Samuel Spencer Semmes (1838–1912)

Samuel Semmes was a Civil War veteran, lawyer, and businessman in Mississippi County in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He served one term as the county judge.

Samuel Spencer Semmes, the son of Raphael Semmes and Ann Elizabeth Spencer Semmes, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 4, 1838. His father, who was later the famed raider of the Confederate CSS Alabama, had moved to Ohio in 1834, marrying Ann in 1837. Semmes was the oldest of their six children.

In about 1848, after serving in the Mexican War, Semmes’s father moved his family to near Mobile, Alabama, where Semmes spent his youth. By the early 1850s, he was attending the Jesuit school Spring Hill College in Mobile, and he graduated from there in 1855. Four years later, he was admitted to the Alabama bar. Shortly thereafter, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he pursued additional legal training and set up a law practice.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Semmes was practicing law in New Orleans. He enlisted in the Confederate First Regiment of Louisiana Infantry. He rose through the ranks, and by the end of the war he mustered out as a major. He saw extensive combat and participated in the Battles of Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Atlanta.

After the war, he returned to southern Alabama, where he practiced law and engaged in agricultural pursuits. In 1874, Semmes moved to Osceola (Mississippi County), forming a law partnership and land speculation business with Hiram M. McVeigh. He soon became a respected lawyer and citizen of Osceola. He was instrumental in the construction the Catholic church in 1879 and the establishment of the Bank of Osceola. He was known for his love of nature, with many people referring to his home as a “veritable Eden.”

When county and probate judge E. A. Garlick resigned in 1882, Semmes was appointed county judge and, in October, took the bench. During his less than two years in that position, he was described as being an “able, dignified and impartial judge.” That same year, he accepted the position as principal of the Osceola Male and Female High School.

In later years, he used his influence in assisting in the construction of a new courthouse in Osceola.

In 1863, Semmes married Pauline Semmes, a distant cousin. They had three sons and two daughters. His wife died on December 6, 1877. In 1881, Semmes married Frances Harding Morris of Osceola. The couple had three children.

In early 1912, Semmes entered into the race for Mississippi County treasurer but died on January 24, 1912, before the election. He is buried in the Violet Cemetery in Osceola. His wife survived him by twelve years, dying in 1924.

For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1889.

Mississippi County, Arkansas: Through the Years. Osceola, AR.: Osceola-South Mississippi County Arkansas Historical Heritage Documentation Committee, 1986.

“S. S. Semmes Memorial Page.” Osceola Times, February 1, 1912, p. 2.

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 04/18/2022