SMITH, JOHN W (1843 - 1948)

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Santa Cruz Sentinel (May 28, 1929)
Portrait of John W. Smith

Nineteen Survivors of the Early Wars Will Be Guests of Honor this Memorial Day

John W Smith

With the Army of the Cumberland when 16 years old and in battles of Tunnel Hill, Kingston, Resaca, Big Shanty, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta and battle of Jonesboro. Was neither wounded or captured, but tells the little incident of being AWOL one night and a squad coming out after them. He crawled under the foundation of a house the squad was to raid and not being able to get his foot clear under had to leave it partly out. The guard came along and rested his gun on his foot for about 10 or 15 minutes possible thinking it a rock, and finally left without finding him. It was a case of crawling back to camp and getting through the line, but this was better than being captured outside, even if he was not able to walk on the foot for several days. Such things made army life interesting for many a soldier.

Mr. Smith came to California in 1920 and says that Santa Cruz is the best place to live of the many places he has been in the past 85 years.

Santa Cruz Sentinel (December 25, 1941)

J.W. Smith 100 Years Old Today

By Laura Rawson

This is the day Santa Cruzans take off their hats to Comrade J.W. Smith - who celebrates his 100th birthday on Christmas Day.

He is remarkably hale and hearty and has gone to Fresno to join a large family group at the home of Floyd A. Yearout. There will be 20 at the Yearout home and there is no doubt but what "Comrade Smith," as he is affectionately called, will be the jolliest member of the party. He loves Christmas just as much as the smallest member of the group and delights in gift making and gift receiving, too.


It was in Strasburg, Virginia, on Christmas Day, 1841, that this remarkable man was born. He fought for the Union in the Civil War, and after the war was over he came west and settled in California. He was a locomotive engineer for the Southern Pacific for 54 years, and has never lost his interest in engineering projects. He watched the erection of the two bridges at San Francisco with keen interest.

He reads three daily papers and between times, listens to radio reports of the war, which he follows with unabated interest. He only wishes they would take him to help win the war.

One of the great pleasures Comrade Smith enjoys is attending G.A.R. conventions. He never misses one, and is looking forward to the next one in Hollywood in the spring. This will be a California department convention. Last September, he attended the national convention in Columbus, Ohio. There are but two old soldiers in California 100 years old. The other one lives in Los Angeles, and celebrated his 100th birthday Dec. 18.


He was thrilled with the national convention held in Washington, DC, in October, 1936, when James S. Baldwin and George Colby, past 90 years of age accompanied him. As James Baldwin has passed away, there are but two G.A.R. members left in Santa Cruz, Comrades Smith and Colby.

Comrade Smith rarely ever misses a meeting of the Woman's Relief Corps, auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic, and of the Daughters of the Veterans of the Civil War. He always responds to request for remarks, and from his wealth of valuable information gives many an interesting story.

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas greetings are extended by the Sentinel-news and hosts of other admiring friends of this grand old man.

Santa Cruz Sentinel (December 25, 1945)

Pay Tribute To Comrade John Smith

By Laura Rawson

John W. Smith, or as he is affectionately called, "Daddy Smith" or "Comrade Smith" by hosts of relatives and friends, celebrates his 104th birthday Christmas day, and he and his wife have gone to Fresno to join a big family gathering. The Smiths always spend Christmas day with the Fresno family, where "Daddy Smith" is always the guest of honor, and incidentally "the biggest toad in the puddle," according to the merry group.

He was born in Virginia, December 25, 1839(??). He saw active service in the Civil war, and he always wears his little bronze button on his coat lapel.

Special tribute, is paid to Comrade Smith in the Christmas edition of the Sentinel-News, which may be found on page 12.

We pay tribute to this grand old man, and renew our wish that he may live as long as he can enjoy living.


Comrade Smith has these comments to offer to his wide circle of patriotic friends as his comments as he approaches his five score and fourth (104th) birthday December 25, 1945.

I've traveled the sands that all men must tread,
And at five score and four still can I laugh,
I "live" in the past but hope is not dead
For I've winnowed the wheat from the chaff.

No craving for fame kindles flame in my breast,
No longing for wealth bodes my dreams;
My soul is at peace with what nature has blessed,
Yet my mind with visions still teems.

Love's warm in my breast, and hatred still lives,
And hope (not ambition) still burns--
'Tis the life and the vision their merging gives
That's the goal for which youth vainly yearns.

At five score and four I love without covet for self,
And I hate with undying disdain,
Institutions and men that are founded on pelf,
And which power of wealth would maintain.

I see and I pass those vexing of greed
And the honors that only perplex;
And sorrow for those who, living in need,
Transgress our "moral complex."

But I view with contempt (that is kindred to hate)
The weakness of men who are "fit."
And when "Fate o'ertakes" my soul is elate,
As in judgment my faculties sit.

For my brothers who err through cravings of youth
I hold neither hate nor contempt.
For nothing but wisdom and knowledge of Truth
Made Jesus from err exempt.

I honor those men who have undergone scorn
For the sake of the things that were right;
And I honor those women who, ere such were born
Planted seeds in their souls of God's might.

The horizon must close, as we travel the arc,
Of the life that we know here on earth.
But it opens in front and kindles a spark
That brightens those things of true worth.

So I envy not youth, with its maddening quests,
Its failures, fatigues, and its tears;
In retrospect they are but hazy guests,
Made dim by my five score and four years.

While living my creed, to the best of my light,
I'll practice those things that I preach,
That those whom I love may see in this night
The fruits of the precepts I preach.

I've traveled the sands that all men must tread,
And at five score and four (104) still I can laugh.
Though "I live in the past," hope is not dead,
For I've winnowed the wheat from the chaff.

