Edmund Kirby Smith

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Edmund Kirby Smith
Edmund Kirby Smith.jpg
c. 1864 photograph
Nickname(s)"Ted", "Seminole"
Born(1824-05-16)May 16, 1824
St. Augustine, Florida
DiedMarch 28, 1893(1893-03-28) (aged 68)
Sewanee, Tennessee
Place of burial
University Cemetery,
Sewanee, Tennessee
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1861-1863).svg  United States
Flag of the Confederate States of America (1865).svg  Confederate States
Service/branch United States Army
Battle flag of the Confederate States of America.svg  Confederate States Army
Years of service1845–1861 (USA)
1861–1865 (CSA)
Rank Union army maj rank insignia.jpg Major (USA)
General (CSA)
Commands held Third Corps, Army of Tennessee
Trans-Mississippi Department
Battles/wars Mexican–American War
American Civil War
Signature Edmund Kirby Smith signature.svg

Edmund Kirby Smith (May 16, 1824 – March 28, 1893) was a career United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican–American War. He later joined the Confederate States Army in the Civil War, and was promoted to general in the first months of the war. He was notable for his command of the Trans-Mississippi Department after the fall of Vicksburg to the U.S.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

Officer (armed forces) member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority

An officer is a member of an armed forces or uniformed service who holds a position of authority.

Mexican–American War Armed conflict between the United States of America and Mexico from 1846 to 1848

The Mexican–American War, also known in the United States as the Mexican War and in Mexico as the Intervención estadounidense en México, was an armed conflict between the United States of America and the Second Federal Republic of Mexico from 1846 to 1848. It followed in the wake of the 1845 American annexation of the Republic of Texas, not formally recognized by the Mexican government, disputing the Treaties of Velasco signed by Mexican caudillo President/General Antonio López de Santa Anna after the Texas Revolution a decade earlier. In 1845, newly elected U.S. President James K. Polk, who saw the annexation of Texas as the first step towards a further expansion of the United States, sent troops to the disputed area and a diplomatic mission to Mexico. After Mexican forces attacked American forces, Polk cited this in his request that Congress declare war.


Smith was wounded at First Bull Run and distinguished himself during the Heartland Offensive, the Confederacy's unsuccessful attempt to capture Kentucky in 1862. He was appointed as commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department in January 1863. The area included most actions east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River. In 1863, Smith dispatched troops in an unsuccessful attempt to relieve the Siege of Vicksburg. After Vicksburg was captured by the Union in July, the isolated Trans-Mississippi zone was cut off from the rest of the Confederacy, and became virtually an independent nation, nicknamed 'Kirby Smithdom'. In the Red River Campaign of Spring 1864, he commanded victorious Confederate troops under General Richard Taylor, who defeated a combined Union army/navy assault under Nathaniel P. Banks.

First Battle of Bull Run first major land battle of the American Civil War

The First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the First Battle of Manassas, was the first major battle of the American Civil War and was a Confederate victory. The battle was fought on July 21, 1861 in Prince William County, Virginia, just north of the city of Manassas and about 25 miles west-southwest of Washington, D.C. The Union's forces were slow in positioning themselves, allowing Confederate reinforcements time to arrive by rail. Each side had about 18,000 poorly trained and poorly led troops in their first battle. It was a Confederate victory, followed by a disorganized retreat of the Union forces.

Confederate Heartland Offensive military campaign during the American Civil War

The Confederate Heartland Offensive, also known as the Kentucky Campaign, was an American Civil War campaign conducted by the Confederate States Army in Tennessee and Kentucky where Generals Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith tried to draw neutral Kentucky into the Confederacy by outflanking Union troops under Major General Don Carlos Buell. Though they scored some successes, notably a tactical win at Perryville, they soon retreated, leaving Kentucky primarily under Union control for the rest of the war.

Rocky Mountains mountain range in North America

The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than 4,800 kilometers (3,000 mi) from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico in the Southwestern United States. Located within the North American Cordillera, the Rockies are somewhat distinct from the Pacific Coast Ranges, Cascade Range, and the Sierra Nevada, which all lie farther to the west.

