Kirby Smith was one of seven full general's in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He was also the Confederacy's last full general to pass away.
Edmund Kirby Smith was born at St. Augustine, Florida on May 16, 1824.He was the third child and second son of Connecticut natives Joseph Lee Smith and Frances (Kirby) Smith. Smith's grandfather, Ephraim Kirby, served as an officer in George Washington's army during the American Revolution. Smith's father, Joseph Lee Smith was a lieutenant colonel in the War of 1812. In the early 1820s, the elder Smith moved his family to Florida, where he received an appointment as a U.S. district judge.
In 1836, Smith's parents sent him to Hollowell's preparatory school in Alexandria, Virginia. Five years later, following in the steps of his older brother Ephriam, Smith received an appointment to the United States Military Academy. During his years at the academy, Smith acquired the nickname "Seminole" due to his native state. Smith graduated from West Point in 1845, twenty-fifth in his class.
Smith began his military career as a brevet second lieutenant in the 5th Infantry on July 1, 1845. In less than one year, he was engaged in combat during the Mexican-American War (April 25, 1846 – February 2, 1848). On August 22, 1846, officials promoted Smith to the rank of second lieutenant in the Seventh Infantry. During the Mexican-American War, Smith received a brevet promotion to first lieutenant for "gallant and meritorious conduct" in the Battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847. Later that year, on August 20, he received a brevet promotion to captain for his service at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco.
After returning from Mexico, Smith became an assistant professor of mathematics at the United States Military Academy from 1849 to 1852. During that time, he became a first lieutenant on March 9, 1851. On March 3, 1855, Smith attained the rank of captain and joined the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, a newly-created, elite regiment whose officers were hand-picked for service in Texas by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Eleven of Smith's fellow officers from the 2nd Cavalry became Confederate generals, and four of them (Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood, and Smith) achieved the rank of full general. During his stint in Texas, Smith was wounded while fighting Comanche Indians in the Nescutunga Valley in 1859.
On January 31, 1861, Smith received a promotion to major and became commander of Camp Colorado. When secessionists began commandeering Federal property across the South, Smith initially refused to surrender his post to Colonel Henry E. McCulloch's Texas Militia forces. However, when civil war became a certainty, Smith sided with the Confederacy and resigned from the United States Army on April 6, 1861.
Smith entered the Confederate Army as a lieutenant colonel and served as General Joseph Johnston's chief of staff at Harper's Ferry, Virginia during the organization of Confederate troops in the Shenandoah Valley. On June 17, 1861, officials promoted Smith to the rank of brigadier-general and placed him in command of the 4th brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah. One month later, he was seriously wounded in the neck and shoulder during the Battle of Bull Run I (July 21, 1861).
While recovering from his injuries in Lynchburg, Virginia, Smith met Cassie Seldon. Following a brief courtship, they married on September 21, 1861. During their thirty-two year marriage, the couple produced five sons and six daughters.
After his recuperation, Smith received a promotion to the rank of major general on October 11, 1861 and succeeded General Felix Zollicoffer as commander of the District of East Tennessee. Smith's tenure in Tennessee was highly controversial. Eschewing Zollicoffer's lenient policies, Smith instituted martial law, suspended habeas corpus, and jailed or deported many suspected Unionists. His harsh measures engendered anti-Confederate sentiment in a region of the country that was nearly evenly divided over the issue of secession during the early years of the war.
By the middle of 1862, Confederate fortunes in the Volunteer State had declined dramatically. In addition to the turmoil that Smith created in eastern Tennessee, Ulysses S. Grant's victories at the Battle of Fort Henry (February 6, 1862), the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 11–February 16, 1862), and the Battle of Shiloh (April 6–April 7, 1862) left the Union in control of the western part of the state. Eager to reverse the Confederacy's fortunes in the Upper South, General Braxton Bragg hatched a plan to move thirty-four thousand soldiers into Tennessee to join forces with eighteen thousand men under Smith's command and then to invade Kentucky. Bragg erroneously believed that the majority of residents in that border state strongly supported the Confederacy and that many of them would join the Southern army if given the opportunity.
Initially, events went well for the Confederates. Smith left Knoxville on August 14, 1862, and he routed the Union garrison at Richmond, Kentucky on August 30, capturing four thousand Federal soldiers. On September 2, he marched into Lexington unopposed. Meanwhile, Bragg's army left Chattanooga in late August, and on September 17, it captured an important rail station at Munford, Kentucky, along with four thousand Union soldiers at the Battle of Munford (September 14-17, 1862). Throughout September, the two-headed Rebel onslaught forced Major Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio back toward the Ohio River By October 4, events were so promising that Bragg participated in the inauguration of Richard Hawes as the provisional Confederate governor of Kentucky.
During September, the Union situation became so perilous that the citizens of Cincinnati were bracing for an invasion of their city. Federal officials dispatched Major General Lew Wallace to Cincinnati to prepare the city for the anticipated attack. Wallace declared martial law and enlisted civilians to dig trenches and erect other defenses around the Queen City. Ohio Governor David Tod ordered state officials to send any available militiamen and munitions to the city. Tod also enlisted the aid of 15,766 volunteers from sixty-five Ohio counties to help protect Cincinnati. Popularly known as the "Squirrel Hunters," most of the volunteers had no military training and carried antiquated weapons. Nonetheless, their presence, coupled with Wallace's defenses, convinced Confederate leaders, including Smith, to cancel the invasion.
