Thomas Alfred Smyth

Thomas Alfred Smyth, an unsung Irish hero of the Civil War, was born on December 25, 1832, in the parish of Ballyhooley, county of Cork. Obtaining the rudiments of an education, he worked upon his father's farm until 1854, when he came to the United States and "followed a business of carving in Philadelphia." The lure of excitement then caused him to join the revolutionary expedition of William Walker to Nicaragua. In 1858 he settled in Wilmington, Delaware, as a coach maker. When the shooting began in 1861, Smyth was ready with a company of infantry which he vainly offered to the Delaware authorities. It ultimately became part of the 24th Pennsylvania along with other companies which were recruited in and about Philadelphia; this all Irish regiment served for only three months. Soon after its muster out, Smyth was appointed major of the 1st Delaware Infantry, an outfit enlisted for three years.; he became its lieutenant colonel in December 1862, and colonel the following February. He accompanied this regiment to Suffolk, Virginia, in July, 1862, and then in September back to the field of Sharpsburg (Antietam), where it lost almost one third of its effectives present for duty. The 1st Delaware was present at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. In the latter battle Smyth commanded a brigade of Hays's division of Hancock's II Corps which did its share in breaking the back of George E. Pickett's celebrated charge on July 3. Smyth continued to render distinguished service during the campaign on the Rappahannock that autumn and in the course of the advance upon Petersburg and Richmond in 1864. On October 1, 1864, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers; soon after this promotion he took part in the encounters at Deep Bottom, Gravelly Run, and Hatcher's Run. While in pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia during the Appomattox campaign, Smyth, serving in divisional command, was riding on his skirmish line in the course of the action near Farmville on April 7, 1865, when he was shot through the mouth by a Confederate sharpshooter, the ball shattering a cervical vertebra. Taken to the nearby residence of Colonel S. D. Burke (for whom Burkeville was named), Smyth lived for two days, finally succumbing on the day of R. E. Lee's surrender. Posthumously promoted major general by brevet to rank from the date he was wounded, Smyth became the last Federal general to be killed in the war. He was buried in the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington.

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