Comrade (Daddy) Smith
For your Birthday
Along the road of
We shall not pass
Tomorrow's promise
may not be
Fulfilled for us,
so then,
This day we wish you
And may its cheery
Be bright enough
and strong enough
To warm each new

Contributed by The Daughters of Civil War Veterans, C. Alice Baker Tent No. 33, and Wallace Reynolds Camp No. 5, Sons of Union Veterans and their auxiliary Copyright applied for.

Santa Cruz Sentinel (June 13, 1948)

Comrade Smith 106 Year Old Civil War Veteran Will Be Paid Final Honors Tuesday

Last rites will be held in Santa Cruz Tuesday for Comrade John W. Smith, Civil war veteran and who died Friday at Yountville Veterans Home at the age of 106.

From the days of the oxcart to the era of the streamlined train and jet plane the comrade saw history unfold. He was born December 25, 1841 in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia and enlisted in the Union army at Circleville, Ohio January 29, 1864.

Up to the time of his death the old man was very alert mentally and up to two years ago was able to read a newspaper without glasses.

He was fond of "keeping up with the times" and before deafness made conversation difficult, was glad to comment on news events of the day.

Gave Interviews

When interviewed two years ago on Christmas day which was his birthday, Comrade Smith told a reporter with a smile he could not understand why his 55 year old son Jesse Smith of San Francisco, was bald when he still had much of his hair. The son died last February.

In another interview before he was going to ride in a Memorial Day parade he stated his philosophy of life which was "never worry, never do things in a hurry -- I like everybody but I don't like everything everyone does."

On Ohio Flatboats

Comrade left military service in January 1866, and for a few years worked on flatboats on the Ohio river. A few years later he began railroading and this was his main occupation until he was pensioned as a Southern Pacific engineer before World War I.

In all, he spent 51 years with western railroads. He lived in many places of the West and his son was born in Wadsworth, Nev.

Saw Civil War Combat

In the Civil war he was in combat and his experiences made him a life long advocate of military preparedness. At the start of World War II he warned that the United States had the largest seacoast of any major nation when the matter of lending destroyers to Great Britain came up.

His military experience also made him keen to secure full benefits for veterans, especially during the period between World War I and World War II when veterans did not get public support as they do today. His father is said to have been killed in the Battle of Bull Run.

Came Here 20 Years Ago

After his retirement he lived for several years in San Francisco and then about 20 years ago came to Santa Cruz. His first wife died and he and the former Lillian Yearout were married. The second Mrs. Smith took care of him at 211 Walnut avenue until three months ago when due to his great age and increasing infirmity, they went tot Yountville Veterans Home.

Of late years his birthday on Christmas day was always the time for a quiet celebration at his home. Last year he was not in good health but at Christmas 1946 he enjoyed receiving congratulations from all over the nation.

Double Celebration

The double birthday Christmas celebration honoring the old man was marked by homage from many sources. His life story was told on radio programs, in San Francisco newspapers, and he received a congratulatory telegraph from Senator Sheridan Downey.

He was active in the G.A.R. for many years and a former state commander.

At the California Nevada Encampment convention at Long Beach in April 1947 only two members were able to attend. They were Comrade Smith and Charles L. Chappel 99, of Long Beach. The encampment originally had a membership of 6401. In 1947 only six other members were alive. They were too feeble to travel.

He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, the United Spanish American War Veterans, the Masonic lodge, Baptist church, railroad and other organization.

Leaves Two Daughters

The comrade is survived by his widow of Santa Cruz and two daughters, Mrs. Sina Cota and Mrs. May Nielson, both of San Francisco.

The man who served his country so long ago will have services conducted by a veterans organization. The services will be held Tuesday at 2 PM under the auspices of the United Spanish American War Veterans from White's chapel.

Rev. J.C. Colyer will conduct the services and all veterans and other patriot organizations are invited.

Notes from Phil Reader

Death Book 37 Page 52 (IOOF): John W. Smith June 11, 1948, Lillian Smith (Age 76) Civil War Vet, California Soldiers Home 511 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. Born Dec 25, 1846, 101 years 5 Mo 16 Days. Virginia. Parents: John W. Smith- ? and Mother Margaret A. Mowry - Va. Buried June 15, 1948 IOOF Santa Cruz. Community 2 Months, Ca. 20 Years, Hospital Records- Arteriosclerosis Gen. Senility.

Date of Birth: 1843-12-25

Date of Death: 1948-11-06

County: Santa Cruz

Cemetery/City of Burial: Santa Cruz Memorial Park

Plot: M89

Mortuary: WC

Spouse: Yearout_ Lillian 2

Occupation: RR/Worker

Religion: Ba

Local Address: Walnut St 211

Last City: (CA Yountville)

Native of: VA

Father Native of: John ()

Mother Native of: Mowry_ Margret A (VA)

Enlisted: 1864/01/29

Discharged: 1866/01/20

Military Unit: OH_ 187 Inf_ Co D

Rank: Pvt

Military Notes: N/R (Multiple Similar Names)

GAR#: WR32

Available records used to obtain information:
Cemetery records
Santa Cruz County death records
Military records
Santa Cruz and Monterey newspapers
Voter Records

CW Reference: W&R 1925 Roster

Creator: Nelson, Robert L.
Source: Old Soldier: the story of the Grand Army of the Republic in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History, c2004.
Date: Undated
Coverage: Santa Cruz (County)
Rights: Reproduced by permission of Robert L. Nelson.
Identifier: OS-0929


Nelson, Robert L. “SMITH, JOHN W (1843 - 1948).” Old Soldier: the story of the Grand Army of the Republic in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History, c2004. SCPL Local History. Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.