By October, Buell's army was reinforced to sufficient strength that he became the pursuer. Unprepared for Buell's advance, Smith and Bragg had still not combined their armies. On October 7, 1862, one corps of Buell's army confronted Bragg's army near Perryville, Kentucky. The Confederates won a hard-fought victory at the Battle of Perryville, but the arrival of nearly all of Buell's army by the end of the day forced Bragg to concede everything his soldiers had gained. Over the objections of his subordinate officers, Bragg decided to withdraw during the night. To no avail, Smith pleaded with Bragg to follow up on his success: "For God's sake, General, let us fight Buell here." Instead, Bragg fell back to Harrodsville, where he finally joined forces with Smith's Army of Kentucky. The combined Confederate forces were now comparable in size to Buell's army. Nevertheless, Bragg lost his enthusiasm for the campaign. The Kentucky recruits that he expected never materialized, and he believed that his supply lines were too vulnerable and insufficient to remain in the state. Over the objections of Smith and other subordinates, Bragg decided to end the campaign and evacuated Kentucky, leaving the state in Union control for the remainder of the war.
Impressed by Smith's performance during the Heartland Campaign, Confederate officials promoted Smith to the rank of lieutenant general on October 9, 1862. On March 7, 1863, he received command of the Trans-Mississippi Department, which included Arkansas, Texas, and western Louisiana. After the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson placed control of the Mississippi River in Union hands, Smith spent the remainder of the war nearly isolated from the rest of the Confederacy. With little support and limited contact with the Confederate government in Virginia, Smith faced the dual challenges of governing the district and waging war with only thirty thousand troops spread over a vast area. Because of Smith's virtual autonomy, the region gradually became known as "Kirby Smithdom." On February 19, 1864, the Confederate government rewarded Smith's efforts by promoting him to the rank of full general.
In March 1864, Union authorities launched two offensives to gain control of the Trans-Mississippi region. Despite the fact that Smith was greatly outnumbered, he engineered the defeat of both Northern advances. On April 8, Confederate troops commanded by Major General Richard Taylor repulsed Union General Nathaniel Banks's Red River Campaign with a decisive victory at the Battle of Mansfield. Smith then divided Taylor's army and dispatched Major General John George Walker northward to foil Union Major General Frederick Steele's Camden Expedition into Arkansas.
Later that year, Smith went on the offensive by sending Major General Sterling Price’s twelve thousand soldiers, designated as the Army of Missouri, on an ill-advised and disastrous raid into the Show Me State. Price's Raid began on August 28, 1864, when he departed from Camden, Arkansas. A little over three months and a dozen or more battles later, Price limped back into Arkansas with only six thousand survivors. For the remainder of the war, hostilities west of the Mississippi consisted of skirmishes and guerrilla raids.
In April 1865, Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph Johnston surrendered their armies, effectively ending the war in the East. In the West, Smith held out for roughly one month before surrendering his command to General Edward R. S. Canby at Baton Rouge, Louisiana on May 26, 1865. Smith's command was the last major Confederate force to concede defeat at the end of the Civil War.
Following his surrender, Smith traveled to Galveston, Texas and then fled to Mexico and to Cuba to avoid being prosecuted for treason. He returned to Lynchburg, Virginia to sign an oath of amnesty on November 14, 1865.
After the war, Smith briefly managed the Accident Insurance Company in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1866. He then served as president of the Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph Company for two years. In 1868, Smith founded a school in New Castle, Kentucky, but it burned the following year. In 1870, Smith and fellow Confederate General Bushrod Johnson were named co-chancellors of the University of Nashville. Smith and Johnson also managed the Montgomery Bell Academy, a preparatory school for boys. In 1875, Smith accepted an appointment as professor of mathematics at the University of the South, at Sewanee, Tennessee. He remained on the faculty there for the remainder of his life.
Kirby Smith died in Sewanee on March 28, 1893. He was buried on the University of the South's campus. Smith was the Confederacy's last full general to pass away.
Cite this Entry
"Edmund Kirby Smith," Ohio Civil War Central, 2022, Ohio Civil War Central. 7 Jul 2022 <http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=976>
"Edmund Kirby Smith." (2022) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved July 7, 2022, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=976
- Albert Sidney Johnston
- Army of Kentucky (CSA)
- Army of the Ohio 1861 - 1862
- Battle of Bull Run I
- Battle of Fort Donelson
- Battle of Fort Henry
- Battle of Mansfield
- Battle of Perryville
- Battle of Shiloh
- Braxton Bragg
- Bushrod Johnson
- David Tod
- Don Carlos Buell
- Edward Canby
- Jefferson Davis
- John Bell Hood
- Joseph E. Johnston
- Lew Wallace
- Mexican-American War
- Nathaniel P. Banks
- Red River Campaign
- Richard Taylor
- Robert E. Lee
- Sterling Price
- Ulysses S. Grant
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