The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier
Edited by Lana Wirt Myers
A Kansas Notable Book
In 1854, after recently arriving from England, twenty-two-year-old Reuben Smith traveled west, eventually making his way to Kansas Territory. There he found himself in the midst of a bloody prelude to the Civil War, as Free Staters and defenders of slavery battled to stake their claim. The young Englishman wrote down what he witnessed in a diary where he had already begun documenting his days in a clear and candid fashion. As beautifully written as they are keenly observant, these diaries afford an unusual view of America in its most tumultuous times, of Kansas in its critical historical moments, and of one mans life in the middle of it all for fifty years.
“Readers of military history, especially those with an interest in the guerilla war in Missouri, will find the hundred-plus pages devoted to Smith’s wartime service great reading. . . . Recognizing the readability of Smith’s writing, Myers lets it flow, with just enough commentary to put things into context.”
—On Point: The Journal of Army History
“[Lana Wirt Myers’] historical context provides the necessary framework without interfering with the flow of Smith’s narrative. Reuben Smith has left us with the record of a life well lived that is certainly worth reading.”
—Journal of the WestSee all reviews...
“The book is a jewel among the many published diaries recording the Civil War, the battles along the Kansas-Missouri border, and most especially the early years of Kansas statehood.”
“Smith’s recollections are a prime example of why all serious historians need to include diary accounts in their broad narratives. Fortunately, Myers provides an excellent template.”
—Western Historical Quarterly
“This volume represents a truly remarkable collection of documents. Highly recommended reading for students of early Kansas state history as well as those with an abiding interest in neglected corners of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi theater.”
—Civil War Books and Authors
“Lana Wirt Myers has done a great service by making Reuben Smith’s diary widely available. From Bleeding Kansas and the Border War to his postwar political career as a state legislator and steward of the Kansas State Insane Asylum, Smith participated in many of the most fascinating and significant episodes of early Kansas history. Scholars, students, and lay readers alike will learn much from this skillfully edited volume. ”
—Michael E. Woods, author of Bleeding Kansas: Slavery, Sectionalism, and Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border
“The diaries and assorted writings of Reuben Smith—a young English immigrant who made his way to Osawatomie, Kansas Territory, in 1857—make for a vivid picture of nearly fifty years of life in Kansas during an especially dynamic period. In retrospect, Smith considered his four years of military service on the tumultuous Kansas border ‘as the most unselfish and the proudest period’ of his life, so it is not surprising that the bulk of his writings focus on his wartime experiences as a private soldier and a commissioned officer. Yet this Miami County farmer, state legislator, and ‘steward at the insane asylum’ (now the Osawatomie State Hospital) also reflects on politics and society during the postwar decades. The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier is a great read and a valuable primary source for students of late nineteenth-century Kansas.”
—Virgil W. Dean, editor of John Brown to Bob Dole: Movers and Shakers in Kansas History
“The Diaries of Reuben Smith recounts in magnificent detail the Englishman’s bold decision to seek a new life in America and how his antislavery beliefs inspired his service as a volunteer Union soldier during the Civil War. Lana Wirt Myers effectively weaves fifty years of diary entries into a riveting narrative of the growing pains faced in early day Kansas.”
—Doug Anstaett, executive director, Kansas Press Association
“Lana Wirt Myers has skillfully edited Smiths diary that spans the time he left England in 1854, arrived in Kansas in 1857, and distinguished himself in the Union Army. In the years following the Civil War, Myers helps us navigate Smith’s diary that sheds light on his role as a husband and father of a large family, a farmer, a banker, the first director of the state’s psychiatric hospital, and a loyal, prominent Republican, who was elected to the state legislature and the county commission.”
—James Sherow, professor of history, Kansas State University
“Before the publication of this useful volume, students of history had to visit the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka to view the diaries of Reuben Smith. Now, thanks to the hard work of editor Lana Wirt Myers, the general reading public can take advantage of this rich historical source left by a Kansas immigrant, soldier, politician, and superintendent of the state insane asylum in Osawatomie.”
—Jonathan Earle, coeditor of Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the BorderSee fewer reviews...
From his moving account of traveling from England by ship to his reflections on settling in the newly opened Kansas Territory to his observations of war and politics, Smith provides a picture that is at once panoramic and highly personal. His diaries depict the escalation of the Civil War along the Kansas-Missouri border as well as the evolution of a volunteer soldier from an inexperienced private to a seasoned officer and government spy. They take us inside military camps and generals’ quarters, to the front lines of battle and in pursuit of bushwhackers William Quantrill and Cole Younger. Later, they show us Smith as a state representative and steward of the Kansas State Insane Asylum in its early years. In historic scenes and poignant personal stories, these diaries offer a unique perspective on life in the Midwest in the last half of the nineteenth century.
Editor Lana Wirt Myers’s commentary and extensive notes provide the context and information needed for a full understanding of Reuben Smiths remarkable stories.