On June 2, 1865, Smith surrendered his army at Galveston, Texas, the last general with a major field force. He quickly escaped to Mexico and then to Cuba to avoid arrest for treason. His wife negotiated his return during the period when the federal government offered amnesty to those who would take an oath of loyalty. After the war, Smith worked in the telegraph and railway industries. He primarily served as a college professor of mathematics and botany at the University of the South in Tennessee. He is credited with the discovery of several species of plants in Tennessee and Florida.[ citation needed ]

Galveston, Texas City in Texas

Galveston is a coastal resort city and port off the southeast coast on Galveston Island and Pelican Island in the American State of Texas. The community of 209.3 square miles (542 km2), with an estimated population of 50,180 in 2015, is the county seat of surrounding Galveston County and second-largest municipality in the county. It is also within the Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land metropolitan area at its southern end on the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Early life

Smith was born in 1824 in St. Augustine, Florida, as the youngest child of Joseph Lee Smith, an attorney, and Frances Kirby Smith. Both his parents were natives of Litchfield, Connecticut, where their older children were born. The family moved to Florida in 1821, as the senior Smith was appointed as a Superior Court judge in the new Florida Territory, acquired by the US from Spain. [1] [2] Older siblings included Ephraim, born in 1807; and sisters Frances, born in 1809, [1] and Josephine, who died in 1835, likely of tuberculosis. [3] [4] He was interested in botany and nature, [5] but in 1836, Smith's parents sent their second son to a military boarding school in Virginia, [6] and strongly encouraged a military career. He later enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

St. Augustine, Florida City in Florida, United States

St. Augustine is a city in the Southeastern United States, on the Atlantic coast of northeastern Florida. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, it is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement within the borders of the continental United States. It is the second oldest city in United States territory after San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Joseph Lee Smith (1776–1846) was an American lawyer, soldier, and jurist. He was the father of Confederate States of America General Edmund Kirby Smith.

Frances Kirby Smith (1785–1875) was the mother of U.S. Civil War general Edmund Kirby Smith and a Confederate spy who orchestrated transport of mail and military intelligence to the Confederate troops. She is listed as a Great Floridian as part of the Great Floridians 2000 program.

In 1837, his sister Frances married Lucien Bonaparte Webster, a West Point graduate from Vermont and career Army artillery officer, whom she met when he was stationed at Fort Marion in St. Augustine. His commanding officer at the fort was the young Smiths' uncle. Webster later served in the Mexican–American War and died of yellow fever in 1853, when stationed on the Texas frontier at Fort Brown. [7]

Lucien Bonaparte Webster was a career United States Army officer from Vermont who served in the Mexican–American War and at Fort Brown in Texas. In 1837 he married Frances Marion Smith of Vermont and Florida, and they had five children. He achieved the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel before his death in Texas while on active duty.

Yellow fever viral disease

Yellow fever is a viral disease of typically short duration. In most cases, symptoms include fever, chills, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle pains particularly in the back, and headaches. Symptoms typically improve within five days. In about 15% of people, within a day of improving the fever comes back, abdominal pain occurs, and liver damage begins causing yellow skin. If this occurs, the risk of bleeding and kidney problems is increased.

Fort Brown

Fort Brown was a military post of the United States Army in Cameron County, Texas during the later half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. Established in 1846, it was the first United States Army military outpost of the recently annexed state. Confederate Army troops stationed there saw action during the American Civil War. In the early 20th century, it was garrisoned in relation to military activity over border conflicts with Mexico. Surviving elements of the fort were designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Military education and career

On July 1, 1841, Kirby Smith entered West Point and graduated four years later in 1845, ranking 25th out of 41 cadets. [5] While there he was nicknamed "Seminole", after the Seminole people of Florida who had successfully resisted removal by the US. He was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant in the 5th U.S. Infantry on July 1, 1845. Smith was promoted to second lieutenant on August 22, 1846, now serving in the 7th U.S. Infantry. [8]

The Seminole are a Native American people originally from Florida. Today, they principally live in Oklahoma with a minority in Florida, and comprise three federally recognized tribes: the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, as well as independent groups. The Seminole nation emerged in a process of ethnogenesis from various Native American groups who settled in Florida in the 18th century, most significantly northern Muscogee (Creeks) from what is now Georgia and Alabama. The word "Seminole" is derived from the Creek word simanó-li, which may itself be derived from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning "runaway" or "wild one".

