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Champaign County, Illinois

Biography of Thomas J. Smith

SOURCE: "History of Champaign County, Illinois with Illustrations," 1878


CAPTAIN THOMAS J. SMITH. The subject of the following brief biographical sketch was born in Preston county, Virginia, the land of presidents, on the fourth day of July, 1836. His father, Jacob SMITH, who is of German descent, is also a native of Virginia, but in the year 1839, however, he removed to Logan county, Ohio, where he was engaged in agricultural pursuits until 1862 when, with the remaining members of the family then at home, he removed to and settled in Muncy, Indiana, where he still sojourns, a hale, hearty, old gentleman of the old Virginia type, having nearly reached his fourscore years.

Mr. Smith married Cecil SMITH, who was also a Virginian, of Irish extraction, and who departed this life, in Ohio, in the year 1860. Ten children were born to them, to bless and hallow the union, one of whom is Thomas J., the subject of our sketch. He remained at home cultivating the paternal acres, attending school and also teaching, until 1858 when he removed to Clay county, Illinois, where he commenced reading law with Major Stevenson, of Louisville. He completed his law studies and was admitted to practice, in all the courts of the State, on July 4th, 1859.

In 1860, at the age of twenty-four years, he was elected superintendent of schools of Clay county, and during his term of office, or until he enlisted in the service of his country and marched forth with her armies to defend his fatherland, devoted his time almost exclusively to those duties.

Mr. Smith's popularity, his qualifications for the office he was called to fill, the high esteem in which he was held, and the confidence reposed in him by his fellow-citizens, needs no comment. The fact that he was elected to that office by a Republican majority of three hundred and forty votes, whilst the county on the other offices went Democratic by a majority of four hundred and fifty tells, the story.

In 1862, he assisted in organizing a military company and tendered it, with his services, to Governor Yates, but the quota of Illinois troops being then full, they were declined.

He then enlisted, as a private, in Co. F., 98th Ill. Infantry, Colonel Funkhouser commanding. The regiment was ordered to Louisville, Kentucky, and reported for duty to Jeff. C. Davis. Here the regiment was brigaded with the 17th and 75th Indiana and 72d Illinois, under command of Brigadier-General J. T. Wilder, Colonel of the 17th Indiana, after which they were attached to the 4th division, under Gen. Reynolds, of the 14th Army Corps. The first general engagement in which the regiment participated occurred at Hoover's Gap, Tennessee. Soon after this the regiment was organized as a mounted infantry, and continued so until the end of the war. As mounted infantry, they did an immense amount of skirmishing and fighting, and, in fact, all such duty as would naturally devolve upon that arm of the service. The result was that the regiment never was in camp at any one time for a period of over six days, but was kept constantly in motion. The regiment participated in all the battles in which the famous 14th Army Corps was engaged, including the Atlanta campaign, and were mustered out, in April, 1865, at the close of the war, having served their country well and faithfully and having performed duties of the most hazardous kind. Thus, upon the tented field, amidst its hardships, dangers, and grave responsibilities, on the tedious march through an enemy's country, or in the lonely bivouac, the Captain has proved himself a true and worthy son of Mars. He has, during his long campaign in the service of his country, given unmistakable evidence of endurance, patience, heroism---in a word, all those qualities that constitute the soldier. He emerged from the fiery ordeal of a three years' campaign, through one of the fiercest civil strifes that ever drenched a common country in fraternal blood, crowned with fresh laurels won upon sanguinary fields and with a record his enemies may well envy but of which his friends may well be proud. He received a slight souvenir of the enemy's regard in the battle at Rome, Georgia, in the shape of a flesh wound in the knee. He passed through the grades of 2d lieutenant, 1st lieutenant and captain of the company.

In the same month in which he was mustered out he came to Champaign and resumed the practice of the law, and the same year was elected city attorney.

On the 25th of January, 1864, while in the service in the enemy's country, he was captured and made prisoner for life, by a lady, a fair daughter of the sunny South, Miss Tiny W. WOODEN, of Woobury, Cannon county, Tennessee. Her family were natives of Virginia but residents of the State above named, where she was married to Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith is a Republican. He joined the great party of freedom and human rights in its very inception, and in 1856 voted for John C. Freemont, thus forming a nucleus around which has since rallied the grand Republican party.

Both Mr. Smith and his lady are members of the M. E. Church. Mr. Smith brings to the practice of his profession, first, an abundance of energy and industry, two indispensable requisites to success in any calling, and is directed and made efficient by a good stock of hard common sense. He has been eminently successful in his practice. He is a fine special pleader and good advocate, and puts his case with clearness and is untiring in the interests of his clients. In the practice of law he has no specialties, but on the common law side of the docket his practice is the most extensive, perhaps, of any attorney at the bar. He is courteous and elegant in his manners, and in their beautiful home, both he and his estimable lady vie with each other in their old, genuine Virginian hospitality.

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