Charles Ferguson Smith

Charles Ferguson Smith, son of an army surgeon, was born on April 24, 1807, in Philadelphia. He entered the Military Academy only nineteen years after its doors were opened and was graduated in 1825. Four years later he returned to the Academy to serve in various capacities, including that of commandant of cadets, until 1842. During this period both U. S. Grant and W. T. Sherman were cadets; Grant later revered Smith as his beau ideal of a soldier, and Sherman went so far as to state that neither Grant nor he would have ever been heard of had it not been for Smith's untimely death. During the Mexican War Smith achieved an outstanding reputation in both Zachary Taylor's and Winfield Scott's armies and was brevetted major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel for gallant and meritorious conduct at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Monterey, Contreras, and Churubusco. After the city of Mexico was taken, he was in charge of the police guard there until 1848. He was advanced to the full rank of major in 1854 and to that of lieutenant colonel the following year. In 1856 he led an expedition into the Red River country of northern Idaho and the next year took part in Albert Sidney Johnston's campaign against the Mormons. From February, 1860, until February, 1861, he commanded the Department of Utah. For two weeks in April, 1861, he commanded the Department of Washington, but a soldier rather than a politician, he was shunted into recruiting duty in New York until August. He was appointed brigadier general of volunteers on August 31 and colonel of the 3rd Regular Infantry on September 9, 1861. In the course of the operations against Forts Henry and Donelson he came under the command of his former pupils, Grant and Sherman, both of whom felt a good deal of diffidence in giving him an order. During the investment of Fort Donelson, where he commanded a division of Grant's forces, Smith led in person a charge which was largely responsible for the subsequent surrender of the place—an exploit which earned for Grant the nickname of "Unconditional Surrender." Smith was advanced to major general on March 22, 1862. At this juncture, due to what was euphemistically referred to as a "misunderstanding" among Grant, Henry W. Halleck, and George B. McClellan, Smith was assigned to the command of the forces sent up the Tennessee River to locate Johnston's Rebels, who were known to be concentrating at Corinth. The contretemps was resolved when Smith abraded his shin, while jumping into a rowboat; he, subsequently, developed an infection which, aggravated by dysentery, caused his death at Grant's headquarters in Savannah, Tennessee, on April 25, 1862. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia. There has been much conjecture as to what "might have been" had Smith commanded at Shiloh instead of his former pupil. However, Smith himself, lying in his sickbed and hearing the thunder and crash of battle a few miles to the north, was as bemused as were Grant and his principal lieutenant Sherman.

Previous Page

Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.