Gustavus Woodson Smith (1821-1896)
Gustavus Woodson Smith was born at Georgetown, Kentucky, on November 30, 1821. He graduated from West Point 8th in the Class of 1842 with a brevet to 2nd Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, July 1,1842. His Class included D. H. Hill, W. S. Rosecrans, John Pope, Abner Doubleday, James Longstreet, Earl Van Dorn, and Smith's lifelong friend, Mansfield Lovell.
He served as Assistant Engineer in the construction of Ft. Trumbull and Battery Griswold, New London Harbor, Connecticut, 1842-1844; and at the Military Academy as Assistant Professor of Engineering, August 31, 1844-September 24, 1846. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, January 1, 1845.
In the War with Mexico, Smith was attached to the company of Sappers, Miners and Pontoniers, and in command of it, March 10-May 22, 1847, engaged in opening the road from Matamoras to Tampico, 1846-1846; Siege of Vera Cruz, March 9-29, 1847; and Battle of Cerro Gordo, April 17-18, 1847. He was breveted 1st Lieutenant, April 18, 1847, for gallant and meritorious conduct at the Battle of Cerro Gordo.
He was next engaged in strengthening the Defenses of Puebla, June- July, 1847; opening the road around Lake Chalco, August, 1847; and the Battle of Contreras, August 19-20, 1847. He was breveted Captain, August 20, 1847, for gallant and meritorious conduct at the Battle of Contreras. Smith was next engaged in the Reconnaissance and Battle of Churubusco, August 20, 1847; constructing batteries against Chapultepec, September 9-13, 1847; and the Assault and Capture of the City of Mexico, September 13-14, 1847.
Following the Mexican War he returned to West Point as Principal Assistant Professor of Engineering, November 1, 1849-December 18, 1854. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, March 3, 1853. Smith resigned December 18, 1854 to become a civil engineer.
He served as Superintendent of the Extension of the U. S. Treasury Building, Washington, D. C., July 10-December, 1855; and of the Repairs of Branch Mint, and construction of Marine Hospital, New Orleans, LA, December, 1855-August, 1856. Smith was employed as engineer of the Trenton Iron Company, NJ, October, 1856-May, 1857; and Agent for London Bankers for the examination of land grants for railroads in Iowa, May, 1857-April, 1858. Smith had become prominent in Democratic politics and served as Deputy Street Commissioner of New York City, April 20-November 12, 1858; and Street Commissioner, November 12, 1858-September 20, 1861. He was a member of the Board to "Revise the Programme of Instruction at the Military Academy", January 12-April 11, 1860.
There was considerable debate in military circles as to which side Smith would join at the outbreak of the Civil War. An ardent Democrat, he worked hard in New York on political measures to stave off armed conflict. He remained at his post until late September, 1861, long after most had gone south to join the Confederacy. When he and his closest friend, Mansfield Lovell, finally began their journey south the press and mails were full of reports of their journey, as if it had great significance.
Davis commissioned Smith a Major-General in the Confederate Army on September 19, 1861, and commanded a wing of the Army of Northern Virginia in the Peninsular Campaign. On his recommendation, Davis also made Lovell a Major-General and placed him in charge of the defense of New Orleans.
Smith almost immediately became a leading influence on the army's high command and a source of discord and controversy. Johnston held overall command and Pierre G. T. Beauregard was second in command. Beauregard's powerful personality dominated Smith who became his staunch ally. Together they almost overwhelmed Johnston to the point where when the three generals met with Jefferson Davis to plan strategy Johnston was silent and Smith did all the talking, putting forth Beauregard's ideas. When Beauregard was sent west, Smith became by seniority second in command to Johnston and participated in most high-level strategy discussions with the President.
When Johnston moved his army to the Peninsula in early 1862 Smith took command of one wing. His performance soon raised question as to his vaunted reputation. He was lackluster and, when near action showed a disposition to become ill with an undiagnosed illness. He suffered similar bouts through the spring. Some believed his problem was moral cowardice or fear of responsibility. After General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at Seven Pines, Smith briefly assumed command of the Army although Jefferson Davis had already decided to replace him with Robert E. Lee. The following morning Davis rode to the battlefield only to find Smith ill, unable to think or act. Smith never held significant command again.
He served as the Confederacy's interim Secretary of War for a few days in November, 1862 until James A. Seddon could assume the office following the resignation of George W. Randolph. Incensed over his being replaced by Davis with Lee, in January, 1863 Smith resigned his commission as a Major-General in a controversy over junior officers being promoted over him.
Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown subsequently appointed Smith a Major-General in the Georgia Militia, which he organized and lead with noted success, particularly on the Chattahoochee before the Battle of Atlanta, and at Savannah. He surrendered at Macon, Georgia on April 20, 1865.
Following the Civil War, Smith was General Manager of the Southwestern Iron Company, Chattanooga, TN, 1866-1870. He served as Insurance Commissioner of Kentucky, 1870-1876. He retired to New York City where he resided until his death. Smith wrote several books and articles on a variety of topics, including the Mexican War, Civil War and Insurance.
He died on June 24, 1896 and is buried at New London, Connecticut.
From The Aztec Club of 1847