In many of the world's military establishments, a brevet was a warrant giving a commissioned officer a higher rank title as a reward for gallantry or meritorious conduct but without conferring the authority, precedence, or pay of real rank. An officer so promoted was referred to as being brevetted. The promotion would be noted in the officer's title.

5th Infantry Regiment (United States) combat formation of the United States Army

The 5th Infantry Regiment is an infantry regiment of the United States Army that traces its origins to 1808.

Edmund Kirby Smith as a U.S. Army officer E K Smith USA ACW.jpg
Edmund Kirby Smith as a U.S. Army officer

In the Mexican–American War, Smith served under General Zachary Taylor at the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. [2] He served under General Winfield Scott later, and received brevet promotions to first lieutenant for Cerro Gordo and to captain for Contreras and Churubusco. His older brother, Ephraim Kirby Smith (1807–1847), who graduated from West Point in 1826 and was a captain in the regular army, served with him in the 5th U.S. Infantry in the campaigns with both Taylor and Scott. Ephraim died in 1847 from wounds suffered at the Battle of Molino del Rey. [6]

After that war, Kirby Smith served as a captain (from 1855) in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, primarily in Texas. (From that year on through the war, Smith was accompanied by the youth Alexander Darnes, then 15, a mixed-race slave owned by his family, who served as his valet until emancipation.) (See photo of Darnes.) [9]

Kirby Smith also taught at West Point after the war. He collected and studied materials as a botanist; like many other military officers, he was also a scientist. He donated to the Smithsonian Institution some of his collection and reports from his time at West Point. [10] Smith continued his botanical studies as an avocation for the remainder of his life. He is credited with collecting and describing several species of plants native to Tennessee and Florida. [11]

Kirby Smith was assigned to teaching mathematics at West Point, from 1849 to 1852. According to his letters to his mother, he was happy with this environment. [12]

Assigned to active duty again, Smith served in the Southwest. On May 13, 1859, he was wounded in his thigh while fighting Comanche in the Nescutunga Valley of Texas. [2] When Texas seceded from the Union in 1861, Smith, now a major, refused to surrender his command at Camp Colorado in what is now Coleman, Texas, to the Texas State forces under Col. Benjamin McCulloch; he expressed his willingness to fight to hold it. [6] On January 31, 1861, Smith was promoted to major, but on April 6, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to join the Confederacy. [8]

Confederate Army and American Civil War

On March 16, 1861, Smith entered the Confederate forces as a major in the regular artillery; that day he was transferred to the regular cavalry with the rank of lieutenant colonel. [8] After serving briefly as Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's assistant adjutant general in the Shenandoah Valley, [13] Smith was promoted to brigadier general on June 17, 1861. He was given command of a brigade in the Army of the Shenandoah, which he led at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21. [14] Wounded severely in the neck and shoulder, he recuperated while commanding the Department of Middle and East Florida. He returned to duty on October 11 as a major general and division commander in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. [15]

In February 1862, Smith was sent west to command the Army of East Tennessee. Cooperating with Gen. Braxton Bragg in the invasion of Kentucky, he scored a victory at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky on August 30, 1862, but did not link up with Bragg's army until after the Battle of Perryville. On October 9, he was promoted to the newly created grade of lieutenant general, becoming a corps commander in Bragg's Army of Tennessee. [15] Smith received the Confederate "Thanks of Congress" on February 17, 1864, for his actions at Richmond. [lower-alpha 1]

Trans-Mississippi Department

On January 14, 1863, Smith was transferred to command the Trans-Mississippi Department (primarily Arkansas, Western Louisiana, and Texas) and he remained west of the Mississippi River for the balance of the war, based part of this time in Shreveport, Louisiana. As forces under Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant tightened their grip on the river, Smith attempted to intervene. However, his department never had more than 30,000 men stationed over an immense area and he was not able to concentrate forces adequately to challenge Grant nor the Union Navy on the river. [15]

A Map of actions in Trans-Mississippi Department, "Kirby Smithdom", including Price's failed invasion of Missouri TRANS-MISSISSIPPI CIVIL WAR.svg
A Map of actions in Trans-Mississippi Department, "Kirby Smithdom", including Price's failed invasion of Missouri

