Thomas Grimke Rhett

Thomas Grimke Rhett was born Thomas Moore Smith on August 2,1821, in South Carolina, the son of James and Charlotte (Haskell) Smith. Both parents were from prominent South Carolina families. His father (a lawyer, planter, and state senator) and his five brothers (an uncle was future Senator Robert Barnwell Rhett) changed their name to the more aristocratic "Rhett" in 1837. Appointed at large to West Point, Rhett graduated sixth in his class of forty-one in 1845. His antebellum army career started as a second lieutenant of ordnance on July 1,1845, working in the Washington, D.C., arsenal. Transferring to the Mounted Rifles Regiment, he was promoted to first lieutenant on April 18, 1847, and captain on September 16, 1853. Active in the Mexican War, Rhett was breveted captain in 1847 for gallant and meritorious conduct. Major and paymaster from April 7,1858, he served as paymaster at Fort Bliss, Texas, through 1861.

Upon the surrender of the U.S. Army forces in Texas, Rhett, pursuant to the surrender terms, transferred his funds to the Texas authorities. He officially resigned from the army on April 1,1861. In the meantime Rhett was nominated by the governor of South Carolina to be a brigadier general of South Carolina volunteers (under the act of December 17, 1860). This was before Fort Sumter, and Rhett never served as general. Commissioned a Confederate major in March, 1861, Rhett joined the staff of General P. G. T. Beauregard. On July 20,1861, he was appointed assistant adjutant general and chief of staff to General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the main army in northern Virginia. He served on Johnston's staff until the latter's wounding at the Battle of Seven Pines in 1862. Relieved from duty with Johnston, Rhett was transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Department and served first as chief of ordnance for the District of Arkansas. In April, 1863, Rhett was appointed chief of artillery for the Trans-Mississippi Department. The balance of the war he spent in that capacity. A fellow staff member remembers him as "a man of grand physique, spirit and capacity. He could see no wrong in one he liked and no good in one he disliked." His exile to the Trans-Mississippi can perhaps be explained by his association with General Johnston and with Senator Rhett, both vocal administration opponents.

After the war Rhett refused to remain in America. Along with several other former officers, both northern and southern, he accepted an offer to join the army of the Khedive of Egypt. Rhett served as colonel of ordnance in the Egyptian army through 1873. Paralyzed by a stroke in September 1873, Rhett resigned his commission and went to Europe. Returning to the U.S. in 1876, he lived in Baltimore with relatives until his death on July 28,1878. He is buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.

Rhett's rank of general in South Carolina's state army qualifies him to be considered a Confederate general.

Previous Page

Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.