Edmund Kirby Smith

1824 - 1893

Edmund Kirby Smith was born in St Augustine, Florida, on 16th May, 1824. He studied at the U.S. Military Academy.  He was nicknamed "Seminole" at the academy, and upon his graduation from West Point, was sent to Mexico for the Mexican War.  Here he served in the infantry and won two brevets. 

In 1855 he was transferred to the cavalry and served until he resigned as a major in the 2nd Cavalry in April of 1861.  During the time between the end of the Mexican War and his resignation, he had been teaching mathematics at West Point and was wounded in 1859 fighting Indians in Texas.

On the outbreak of the War for Southern Independence Kirby Smith joined the Confederate Army and by June had reached the rank of brigadier general. In July 1861, Abraham Lincoln sent Major General Irvin McDowell to take Richmond, the new base the Confederate government.

On 21st July McDowell engaged the Confederate Army at Manassas. The Confederate troops led by Joseph E. Johnson, Thomas Stonewall Jackson, James Jeb Stuart, Jubal Early, Braxton Bragg and P.G.T. Beauregard, and Kirby Smith easily defeated the inexperienced Union Army.  Gen. Kirby Smith was briefly taken out of service to the Confederacy after receiving a bullet in the chest at the 1st Battle of Manassas.

Heralded as a hero and promoted to major general, Kirby Smith was not enthusiastic about his new assignment to a small western department that offered little chance for glory. Though presumably defending Chattanooga with Gen. Braxton Bragg during the summer of 1862, the 38 year old Kirby Smith had made his own plans to invade Kentucky.

In his rout of Union troops in Richmond, KY, on August 30, 1862, Kirby Smith captured 4,000 soldiers, 10,000 arms, and a wagon train of much-needed supplies. His forces then moved freely to Lexington and Frankfort. As a result of his success in Kentucky, he was made a lieutenant general and in February 1863 given command of the Trans-Mississippi Department. 

With the invasion of Kentucky a success, General Smith was appointed to the rank of lieutenant general.  Early in 1863, he was transferred to the Trans-Mississippi, where he would remain for much of the war.  Due to the Union blockade and then capture of the Mississippi River, Smith was virtually cut off from Richmond and was forced to deal with matters of how to get food and supplies for his troops.  Smith had to keep the blockade-running route to Mexico open.  He also kept western Louisiana and Texas in Confederate hands through well-planned defensive campaigns.

In July, 1863 Ulysses S. Grant captured Vicksburg. The western Confederacy was now completely isolated from the eastern Confederacy and the Union Army had total control of the Mississippi River.  In the spring of 1864, Smith defeated Union general Nathaniel Banks and then sent troops forward to defeat Steele's troops in Arkansas.  Smith then attempted to send troops east of the Mississippi River, but this proved to be fruitless because of the Union naval control of the river.  Smith surrendered his army on May 26, 1865, the last major Rebel army to surrender. 

Smith fled to Mexico and Cuba, but returned to the United States to become president of a telegraph company, then president of the Western Military Academy in Nashville, TN.  He served as chancellor of the University of Nashville from 1870 to 1875 and then taught mathematics at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN until he died on March 28, 1893.

What is little known about Edward Kirby Smith is that while serving the Confederacy west of the Mississippi in the territory known as “Kirby Smithdom,” Smith considered resigning and entering the ministry.