William Sooy Smith

William Sooy Smith was born in the central Ohio hamlet of Tarl-ton, on July 22, 1830. He worked his way through Ohio University at Athens and was graduated in 1849. He then procured an appointment to the Military Academy, where he was graduated in 1853, ranking sixth in the class which included James B. McPherson, John M. Schofield, Philip Sheridan, and John B. Hood of the Confederacy. Smith resigned his commission a year after graduation to associate himself with the Illinois Central Railroad as a construction engineer. He subsequently organized an engineering firm with which he was employed in 1861. At this time Smith returned to Ohio and on June 26 was commissioned colonel of the 13th Ohio Infantry. He took part in the West Virginia campaign and then fought at Shiloh and Perryville in Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio. He had been made a brigadier general of volunteers in April, 1862, and at Perryville directed a division of T. L. Crittenden's corps, most of which did not get into the battle. During the Vicksburg campaign he commanded a division of the XVI Corps. He was then made chief of cavalry of the forces in the West under U. S. Grant and subsequently W. T. Sherman; in March, 1864, with seven thousand troops, he embarked upon his celebrated raid from Memphis to West Point, Mississippi, where in a series of engagements he was badly defeated and driven back to Memphis by the Confederate Nathan B. Forrest who had less than half as many effectives. He resigned July 15, 1864, because of ill health and retired to a farm at Oak Park, Illinois. Regaining his former vigor, General Smith made monumental contributions to the science of engineering, particularly as related to the underpinning of bridges and skyscrapers. He built the first all-steel bridge in the world over the Missouri River at Glasgow, Missouri, and about 1890 devoted his attention to the construction of buildings in Chicago, where, unlike New York, bedrock lies far below the surface. Until 1910 he had a hand in the construction of virtually every tall building constructed in the city. General Smith retired to the quiet of the country village of Medford, Oregon, where he spent his last years, active in his profession to the end. He died in Medford on March 4, 1916 (in his eighty-sixth year), and was buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Riverside, Illinois.

Previous Page

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