FW: Charles F. Smith ANB - Bio of the Day
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Smith, Charles Ferguson (24 Apr. 1807-25 Apr. 1862), soldier, was born in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Blair Smith, an army surgeon,
and Mary Ferguson. Attending the U.S.
Military Academy, he graduated in 1825, ranking nineteenth in a class of
thirty-seven, and was commissioned a second lieutenant of artillery. Four
years later he returned to West Point and commenced thirteen years of
service there, first as an instructor, then as an adjutant to the
superintendent, and finally as commandant of cadets. He made quite an
impression on several of the cadets, notably Ulysses S. Grant. He was
promoted to first lieutenant in 1832 and to captain in 1838. In 1840 Smith
married Fanny Mactier; the couple had three children.
Smith saw extensive action in the Mexican-American War, commanding
battalions of light infantry under the command of both Zachary Taylor and
Winfield Scott, and distinguishing himself in battle.
He saw action at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey, Contreras, and
Churubusco, and later he commanded the police guard in Mexico City. Despite
the fact that he won brevets to major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel as a
result of the conflict, not until 1854 did he gain promotion to major. The
following year he was elevated to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1856 he
led an exploring expedition up the Red River in Minnesota, and the next year
he participated in the campaign against the Mormons in Utah. In 1860 he
headed the Department of Utah. In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, he
headed the Department of Washington for a short period of time before
finding himself reassigned to recruiting duty in New York. Some Republicans,
mistaking his stiff, professional demeanor and skepticism toward politicians
for a lack of enthusiasm, questioned his commitment to the Union cause and
delayed his advancement. Not even George B. McClellan could secure his
Finally on 31 August Smith received a commission as a brigadier general with
orders to report to John C. Fremont for assignment.
Placed in command of the garrison at recently occupied Paducah, Kentucky, as
head of the District of Western Kentucky, Smith worked beside his former
student Grant at Cairo, Illinois. It took Grant some time to get used to the
fact that he outranked his old idol. Once more Smith, accused of being too
lenient in his treatment of secessionist civilians, fended off charges that
he was less than loyal to the Union, and his superior officers, including
Grant, who eventually became Smith's immediate superior, rose to his
In January 1862 Smith, as part of a feint, took a small force and a few
gunboats up the Tennessee River to the Kentucky-Tennessee border, where the
Confederates were erecting Forts Henry and Heiman. A dozen miles to the
east, on the Cumberland River, was Fort Donelson. Smith reported back to
Grant that Donelson was vulnerable, and Grant finally succeeded in gaining
approval to attack the Confederate defenses. Forts Henry and Heiman fell on
6 February 1862. Smith commanded one of Grant's three divisions that then
marched on Donelson, taking up position on the left.
On 15 February the Confederates launched an attack against Grant's right
flank, and Grant ordered Smith to counterattack. Urging his men forward,
Smith shouted: "Come on, you volunteers, come on. This is your chance. You
volunteered to be killed for love of your country and now you can be." The
resulting gains so severely compromised the Confederate position that the
Confederates were compelled to surrender. When Grant showed him Confederate
commander Simon Buckner's request for terms, Smith reportedly growled, "No
terms to the damned Rebels!" Grant's rephrasing of it, "No terms except
unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted,"
made him a household hero and earned him the sobriquet "Unconditional
Surrender" Grant (Catton, pp. 170, 175). As recognition for his service,
Smith won promotion to major general of volunteers the following month.
When Henry W. Halleck, dissatisfied with irregularities in the
administration of Grant's command, ordered Grant to remain at Fort Henry,
Smith took charge in March 1862 of a force moving up the Tennessee River to
the Mississippi border and occupied Pittsburg Landing. Just as Grant
prepared to resume command in the field, Smith injured his right leg jumping
into a yawl. Infection set in, confining Smith to bed, and he died,
presumably in Savannah, Tennessee, two and a half weeks after the battle of
Shiloh. In a statement reflecting both great respect for Smith and some
confusion over chronology, William T. Sherman remarked years later, "Had C.
F. Smith lived, Grant would have disappeared to
history after Fort Donelson."
Smith's papers are in private hands. The best accounts of his Civil War
career are in Bruce Catton, Grant Moves South (1960),
and Kenneth P. Williams, Lincoln Finds a General, vol. 3 (1956).
Brooks D. Simpson
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Brooks D. Simpson. "Smith, Charles Ferguson";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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