Descendants of William and George Phelps
A native of Simsbury, Connecticut, John Smith Phelps studied at Trinity College at Hartford, and was admitted to the bar in 1835. After his marriage to Mary Whitney in 1837, he came to Missouri, locating at Springfield. He quickly became one of the leading lawyers in southwest Missouri and was elected to the state legislature in 1840. Four years later he was elected to Congress as a Democrat and served his district for eighteen years. He was a champion of government bounties to soldiers, aid to railroads, and inexpensive postage.
Phelps was popular in Washington and at home. In 1857 Missourians honored him by naming the newly-created county of Phelps after him. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Phelps returned to Springfield and organized home guard forces for the Union.
By special arrangement with President Lincoln, Phelps organized the infantry regiment which bore his name, Phelps’s Regiment, Missouri Volunteer Infantry. The regiment spent most of the winter of 1861-1862 as the garrison of Fort Wyman at Rolla.
Following the northern defeat at Wilson’s Creek, his wife Mary cared for the body of General Nathaniel Lyon, killed at the battle, while her husband retreated with the Union army back to Rolla. In March 1862, he led his regiment in the fierce fighting at Pea Ridge, Arkansas where he was named Lt. Colonel. President Lincoln appointed Phelps military governor of Arkansas in July 1862, and in July 1862 appointed Brig. Gen. of Volunteers. His commission was not confirmed by the Senate, and it expired. He resigned as military governor due to ill health.
Phelps returned to Springfield in 1864 to resume his law practice. He was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Missouri in 1868, but in 1876 was elected to the position as the only candidate who could successfully lead Northern and Southern factions in the state. During his tenure as governor, Phelps supported currency reform and increased support for public education. He retired in 1881, praised as one of Missouri’s best governors. Phelps died in Springfield in 1886.
Western Historical Manuscript Collection, (http://web.umr.edu/~whmcinfo/) June 2003 John Smith Phelps