburg, Virginia. He is shown sitting and only from the waist up. He was living in Leesburg in February of 1868.

He married Mariana Sutton (b. 1843), on September 4, 1866, in Fairfax Court House, Virginia, and they had at least seven children: Florence (b. 1868), Frank H. (b. 1869), Grace (b. 1870), Sidney (b. 1873), Fred (b. 1875), Blanche (b. 1876) and Jessie (1869-1921).

On November 25, 1868, the Eagle reported that Smith had just returned to Grand Rapids “with the intention of remaining among us. . . . The Captain has, since the close of the war, been in the service of the Freedman's Bureau in Virginia. We are glad to see him back, where he is warmly greeted by his old companions-in-arms, and by a host of friends. He is stopping temporarily with Judge Tracy, a relative.”

Sidney eventually settled in Middleville, Barry County where he lived the rest of his life.

He was living in Middleville in 1874, 1876 and 1879. By 1880 he was working as a hardware merchant and living with his wife and children in Middleville; also living with them were his two clerks as well as a domestic servant. He was still living in Middleville in 1882-83.

He was an active member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association. At the 1882 Association reunion banquet Smith spoke to his comrades about “the innate satisfaction of being a soldier.”

“‘This occasion [he said] is part of our lives -- this visit, this interchange of sentiments, these hearty greetings, these shakes of the hand, these past brief hours have been of deep interest to us. We miss our loved ones -- friends, companions, who are absent. Some are not with us by reason and inability, some, alas, have passed beyond the confines of earth. Few are privileged to enjoy the occasions like this. We are especially favored to meet as veterans of that conflict whose result was to restore to fullness a country like ours. Some of us have suffered by loss of limb, but who would give his lameness for the severe yet happy experience of the past. Never have we seen the hour that we would give our experience to be made whole. Whoever sacrificed enjoyment for a country like ours knows what it is worth. Reflection need be but short to repay him for all suffering. We are getting old, but still we are boys -- the same old boys. When our heads are white as snow we will still be the same boys of the ‘Old Third’, with hearts as warm and hand-shakes as cordial as of yore.”

The following year Sidney was elected a vice president of the association, the same year he was drawing $18.00 per month (received pension no. 92,138). He was also a member of G.A.R. Hill post no. 159 in Middleville.

Sidney perished in a fire in his store Middleville early Sunday morning, October 21, 1883. At about 5:00 a.m.,

an alarm of fire was given by Aaron Liad, who was thus early on the street. The whole village was soon aroused, and the two-story brick block owned by Captain Sidney B. Smith, and occupied by him for a hardware store and storage for agricultural machinery, was found to be all ablaze, so that there was no hope of saving the building or its contents. In a shed adjoining were stored a large number of agricultural machines, and Mr. Smith and others went in to this shed to save the property. While thus engaged the wall of the building fell on the shed and buried those inside in the ruins. They were immediately extricated by those present, but Mr. Smith and a boy 14 years old, a son of Thomas Walsh, were killed and badly mangled by the falling brick and timbers, and Silas Gear, a clerk for Mr. Smith, so badly hurt that his death is expected. Charles Bundy died from the injuries received last night. George Freeman was badly hurt, but not fatally. The loss of life has cast a gloom over the village which is all in mourning over the sad calamity. The upper part of the building was used for lodge purposes by the Masons and Good Templars, each of which societies loses about $1,000 worth of property. The fire originated in the basement, and is supposed to have been incendiary. The loss on the building is about $10,000 and on stock about $20,000, and to be partially covered by insurance. Mr. Smith was an old and leading citizen and universally respected. He was a Captain in the old Third Michigan infantry, and served during the war.

Sidney’s funeral was held on Tuesday, October 23 in Middleville and the services were read by Rev. Charles Fluhrer of the Universalist church of Grand Rapids. Sidney was buried in the Mt. Hope cemetery in Middleville.

His widow was living in Michigan when she applied for and received a pension (no. 306120).

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