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Edmund Kirby Smith

Edmund Kirby Smith
Portrait of General Kirby Smith
Nickname(s) Ted, Seminole
Born (1824-05-16)May 16, 1824
St. Augustine, Florida
Died March 28, 1893(1893-03-28) (aged 68)
Sewanee, Tennessee
Place of burial University Cemetery Sewanee, Tennessee
Allegiance  USA
 Confederate States of America Confederate States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
 Confederate States Army
Years of service 1845–61 (USA)
1861–65 (CSA)
Rank Major (USA)
General (CSA)
Commands held Third Corps, Army of Tennessee
Trans-Mississippi Department
Battles/wars Mexican–American War
American Civil War

Edmund Kirby Smith (May 16, 1824 – March 28, 1893) was a career United States Army officer who served with the Confederates during the Civil War, as one of only seven officers to reach the rank of Full General.

Wounded at First Bull Run, he distinguished himself during Braxton Bragg's invasion of Kentucky, before being made commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department (Texas, Louisiana, Western Arkansas) in January 1863. After the Mississippi fell to the Union, this isolated zone became virtually an independent nation, nicknamed 'Kirby Smithdom'. In the Red River Campaign of Spring 1864, he commanded the victorious General Richard Taylor, who defeated the combined army/navy assault under Nathaniel Banks.

On May 26, 1865, he surrendered his army at Galveston, Texas, before fleeing abroad to avoid arrest for treason. His wife negotiated his return. After the war, Smith worked in the telegraph and railway industries, as well as serving as a college professor.


  • Early life and the U.S. Army 1
  • Civil War service 2
    • Trans-Mississippi Department 2.1
  • Marriage and family life 3
  • Postwar career 4
  • Legacy and honors 5
  • Alexander Darnes 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Early life and the U.S. Army

Smith was born in 1824 in St. Augustine, Florida, as the youngest child to Joseph Lee Smith and Frances Kirby Smith. Both his parents were natives of Litchfield, Connecticut, where their older children were born. The family moved to Florida in 1821, shortly before the elder Smith was named a Superior Court judge in the new Florida Territory, acquired by the US from Spain.[1][2] Older siblings included Ephraim, born in 1807; sister Frances, born in 1809;[1] and Josephine, who died in 1835, likely of tuberculosis.[3][4] In 1836, his parents sent him to a military boarding school in Virginia, which he attended until his enrollment in the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.[5]

On July 1, 1841, Smith entered West Point and graduated four years later, standing 25th out of 41 cadets. While there he was nicknamed "Seminole" after the Native Americans of his state, and brevetted a second lieutenant in the 5th U.S. Infantry on July 1, 1845. He was promoted to second lieutenant on August 22, 1846, now serving in the 7th U.S. Infantry.[6]

Edmund Kirby Smith as a U.S. Army officer

In the Mexican–American War, he served under General Zachary Taylor at the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Resaca de la Palma.[2] He served under General Winfield Scott later, and received brevet promotions to first lieutenant for Cerro Gordo and to captain for Contreras and Churubusco. His older brother, Ephraim Kirby Smith (1807-1847), who graduated from West Point in 1826 and was a captain in the regular army, served with him in the 5th U.S. Infantry in the campaigns with both Taylor and Scott. Ephraim died in 1847 from wounds suffered at the Battle of Molino del Rey.[5]

After that war, Kirby Smith served as a captain (from 1855) in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, primarily in Texas. (From that year on through the war, Smith was accompanied by Alexander Darnes, then 15, a mixed-race slave of his family who served as a valet until emancipation.) (See photo of Darnes.)[7] Kirby Smith collected and studied materials as a botanist; like many other military officers, he was also a scientist. Some of the items from his collecting at West Point, he donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

Kirby Smith was assigned to teaching mathematics at West Point, from 1849-1852. According to his letters to his mother, he was happy with this environment.[8] On May 13, 1859, he was wounded in his thigh fighting Indians in the Nescutunga Valley of Texas.[2] When Texas seceded, Smith, now a major, refused to surrender his command at Camp Colorado in what is now Coleman, Texas, to the Texas State forces under Col. Benjamin McCulloch; he expressed his willingness to fight to hold it.[5] On January 31, 1861, Smith was promoted to major, but on April 6, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to join the Confederacy.[6] His sister Frances (Smith) Webster remained loyal to the Union although married to Lucien Bonaparte Webster, a Confederate officer, who died during the war.

