Teacher of Civil War Generals

Major General Charles Ferguson Smith, Soldier and West Point Commandant


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About the Book

From West Point to Fort Donelson, General Charles Ferguson Smith was a soldier’s soldier. He served at the U.S. Military Academy from 1829 to 1842 as Instructor of Tactics, Adjutant to the Superintendent and Commandant of Cadets. During his 42-year career he was a teacher, mentor and role model for many cadets who became prominent Civil War generals, and he was admired by such former students as Grant, Halleck, Longstreet and Sherman.
Smith set an example for junior officers in the Mexican War, leading his light battalion to victories and earning three field promotions. He served with Albert Sidney Johnston and other future Confederate officers in the Mormon War. He mentored Grant while serving with him during the Civil War, and helped turn the tide at Fort Donelson, which led to Grant’s rise to fame. He attained the rank of major general, while refusing political favors and ignoring the press. Drawing on never before published letters and journals, this long overdue biography reveals Smith as a faithful officer, excellent disciplinarian, able commander and modest gentleman.

About the Author(s)

Allen H. Mesch is an author, educator, and historian from Plano, Texas. He taught at the University of Texas at Dallas, Southern Methodist University, and Texas Woman’s University.

Bibliographic Details

Allen H. Mesch
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 344
Bibliographic Info: 35 photos, 13 maps, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9834-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2038-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface: “Regular Army to the ­shoe-soles” 1
Part One: West Point to Texas: 1820–1845 5
1. “Grant him a warrant as a cadet” 6
2. “Thirteen years of service” 16
3. Commandant of Cadets 22
4. “At West Point always” 34
5. “Riot raging in Kensington” 40
Part Two: Corpus Christi to Mexico City: 1845–1848 45
6. “A tussle with the Mexicans” 46
7. “War at last sure enough!” 54
8. “The brilliant coup de main” 63
9. “A political war” 71
10. “Off for the far famed City of Mexico” 77
11. “This glorious army hoisted the colors” 86
Part Three: Between Wars: 1848–1861 93
12. “The most perfect soldier in the Army” 94
13. “Courage and Fidelity” 102
14. “A war must be waged” 111
Part Four: Disunion and Reunion: 1861–1862 131
15. “The storm will blow over” 132
16. “The war in Kentucky has commenced” 144
17. “Make demonstrations with your troops” 165
18. The Incident at the Tilghman House 170
19. “They are false in every particular” 177
Part Five: Fort Henry and Fort Donelson: February 1862 189
20. “Take and hold Fort Henry” 190
21. “I Shall take and destroy Fort Donelson” 201
22. “You must take Fort Donelson” 211
23. “Unconditional and immediate surrender” 224
Part Six: Triumph and Turmoil: March–July 1862 233
24. “Take command of the expedition” 234
25. “Hold his position” 243
26. “Does not set easy on me yet” 250
27. “The devils own day” 255
28. “His great worth as a soldier and friend” 264
Appendices 273
A.  Biographical Sketch from the Cullum Register 274
B.  Notable Cadets During Smith’s Term as Commandant 277
C.  Fort Donelson Union Order of Battle 279
D.  Chronology 281
Chapter Notes 285
Bibliography 317
Index 323

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “A welcome addition to the literature of the prewar Army and the Civil War volunteer army. Recommend[ed]”—Civil War News
  • “WOW!”—Lone Star Book Review
  • “A solid well-written book…well researched”—Civil War Monitor
  • “Mesch does an excellent job of telling Smith’s story…this is an interesting book about an important and influential officer”—The NYMAS Review
  • “Mesch does an excellent job of telling Smith’s story, while helping the reader get a better grasp of the military practice of the day.”—Strategy Page.