Soldier and Major-general. Son of Samuel Blair Smith and Mary Ferguson.
Major General Charles F. Smith was born April 24, 1807, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a grandson of a Colonel of the Continental Army and son of Asst. Surgeon, Samuel B. Smith of the U.S. Army. Upon his graduation from the Military Academy in a distinguished class of which the great scientist Alexander D. Bache was the head, Smith was promoted to the Artillery. After four years doing garrison duty he was detailed June 25, 1829, as an Asst. Instructor of Infantry Tactics at the Military Academy. After the lapse of over threescore years how vividly can I recall the tall, graceful and handsome Lieutenant drilling our company of Cadets in marches and the manual of arms and two years later as the soldierly Adjutant of the great Superintendent Colonel Thayer. This latter position of exacting details Smith efficiently filled for nearly seven years when he became the Commandant of Cadets. After thirteen years of service at the Academy where he won the golden opinions of all over and under him, he having been promoted to be Captain, took command of his company. Difficulties with Mexico in 1845 took Smith to the field In command of a Battalion of Artillery he led the advance across the Colorado, won his brevet of Major by his gallantry at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Pal ma for the brilliant storming of Federation Hill at Monterey, was brevetted a Lieutenant Colonel and transferred to General Scott's army, took a conspicuous part in the varied operations of that daring invasion from Vera Cruz to the enemy's capital In the Valley of Mexico, he commanded the Light Infantry Battalion with signal ability and characteristic intrepidity at the Capture of San Antonio Battle of Churubusco. Storming of Chapultepec and Assault of the City of Mexico receiving his third brevet, that of Colonel, as his well-merited reward in this short war. The citizens of his native city who appreciated the value of disciplined courage, military instruction and skilled leadership at the close of this war, presented him with a Sword of Honor. Soon after the termination of hostilities, Smith was placed upon the Board to devise a Complete System of Instruction for Siege Garrison Seacoast and Mountain Artillery. Promoted Nov 25, 1854, Major 1st Artillery and Mar 3, 1855, appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the new 10th Infantry, he took command, in 1856, of an expedition to the Red River of the North and the following year against the Mormons in Utah, remaining in charge till 1861 of the Department of Utah. When the Rebellion began, Smith was called by his old Chief General Scott, who appreciated his merits, to the command of the Department of Washington, embracing Maryland and the District of Columbia, in which was the defenseless capital of the Nation. In September, 1861, as Brigadier General of Volunteers, he took charge of the District of Western Kentucky headquarters, Paducah, at the mouth of the Tennessee River, a post of great importance which soon became the base of operations against the Confederate first line of defense. At once, he put the place in a good condition of defense against any attack in front or flank, engaged day and night preparing to resist the foe without, he was suddenly assailed by a secret and unscrupulous enemy within, who aided by some scurrilous newspapers, was untiringly trying to supplant Smith in his command. Fortunately, a gentleman and a soldier was at the head of the Department of the Missouri who, knowing Smith's worth and the falsity of the accusations against him through Halleck's Chief of Staff, who had just visited Paducah, supported the General against his demagogic adversary and thus retained in command a hero soon to show his brilliant leadership against a nobler and more open foe. After various expeditions to deceive and prevent the concentration of the Confederate forces, General Smith moved his command up the Tennessee and captured Fort Heiman at the same time that Fort Henry surrendered. Marching next across the narrow strip between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, Fort Donelson, with its numerous batteries, strong entrenchments and large garrison, confronted the Union forces. We cannot go into a full description of this well-known battle. Suffice it to say that the assault of the enemy's lines on our right having failed, General Smith was ordered to storm those on our left. Instantly mounting his superb steed the General, the impersonation of another Mars, rode along the front of his brigades and with brow knit in stern resolve, told the men to be ready then placing himself before the centre as for review with McPherson at his side, cool and self possessed, commanded to charge at double quick with fixed bayonets. Onward his volunteers advanced with the utmost intrepidity through the tempest of iron and leaden hail opening wide gaps in the serried ranks soon filled by other brave men, forward they sped to the thick abatis which seemed impassable under the deadly fire. Their knightly leader, turning in his saddle and brandishing his sword, cried