Civil War service

On March 16, 1861, Smith entered the Confederate forces as a major in the regular artillery; that day he was transferred to the regular cavalry with the rank of lieutenant colonel.[6] After serving briefly as Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's assistant adjutant general in the Shenandoah Valley,[9] Smith was promoted to brigadier general on June 17, 1861. He was given command of a brigade in the Army of the Shenandoah, which he led at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21.[10] Wounded severely in the neck and shoulder, he recuperated while commanding the Department of Middle and East Florida. He returned to duty on October 11 as a major general and division commander in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.[11]

In February 1862, Smith was sent west to command the Army of East Tennessee. Cooperating with Gen. Braxton Bragg in the invasion of Kentucky, he scored a victory at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky on August 30, 1862, and was named on October 9 to the newly created grade of lieutenant general, becoming a corps commander in the Army of Tennessee.[11] Smith would also receive the Confederate "Thanks of Congress" on February 17, 1864, for his actions at Richmond.[1]

Trans-Mississippi Department

On January 14, 1863, Smith was transferred to command the Trans-Mississippi Department (primarily Arkansas, Western Louisiana, and Texas) and he remained west of the Mississippi River for the balance of the war, based part of this time in Shreveport, Louisiana. As forces under Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant tightened their grip on the river, Smith attempted to intervene. However, his department never had more than 30,000 men stationed over an immense area and he was not able to concentrate forces adequately to challenge Grant nor the Union Navy on the river.[11]

Shows Trans-Mississippi Department, "Kirby Smithdom", also shows Price's failed invasion of Missouri

Following the Union capture of the remaining strongholds at Vicksburg and Port Hudson and the closing of the Mississippi, he was virtually cut off from the Confederate capital at Richmond and was confronted with the command of a virtually independent area of the Confederacy, with all of its inherent administrative problems. The area became known in the Confederacy as "Kirby Smithdom".[12]

Kirby Smith resided in Shreveport during the Red River Campaign of 1864.

In the spring of 1864, Frederick Steele's incursion into Arkansas. This decision, strongly opposed by Taylor, caused great enmity between the two men.[14]

With the pressure relieved, Smith attempted to send reinforcements east of the Mississippi, but as in the case of his earlier attempts to relieve Vicksburg, it proved impossible due to Union naval control of the river. Instead he dispatched Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, with all available cavalry, on an unsuccessful invasion of Missouri. Thereafter the war west of the river was principally one of small raids and guerrilla activity.[15] By now a full general (as of February 19, 1864, one of only seven such men in the Confederacy),[11] he negotiated the surrender of his department—the only significant Confederate field army left—on May 26, 1865. He signed the terms of surrender in Galveston, Texas, on June 2,[16] and afterward fled to Mexico and then to Cuba to escape potential prosecution for treason.[17] In August that year General Beauregard's house near New Orleans, was surrounded by troops who suspected he was harbouring Smith. All the inhabitants were locked in a cotton press overnight. Beauregard complained to General Sheridan who expressed his annoyance at his erstwhile enemy's treatment.[18] Smith returned to take an oath of amnesty at Lynchburg, Virginia, on November 14, 1865.[6]

Marriage and family life

In August 1861, Kirby Smith met Cassie Selden (1836–1905), the daughter of Samuel S. Selden of Lynchburg. Kirby Smith was recovering from being wounded at the First Battle of Manassas, but still found time for wooing – they were married on September 24. Cassie wrote on October 10, 1862 from Lynchburg, asking what to name their first child. Cassie suggested "something uncommon as I consider her an uncommon baby." The new baby was later named Caroline.[19]

The couple briefly reunited when Cassie followed her husband to Shreveport in February 1863. In the spring of 1864, she moved to Hempstead, Texas, where she was to remain for the duration of the war. After the war's end, Cassie traveled to Washington to negotiate for her husband's return to the United States.

