VIRGINIUS W. SMITH.
The man who buys land today in Gallatin county has no idea of the obstacles which confronted the ones who began developing this property. Now fertile fields yield banner crops, the ground once covered with mighty forest trees smiles beneath cultivation, and where worthless swamps gathered green slime and sent forth pestilential fevers, the rich soil eagerly responds to the modern methods of the farmer. All this was not attained without endless hard work through all seasons. When summer crops did not require effort the fences had to be repaired, there were new buildings to be erected, and other improvements to be inaugurated. No man who has brought out success from his years of endeavor ever attained it unless he was ready and willing to make any kind of sacrifice of
inclination or strength to bring it about, and one who has through his efforts in this way become more than ordinarily prosperous and has developed some of the best land of Gallatin county is Virginius W. Smith, of Ridgway, Illinois, who is widely known and highly respected. Mr. Smith was born at Cincinnati, Ohio, March 20, 1842, and was brought to Illinois by his parents Joseph and Eliza Jane (Akins) Smith.
Joseph Smith was a farmer by occupation, and on first settling in Illinois located at Equality, where he had friends. Subsequently he rented the Crenshaw farm, three miles south of Ridgeway, but during the fall of 1849 came to the present farm of Virginius W. Smith, located one mile east of Ridgway, where he purchased eighty acres of land, for about $500. Fifteen acres of this land were cleared and a small log cabin had been erected thereon, and here Mr. Joseph Smith started to develop a farm, it being very conveniently located, as it was but a two or three-hour journey to Equality, about eight miles, and three or four hours to New Haven, which was ten miles away, although the land at that time was all a wilderness and there had not yet been a settlement made at Ridgway. Joseph Smith started a store at New Market, one-half mile south of his home, but later all the business there was removed to Ridgway. He continued to operate his farm, putting a great deal of it under cultivation, and served for some years as justice of the peace, to which office he had been elected as a Democrat. His death occurred in May, 1863, when not much past fifty-five years, his widow surviving until 1895 and being seventy-three years old at the time of her death. They had the following children: Virginius W.; Dennis, a soldier, a member of the One Hundred and Thirty-first Illinois Regiment, who died at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863; Margaret, who died as a young married woman; John F., a farmer, who died in 1911, at the age of fifty-five years; Catherine, who married John Hammersley and died at the age of thirty years; Christopher, a farmer near Eldorado, Illinois; and Lucinda who married Thomas Riley and died when about forty years of age.
Virginius W. Smith received his education in the public schools of the vicinity of the home farm, and remained with his parents until the outbreak of the Civil War. In August, 1861, he enlisted in Company D, Twenty-ninth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, a company recruited about New Haven Captain Whiting, and with this organization he served until securing his honorable discharge, November 20, 1864. This regiment saw some of the hardest fighting of the war, and among its battles may be mentioned Belmont, Missouri; Columbus, Kentucky; Paducah and Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, Jackson, second Corinth, Holly Springs and Coldwater. The regiment was captured at Holly Springs but his company, with another, was sent back on detail to Jackson Tennessee. In April, 1863, the regiment was sent to Vicksburg to man the gunboat “Tyler,” as sharpshooters, on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and this boat was constantly in the severest part of each action. At the battle of Vicksburg the vessel was sent to the Arkansas side to ward off the Confederate Generals Marmaduke and Price, and after this engagement Mr. Smith and his companions rejoined their regiment, which in the meantime had been exchanged. They were on guard at Vicksburg and on the Black river until Sherman's Atlanta campaign, as far as Jackson, but eventually were sent back to Vicksburg, and Mr. Smith then became a member of a scouting party which went to Natchez, and at that point he received his honorable discharge. He had been twice wounded, in the left side and right leg, and the effects of these
injuries did not entirely pass away for a long period. On his return to Illinois he again took up farming, and for five years rented a property, then purchased forty acres, which he sold after developing, and eventually purchased one hundred and twenty acres, to which from time to time he added until he now has a magnificent tract of three hundred and forty acres, including the old family homestead. For some of this land he paid only ten dollars per acre, and when he bought the homestead it cost him only forty-three dollars per acre, this land now being all worth upwards of one hundred dollars per acre. His large, comfortable home is situated on a hill one mile east of Ridgely, and his other buildings are well built and modern in equipment. Mr. Smith raises wheat and corn, and gives a good deal of attention to the raising of pure-bred stock. He was one of the original stockholders of the First National Bank of Ridgway, but outside of this has given most of his time and attention to his farm. He has done more than one thousand dollars worth of tiling, and his land is perfectly drained and ditched, although at first much of it was swampy and unproductive. Modern methods, however, have done much for this property, and it is nearly, all now black soil. Mr. Smith is a Republican in politics, cast his first vote for Abraham Lincoln in 1864, and for ten years has served as supervisor of his township. He is a popular comrade of Loomis Post, Grand Army of the Republic. On the breaking out of the Spanish-American war in 1898, a regiment was organized and Virginius W. Smith was appointed captain, awaiting the call of his country, but the service was not required, there being no more calls necessary for troops.
In 1875 Mr. Smith was united in marriage with Miss Sarah McDermott, who died less than two years later, leaving one child: Joseph, who is now engaged in cultivating a part of the home farm. In 1900 he was married to Orvilla Sham, a native of Gallatin county, and three children have been born to them: Susie, Eliza and Virginius, Jr. Mr. and Mrs. Smith have numerous friends in this part of Gallatin county. He is remembered as a brave and faithful soldier during the war, and he has discharged his duties just as faithfully as a private citizen. His success has been the result of his own efforts and his career is typical of the successful American agriculturist.