Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Gov. Smyth looks out for veterans, establishes UNH
Smyth faced a daunting situation. New Hampshire was over $4,000,000 in debt due to the war effort. The new governor immediately took steps to improve the dire situation. Within three months Smyth raised over $1,000,000 cash for the state coffers, largely from Manchester banks where he had many friends and associates. The state's good credit standing was quickly reestablished.
In his first inaugural address, Smyth expressed gratitude for the sacrifices of New Hampshire's soldiers during the war, and spoke of his deep concern for the veterans. There were approximately 28,000 veterans in New Hampshire, and 11,000 of these were disabled. Smyth recommended "that all persons in places of influence, all who have honorable employment to offer, should discriminate, when possible, in favor of the returned soldier. . Encourage those who are disabled, in any industry of which they may be capable."
When the New Hampshire regiments returned to Concord one by one during 1865, Smyth took time to meet with each of them to share his heartfelt sentiments. The last to be disbanded was the Second Regiment, which was mustered out on Christmas Day. This division was involved in 24 battles, and its contingent of 2,200 men had been whittled down to only 700.
In July 1865, Smyth wrote to the Surgeon General's office in Washington, requesting that the Webster Hospital in Manchester remain open. The government was planning to close the federal hospital for wounded soldiers that was located on the north end of Elm Street. There were 68 men housed there at that time, some so ill that they could not be moved, and more wounded were scheduled to arrive from other states.
Smyth wrote, "On behalf of our sick and suffering heroes, who look to me, as the Executive of the State, to watch over and care for them in their misfortune . I most earnestly protest against the contemplated changes." Smyth pointed out that the hospitable would require little federal money as it was being run efficiently, and had a good stock of supplies. His request was granted, and the facility stayed open for several more months.
During his first term as governor, Smyth was appointed to the board of managers of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. He served on the committee for 14 years alongside General Benjamin F. Butler, future governor of Massachusetts. The institution was established to care for veterans of the Union Army who had become disabled during the war. Veterans' homes were established in several different parts of the country, including New England's facility in Togus, Maine.
The governor's term only lasted for one year in those days. In 1866, Smyth was nominated unanimously as the Republican candidate for reelection, and he easily won a second term. He had an abiding love of learning, and was pleased to receive an honorary degree from Dartmouth College that year. His dearest project in his second term was the establishment of a state agricultural college. During this period the farming industry employed more people in New Hampshire than manufacturing. Smyth had long been a student of modern farming methods, and he felt that research and education were the keys to progress in this business. He could envision that farm productivity and profitability could be increased substantially in New Hampshire, and that farming could remain a vital part of the state's economy.
In 1866, with Smyth's encouragement, the New Hampshire legislature passed a bill to establish the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanical Arts. Smyth served as a trustee and treasurer until 1895. The school was originally associated with Dartmouth College in Hanover. In 1893, the institution was moved to Durham and in 1923 it became the University of New Hampshire.
Next week: Travels abroad with Emma Lane Smyth.
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association. Email her at email@example.com.
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