Following the Union capture of the remaining strongholds at Vicksburg and Port Hudson and their closing of the Mississippi to the enemy, Smith was virtually cut off from the Confederate capital at Richmond. He had to command a nearly independent area of the Confederacy, with all of the inherent administrative problems. The area became known in the Confederacy as "Kirby Smithdom". [16]

Kirby Smith resided in Shreveport during the Red River Campaign of 1864. Kirby Smith residence sign in Shreveport, LA MVI 2626 Kirby Smith sign.jpg
Kirby Smith resided in Shreveport during the Red River Campaign of 1864.

In the spring of 1864, Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, directly under Smith's command, soundly defeated Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks at the Battle of Mansfield in the Red River Campaign on April 8, 1864. [17] After the Battle of Pleasant Hill on April 9, Smith joined Taylor and dispatched half of Taylor's army, Walker's Greyhounds, under the command of Maj. Gen. John George Walker, northward to defeat Union Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele's incursion into Arkansas. This decision, strongly opposed by Taylor, caused great enmity between the two men. [18]

With the pressure relieved to the north, Smith attempted to send reinforcements east of the Mississippi. But, as in the case of his earlier attempts to relieve Vicksburg, it proved impossible due to Union naval control of the river. Instead he dispatched Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, with all available cavalry, on an unsuccessful invasion of Missouri. Thereafter he conducted the war west of the river principally through small raids and guerrilla activity. [19]

By now a full general (as of February 19, 1864, one of seven generals in the Confederate Army), [15] Smith negotiated the surrender of his department on May 26, 1865. He was the last full general to do so and signed the terms of surrender in Galveston, Texas, on June 2, nearly 8 week's after Robert E. Lee's surrender. [20] [ dead link ] He immediately left the country for Mexico and then to Cuba, to escape potential prosecution for treason. [21] In August that year, General Beauregard's house near New Orleans was surrounded by Federal troops who suspected the general of harboring Smith. All the inhabitants were locked in a cotton press overnight. Beauregard complained to General Sheridan, who expressed his annoyance at the treatment of the high-ranking officer, his erstwhile enemy. [22] Smith returned to the United States later that year to take an oath of amnesty at Lynchburg, Virginia, on November 14, 1865. [8]

Marriage and family life

In August 1861, Kirby Smith met Cassie Selden (1836–1905), the daughter of Samuel S. Selden of Lynchburg. While recovering from being wounded at the First Battle of Manassas, he still found time for wooing. The couple married on September 24. Cassie wrote on October 10, 1862 from Lynchburg, asking what to name their first child. She suggested "something uncommon as I consider her an uncommon baby." The new baby was later named Caroline. [23]

The couple briefly reunited when Cassie followed her husband to Shreveport in February 1863. In the spring of 1864, she moved to Hempstead, Texas, where she remained for the duration of the war. After the war's end, Cassie traveled to Washington to negotiate for her husband's return to the United States from Cuba where he had fled. [24]

In 1875 Kirby Smith accepted an appointment as a professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. There the family lived happily until the end of his life. They had five sons and six daughters: Caroline (1862–1941), Frances (1864–1930), Edmund (1866–1938), Lydia (1868–1962), Nina (1870–1965), Elizabeth (1872–1937), Reynold (1874–1962), William (1876–1967), Josephine (1878–1961), Joseph Lee (1882–1939), and Ephraim (1884–1938).

Reynold, William, Joseph, and Ephraim all played for the Sewanee Tigers football team. Joseph and Ephraim both achieved All-Southern status in football. Joseph was a member of the famed 1899 "Iron Men" and Ephraim was selected for Sewanee's All-Time football team. [25]

Postwar career

After the war, Kirby Smith was active in the telegraph business and in higher education. From 1866 to 1868, he was president of the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. When that effort ended in failure, he started a preparatory school in New Castle, Kentucky, which he directed until it burned in 1870. [6] In 1870, he combined efforts with former Confederate General Bushrod Johnson. [26] He served as the chancellor of the University of Nashville from 1870 to 1875. [27]

