Friday, December 28, 2012

The Sad Story of Wright Smith

An anonymous reader commented on the blog post, A Few Followups, stating that it was possible my ancestor John Clay McMichael could have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anon could very well be right. His/her comment reminded me of a very sad story that happened in neighboring McDuffie County, Georgia in 1897 that illustrates that PTSD is nothing new.

Wright Smith enlisted in Company F, 10th Regiment of the Georgia Infantry on 11 May 1861.1 On 01 May 1864, he was admitted to Chimborazo Hospital No. 3 in Richmond, Virginia with a gunshot wound to his left leg. His service record ends here with no specifics about his wounds or when he was discharged, however, his story is well-known and frequently told in the community where he lived, even to this day. I was unable to find any records to substantiate this part of the story but it makes sense. The story goes that he came home with his leg intact but festering with infection. The doctors treated it for quite some time before his leg had to be amputated. After he lost his leg, Wright was never the same.

Fast forward to 10 Mar 1897. The Augusta paper didn't carry the story but the Times-Picayune (New Orleans) did:

Killed His Two Boys and Shot Himself.
Atlanta, Ga., March 10, -- A special from Harell [sic, Harlem], Ga., tells of a horrible tragedy committed eight miles south of that place yesterday afternoon. Wright Smith, a one-legged confederate veteran, went to Thompson [sic, Thomson] yesterday, drew his pension and went home. He paid some debts in the neighborhood and then asked his three children to go with him to feed some hogs. For some reason, his oldest, a girl of about 8, refused to go. He carried the two youngest, both boys, aged 2 and 4 years, to a cotton-house, where he crushed their brains out with his crutch, and then sent a pistol ball through his own brains. He lived for several hours, but never spoke. An empty laudanum bottle was found near, and the supposition is that he took the contents before shooting himself. No cause has been assigned for his committing this awful deed. He was not a drinking man. He was about 50 years old.2

Wright Smith, 1839 - 1897
Thomas Edwin Wright Smith, 1892 - 1897
Samuel Drury Smith, 1894 - 1897

The three are buried on the old homestead.

1Compiled service record, Wright Smith, Pvt., Co. F, 10th Regiment, Georgia Infantry, Carded records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917; Record Group 94.

2"An old Veteran," Times-Picayune, 20 Mar 1897, p. 2, col. 5.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. It doesn't say anything about his wife in this story...wonder if she was still living?

  2. I assume that she was dead because there was no mention of her in the old stories in the community. This happened in 1897. The 1890 census would have been of use since the oldest girl was 8. Wright and his wife would have shown up together. 1900 doesn't really help me because I don't know the daughter's name to see who she is living with and I don't know if the wife (if she was living at the time Wright killed the two boys and himself) is remarried. Needless to say, there are quite a few Smiths in the area.

    One thing I could do is check the local newspaper, the McDuffie Progress, for an expanded story. The paper is on microfilm at the Thomson Library. Since I know the exact date it won't be hard to find at all. Next time I am up there I might do that.

  3. The article says that he withdrew his Civil War Confederate Pension. I'm wondering if the wife or his family might be mentioned in his records.

  4. You said "withdrew." Did you mean that you thought he withdraw his application? He "drew" his pension which means he went and picked up the money.

    I hadn't looked at Wright's pension app but I am looking at it now. In 1890 it states,

    "Just above the ankle of the left leg by a fragment or missile from an exploding shell, to same passing through the leg, shattering the bones, and after healing leaving the ankle joint perfectly stiff and the leg substantially and esentially useless from the knee down."

    His leg wasn't amputated until 1893 according to the papers. Very interesting indeed. Four years after that is when he killed his children and himself.

    He last payment was in 23 Feb 1897. He killed himself less than 3 weeks after that.

    I found what you wanted to know. He DID have a wife and guess what. She was the widow of THREE confederate soldiers! I wonder what that means. Her name was Margaret J. Smith. VERY interesting.

    If you have, you can view images of his entire pension file at|_F0003F01_x&uidh=fl7