Sarah Jane Smith Collection

The Sarah Jane Smith collection consists of documents related to her imprisonment for guerrilla activity in Southwest Missouri. Sarah destroyed the telegraph line between Rolla and Springfield twice in 1864. Sarah’s family lived in Washington County, Arkansas. She traveled to Missouri with her cousins, who were noted guerrilla, in May 1864. They camped outside of Springfield and destroyed three to four miles of telegraph wire, and cut down several telegraph poles. The group was captured and placed in prison for three weeks. They were then sent to Rolla, Missouri and paroled. In September of 1864, she met two Confederate men outside of Rolla who propositioned her to destroy the telegraph wire in return for cash payment. She traveled six miles outside of Rolla and destroyed the wire as they agreed. Upon her return to Rolla, she was arrested by federal authorities and never paid.

This collection includes Sarah’s statements to Union authorities about the events and her motives. On October 20, 1864, Sarah was found guilty of violating Order No. 32, which forbids civilian destruction of communication and transportation property, an action that is punishable by death. Sarah was sentenced to “hang by the neck till dead.” Before her sentence was carried out, two physicians examine Sarah. Both physicians found her to be unaware of her actions and mentally incapable of taking responsibility for her actions. On November 10, 1864, Sarah’s sentence was commuted to imprisonment at Alton Military Prison in Illinois for the duration of the War. Like many other prisoners of that day and age, Sarah fell gravely ill during her confinement. Sarah’s “extreme ill health” and the imminent end of the War may have expedited her release, as she was paroled on April 13, 1865.

Contributed by the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections
Manuscript Collection MC 736

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