In 1875, Kirby Smith left that post to become professor of mathematics and botany at the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. [5] Part of his collection from those years was donated to the universities of North Carolina and Harvard, and to the Smithsonian Institution. He kept up a correspondence with botanists at other institutions. He taught at the University of the South until 1893, when he died of pneumonia. At the time of his death in Sewanee, he was the last surviving man who had been a full general in the Civil War. He is buried in the University Cemetery at Sewanee. [6]

Legacy and honors

See also


  1. "... for the signal victory achieved by him in the battle of Richmond, Kentucky, on the thirtieth of August, and to all officers and soldiers of his command engaged in that battle" (Eicher 2001, p. 494).
  1. 1 2 Webster & Webster 2000 , p. [ page needed ].
  2. 1 2 3 Chisholm 1911, p. 260.
  3. Webster & Webster 2000 , p. 14.
  4. 1 2 Edmund Kirby-Smith Papers, 1776–1906 (bulk 1840–1866), The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, accessed 25 November 2013
  5. 1 2 3 4 Matthew White, "Science, Race and Reunion: The Memorialization of Edmund Kirby Smith and His Slave Alexander Darnes", 2011 Phi Alpha Theta Biennial Conference, Orlando, Florida; Academia website
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Nofi 1995, pp. 347–48.
  7. [Frances Marvin Smith Webster and Lucien Bonaparte Webster, The Websters: Letters of an American Army Family in Peace and War, 1836-1853], ed. by Van R. Baker, Kent State University, 2000
  8. 1 2 3 4 Eicher 2001, pp. 493–94.
  9. 1 2 "Alexander Darnes and Kirby Smith Share Rare History" Archived September 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine , Jacksonville Historical Society
  10. Julie B. Maglio, "Sculpture of Confederate General to be removed from Statuary Hall in D.C.", Hernando Sun, 31 May 2016
  11. Small, John K. "Studies in the Botany of the Southeastern United States.-Ix. I. The Sessile-Flowered Trillia of the Southern States." Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 24, no. 4 (1897): 169-178
  12. "Letter from Edmund K. Smith to Frances K. Smith, February 14, 1849", Edmund Kirby-Smith Papers, Record Group #404 Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina
  13. Lossing 1881, p. 1306.
  14. Wagner, Gallagher & Finkelman 2002, p. 422.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Cunningham 1992, p. 166.
  16. Davis 1999, p. 94.
  17. Maritime Activity Reports 1942, pp. 101–2.
  18. Sheehan-Dean 2007, pp. 145–47.
  19. Mechem & Malin 1964, p. 281.
  20. accessed 2 June 2011
  21. Townsend 2006, pp. 136–37.
  22. "AMERICA: ARRIVAL OF 'THE CUBA' ", The Manchester Guardian , 4 September 1865
  23. Jones 1955, pp. 177–79.
  24. "Mrs. Cassie Kirby-Smith". Confederate Veteran. 15: 563. 1907 via archive.org.
  25. "Sewanee's All-Time Football Team". Sewanee Alumni News. February 1949.
  26. Morris, Roy Jr. (March 29, 2017). "Bushrod Johnson: Yankee Quaker, Confederate General". Warfare History Network. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  27. 1 2 "Vanderbilt Collection - Peabody Campus - Wyatt Center: Edmund Kirby Smith". Tennessee Portrait Project. National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Tennessee. Retrieved May 3, 2018.
  28. "Edmund Kirby Smith" . Retrieved September 17, 2018.
  29. "Florida House panel OKs bill to remove Confederate statue" . Retrieved September 17, 2018.
  30. Sexton, Christine; Saunders, Jim (March 21, 2018). "Florida to replace Confederate statue at US Capitol with civil-rights leader". Palm Beach Post .
  31. Commentary: Statue of Confederate general is no 'piece of art,' has no place in Lake County museum Retrieved July 2, 2018
  32. McNiff, Tim (July 24, 2018). "Lake County Commission does about-face on confederate statue". Daily Commercial .
  33. Maritime Activity Reports 1942, p. 135.
  34. James Call, "What if Gen. Kirby Smith’s statue was replaced by one of his former slave, Alex Darnes, M.D.?", Tallahassee Democrat, 05 June 2016

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Further reading