In 1875 Kirby Smith accepted an appointment as a professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. There the Kirby Smiths lived happily until the end of his life. They had five sons and six daughters: Caroline (1862–1941), Frances (1864–1930), Edmund (1866–1938), Lydia (1868–1962), Nina (1870–1965), Elizabeth (1872–1937), Reynold (1874–1962), William (1876–1967), Josephine (1878–1961), Joseph Lee (1882–1939), and Ephraim (1884–1938). Reynold, William, Joseph, and Ephraim all played for the Sewanee Tigers football team. Joseph and Ephraim were both All-Southern. Joseph was a member of the famed 1899 "Iron Men" and Ephraim was selected for Sewanee's All-time football team.

Postwar career

After the war, Kirby Smith was active in the telegraph business and higher education. From 1866 to 1868, he was president of the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. When that effort ended in failure, he started a preparatory school, in New Castle, Kentucky, which he directed until it burned in 1870.[5] In 1870, he combined efforts with former Confederate general officer Bushrod Johnson and became president of the University of Nashville.

In 1875, Kirby Smith left that post to become professor of mathematics and botany at the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. Part of his collection from those years was donated to the University of North Carolina, Harvard, the Smithsonian Institution. He kept up a correspondence with botanists at other institutions. He taught there until 1893, when he died of pneumonia. At the time of his death in Sewanee, he was the last surviving man who had been a full general in the Civil War. He is buried in the University Cemetery at Sewanee.[5]

Legacy and honors

  • His papers have been collected at the University of North Carolina, in Edmund Kirby-Smith Papers, 1776-1906 (bulk 1840-1866).[4]
  • A dormitory building on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge is named Edmund Kirby Smith Hall.
  • The state of Florida erected a statue honoring General Smith in the National Statuary Hall Collection of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.[20]
  • At the university, he is commemorated by the Kirby-Smith Memorial on University Avenue, by Kirby-Smith Point on University Domain lands.
  • The Kirby-Smith Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy at Sewanee, and the Kirby-Smith Camp 1209, Sons of Confederate Veterans in Jacksonville, Florida, were named for him.
  • Kirby Smith Middle School in Jacksonville and the Alachua County Public Schools administrative building, built in 1903, were named for him.
  • During World War II the 422-foot (129 m) liberty ship SS E. Kirby Smith was built in Panama City, Florida, in 1943 and named in his honor.[21]
  • 2004, a life-sized statue of Kirby Smith and Alexander Darnes (see below) was made by a great-granddaughter of Smith. It is installed in the courtyard of their childhood home, the Segui-Kirby Smith House in St. Augustine, Florida, the first public sculpture in the city to commemorate a black man.[7]

Alexander Darnes

Alexander H. Darnes (1840 - February 11, 1894) was an African American born into slavery in the same household as Smith in St. Augustine, Florida. Darnes was the mixed-race son of Violet Pinkney, an African-American slave who served in the household of Smith's parents. (Darnes bears an eerie resemblance to Kirby Smith, according to photos of the two men held by the St. Augustine Historical Society).[7]