out in a loud voice, "No flineliing now my lads! Here this is the way! Come on my brave boys!" Threading his path through the felled timber his noble example inspired his followers who swarmed in after him as best they could. Then reforming their ranks, they rushed after their gallant chief into the very jaws of death. Upward through the smoke of battle they climbed till the perilous goal was reached, a lodgment was made in the enemy's works, the defenders fled, the day was won and the battle ended with unconditional and immediate surrender. The hero of the fight, though such a conspicuous target to the sharpshooters, fortunately escaped with only a contusion below the stomach. Grant generously acknowledged to Smith that he owed his success at Donelson emphatically to him. Halleck, the Commander of the Department, at once telegraphed to McClellan, Brig. General Charles F. Smith, by his coolness and bravery at Fort Donelson, when the battle was against us, turned the tide and carried the enemy's outworks, make him a Major General. You can't get a better one. Honor him for this victory and the country will applaud. The appointment was at once made and unanimously confirmed by the Senate and the municipal authorities of Philadelphia voted Smith a Sword of Honor. Shortly after the capture of Donelson, our troops were in possession of Clarksville and Nashville. Smith, March 7, 1862, was assigned to the command of the expedition then moving up the Tennessee River of which he says, "This whole force is utterly demoralized by victory. There seems to be neither head nor tail. The utter want of discipline seems to me to be something marvelous and yet I have to go far into the bowels of the earth with these men." but he adds, "You shall hear a good account of me or of my death." When the expedition had arrived at Savannah, Gen. Smith, in jumping from his steamer into a yawl, missed his foothold and badly injured the bone of the lower part of his right leg which greatly distressed him, not so much for the pain he had to endure, but because as he writes he could not take the field soon not being able to sit a horse or, in fact, walk, which would compel him to ride to the battlefield in an ambulance. Notwithstanding the agony he suffered, he made a reconnoissance of the river up to Chickasaw Bluff. Before the end of March the General had to take to his bed where he was obliged to submit to a severe surgical operation. This, with his debility caused by a cold taken at Donelson, continued harassing exertion, bad climate, supervening erysipelas and poisonous drugs, completely sapped his vital energy. To the last moment he hoped to be well enough to be carried about the expected battlefield in a hand litter. This was denied him and like a caged lion he chafed hearing the tumult of Shiloh a few miles distant. "Imagine," says he, "if it be possible my feelings, but no, that is impossible lying here bedridden with my injured leg and excessive bodily weakness, listening for two days to the sounds of battle the roar of artillery, the rattle of musketry, without being able to take my proper part in it." Ten days later I saw him on his death bed. Though resigned to the inevitable, his soldier soul was all aglow with the anticipated success of the Union cause in which his loyal heart was so much bound up. On the 25th of April, 1862, this brave and noble paladin who was as intrepid as Ney, as chivalric as Murat and as rock fast as Macdonald, breathed his last. The Army could boast of no better general. His stately and commanding presence inspired his soldiers with respect and almost fear. In his rigid discipline though severe he was always just requiring no greater subordination from inferiors than he was ready to yield to superiors. The call of duty was to him a magic sound for which he was always ready to make every sacrifice and endure any fatigue. He was the very model of a soldier, calm, prudent and self poised, yet in the hour of danger, bold almost to rashness. Had he lived he would have held a high niche in the Temple of Fame whose doors were already opened to him. Sherman said that had C.F. Smith lived, Grant would have disappeared to history after Donelson. We cannot better terminate this brief sketch of this knightly soldier than in the words of General Halleck's Obituary Order, issued from his headquarters at Pittsburg Landing on the day of Smith's death: "He had been in the service of his country for more than forty years and had passed through all the military grades from Cadet to Major General. He had fought with distinction in nearly all the battles of Mexico and by his gallantry and skill, had gained imperishable laurels at the Siege of Ft. Donelson. He combined the qualities of a faithful officer, an excellent disciplinarian, an able commander and a modest, courteous gentleman. In his death the army has lost one of its brightest ornaments and the country a general whose place it will be difficult to supply. General Smith's remains were borne to Laurel Hill Cemetery in his native city with the highest military and civic honors. Peace to his sacred dust.
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