Darnes served as Smith's personal valet starting from 1855 and continuing throughout the Civil War. After emancipation and preparatory work, Darnes graduated from Lincoln University and earned his medical degree at Howard University. He settled in Jacksonville, Florida as its first black physician and the second in the state.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "... for the signal victory achieved by him in the battle of Richmond, Kentucky, on the thirtieth of August, and to all officers and soldiers of his command engaged in that battle" (Eicher 2001, p. 494).
  1. ^ a b Webster & Webster 2000, p. .
  2. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911, p. 260.
  3. ^ Webster & Webster 2000, p. 14.
  4. ^ a b Edmund Kirby-Smith Papers, 1776-1906 (bulk 1840-1866), The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, accessed 25 November 2013
  5. ^ a b c d e Nofi 1995, pp. 347–48.
  6. ^ a b c d Eicher 2001, pp. 493–94.
  7. ^ a b c d "Alexander Darnes and Kirby Smith Share Rare History", Jacksonville Historical Society
  8. ^ "Letter from Edmund K. Smith to Frances K. Smith, February 14, 1849", Edmund Kirby-Smith Papers, Record Group #404 Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina 
  9. ^ Lossing 1881, p. 1306.
  10. ^ Wagner, Gallagher & Finkelman 2002, p. 422.
  11. ^ a b c d Cunningham 1992, p. 166.
  12. ^ Davis 1999, p. 94.
  13. ^ Maritime Activity Reports 1942, pp. 101–2.
  14. ^ Sheehan-Dean 2007, pp. 145–47.
  15. ^ Mechem & Malin 1964, p. 281.
  16. ^ accessed 2 June 2011
  17. ^ Townsend 2006, pp. 136–37.
  18. ^ AMERICA: ARRIVAL OF THE CUBA, The Manchester Guardian, 4 September 1865
  19. ^ Jones 1955, pp. 177–79.
  20. ^ Architect of the Capitol website
  21. ^ Maritime Activity Reports 1942, p. 135.


  • Cunningham, Sumner A.;  
  • Eicher, John H.;  
  • Jones, Katharine M. (1955), Heroines of Dixie, New York: Konecky & Konecky 
  • Lossing, Benson John (1881), Harpers' Popular Cyclopaedia of United States History from the Aboriginal Period to 1876, New York: Harper,  
  • Maritime Activity Reports (1942), Marine News 29 
  • Mechem, Kirke; Malin, James Claude (1964), The Kansas Historical Quarterly (Kansas State Historical Society) 
  • .  
  • Sheehan-Dean, Aaron (2007), Struggle for a Vast Future: The American Civil War, Oxford: Osprey Publishing,  
  • Townsend, Stephen A. (2006), The Yankee Invasion of Texas, College Station: Texas A&M University Press,  
  • Wagner, Margaret E.; Gallagher, Gary W.; Finkelman, Paul (2002), The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference, New York:: Simon & Schuster,  
  • Webster, Frances Marvin Smith; Webster, Lucien Bonaparte (2000), Baker, Van R., ed., The Websters: Letters of an American Army Family in Peace and War, 1836-1853, Kent State University Press,  

Further reading

  • Forsyth, Michael J. (2003), The Camden Expedition of 1864 and the Opportunity Lost by the Confederacy to Change the Civil War. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., ISBN 978-0-7864-1554-0.
  • Parks, Joseph Howard (1954), General Edmund Kirby Smith, CSA. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, ISBN 978-0-8071-1800-9.
  • Pollard, Edward Alfred (1867), Lee and His Lieutenants: Comprising the Early Life, Public Services, and Campaigns of General Robert E. Lee and His Companions in Arms, with a Record of Their Campaigns and Heroic Deeds. New York: E.B. Treat & Co, OCLC 1487259.
  • Prushankin, Jeffery S. (2005), A Crisis in Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor and the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, ISBN 978-0-8071-3088-9.
  • Smith, Ephraim Kirby (2006), To Mexico with Scott: Letters of Captain E. Kirby Smith to His Wife, edited and with Introduction by R.M. Johnston, scanned and reissued,
  • Sifakis, Stewart (1988), Who Was Who in the Civil War. New York: Facts on File, ISBN 978-0-8160-2202-1.
  • Warner, Ezra J. (1992), Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,  

External links

  • Edmund Kirby-Smith Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Architect of the Capitol description and photo of Smith's statue
  • Kirby-Smith Middle School website in Jacksonville, Florida
  • Memorials at Sewanee
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