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Charles Ferguson Smith was lounging beneath a tree one Saturday afternoon, when Ulysses Grant approached him, explained the events that had occurred two miles further south; and pointing east, directed Smith to 'Take that Fort.' Brigadier General Smith replied, 'I will do it.'  And the rest is history.

800px-The_attack_on_Fort_Donelson_by_Joh CF Smith leads the attack 


C.F. Smith was regarded as a 'model Army officer,' who looked the way a soldier should look, and acted the way a soldier was expected to act. And yet, he was so much more... his immortal ride in company with the advance upon Fort Donelson was merely one example of the man's capabilities -- displayed over the course of a remarkable career. Graduated from West Point in 1825, with Artillery as his specialty, Smith spent time in garrison duty in Delaware and Georgia, before being recalled to the Military Academy in 1829 for assignment as 'assistant instructor of infantry tactics.' This was superseded a few years later by duty as Adjutant to the Superintendent; and ultimately, C.F. Smith served as Commandant of Cadets. In thirteen years of unbroken service at West Point, Smith had direct influence on the careers of hundreds of graduates of that institution; and he became known to all the USMA Classes, between 1830 and 1846; and Smith acquired personal knowledge of individual members of those classes that would be useful, years later, when fighting against some of them.

Finally released from duty at West Point, Charles Smith returned to garrison duty, but only briefly: he was soon caught up in the War with Mexico. Initially serving in the northern theatre (under Zachary Taylor), the division (Worth's) of which Captain Smith was a member, ultimately wound up in the south (under Winfield Scott.) Seeing action on a dozen battlefields, and gaining brevet promotions on three occasions, two of Smith's engagements stand out:

Churubusco.  Part of the Campaign for Contreras, this strategically important location was protected on one side by a large lake; and on the other side, a vast, crumble-crust wasteland of lava bed was believed by the Mexican defenders to be 'impenetrable,' leaving only a long, narrow causeway between the two natural barriers ...which was easily defended. LtCol Smith led his light infantry battalion across the lava bed. And Churubusco fell.

Chapultepec.  Made famous as referenced in the Marine Corps Hymn, 'From the Halls of Montezuma...'  Colonel Smith led his light infantry battalion in a tactical feint, that drew defenders away from the primary attack (the attackers forced to scale the tall fortress, perched on top of an abrupt mesa, by use of siege ladders.)  Chapultepec fell. And a few days later, on September 14, 1847 Mexico City was captured, and the Mexican War was over (although the Treaty would not be signed for another six months.)

Storming_of_Chapultepec.jpg Battle of Chapultepec (from wikipedia)

After Mexico, C.F. Smith returned to peace-time operations, mostly in the Upper Midwest and West, and engaged in exploration and survey. And by 1860, he was in command of the Department of Utah. When Fort Sumter fell, Smith was called to Washington, to assist with fortifying the Capital. Afterwards, he was sent north on recruiting duty. Promoted to Brigadier General at the end of August, Smith was assigned to the Department of the West, and found himself at Paducah, where he replaced U.S. Grant as commander of that important Kentucky river port. And he assembled the regiments that would become known as the 2nd Division, Army of the Tennessee.

Smith defended Paducah, and engaged in demonstrations and feints against Fort Columbus. And when U.S. Grant conducted his operation against Fort Henry, C.F. Smith led his division in the capture of Fort Heiman. After providing essential service at Fort Donelson, General Smith was available when U.S. Grant fell foul of Henry Halleck, and was assigned command of the expedition up the Tennessee River... which ultimately led to the establishment of camps at Savannah, Crumps and Pittsburg Landing. Following a March 15 meeting with Lew Wallace at Crumps, Smith was in process of leaving, when he stumbled in the darkness, and 'barked his shin' while boarding a small boat for the return to Savannah. (U.S. Grant arrived two days later, and took charge of the build-up of forces for the pending Operation against Corinth.)

Meanwhile, Smith suffered constant pain; and eventually sought relief through a surgical operation on his leg (that became infected), and left him bed-ridden at the end of March. His health progressively deteriorated, until C.F. Smith succumbed on April 25, 1862. His body was returned to the city of his birth, Philadelphia, and buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery.



References:  http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/Army/USMA/Cullums_Register/410*.html

sites.google.com   (image of General C.F. Smith leading the charge of the 2nd Iowa Infantry against Fort Donelson)

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8049     (General C.F. Smith at find-a-grave)

http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=yale.39002001964478;view=1up;seq=7    (The War with Mexico by Justin H. Smith, at HathiTrust)





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The following are my two favorite quotes attributable to Charles Ferguson Smith; which I believe demonstrate the 'leadership qualities' of the man. The first:  'We can always make something of a man who is willing to admit that he don't know it all.' [Delivered in 1861, I believe this admirably reflects on his years of service as an instructor at West Point.]

The second quote is a bit longer; and it reflects on Smith's belief in 'what it means to be a General in the Army.'

"I divide the duties of a brigadier general into two classes: those owing to his immediate superiors, and those owing to his command. To his superiors, he owes obedience: it being the soul of military organization, I hold obedience as being the beginning and end of duty. It is the rein in hand, by which the superior does his driving; the difference between a captain and a general with respect to duties, is that the general is a captain with multiplied and extended relations.

"As to his command, the chief duties of a general are these: enforcement of discipline; tactical instruction; and care for the health of his men. They are all important, because they all pertain to efficiency: the standard by which the general, in performance of his duties, is measured. Government furnishes everything actually needful to the good condition of the Army; and of us who employ those things, it merely asks that we know how to get them: to make use of a well-constructed, formal requisition system (which fools call 'red tape.') But I pronounce it the perfection of wisdom, since by it alone the Government is enabled to keep accounts, prevent waste, and assert the principle of personal responsibility...

"As the preacher knows his Bible, the general must know the Army regulations and articles of war. Knowledge of those regulations and articles enable the general to perform every duty relative to the care of his command.

"It is not possible for a general always to see with his own eyes, to be in two places at the same time: hence the need for Staff --an alter ego -- officers that are men of aptitude and experience, not figure-heads or mere pretty men.

"In battle, a general's duties, in order, are: to fight; to fight to best advantage. Genius is determinable by the manner of obedience. A fort is to be taken: genius consists in finding a way to take it with the least appreciable loss. A campaign is to be planned: genius proves itself by devising the best plan; at the same time, strange as it seems, he that is the most capable in planning may be the least capable in execution. The great genius is he who possesses both qualities.

"Battle: it is the ultimate to which the whole life's labor of an officer should be directed. He may live to the age of retirement without seeing a battle; still he must always be getting ready for it exactly as if he knew the hour of the day it was to break upon him. And then, whether it come late or early, the General must be willing to fight... he must fight."  -- C.F. Smith [found in Autobiography of Lew Wallace, volume 1, pages 343-5]



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reading the 2 accounts of how he acquired his" to be fatal injury  the obit leads one  that he_ on his march from ft heiman to ft donaldson he was injured..not receiving the injury later.......seems to try to make the injury related to action..do yall read it like this?



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I formed the same impression as you, upon reading that New York Times obituary: someone was 'gilding the lily' (most likely U.S. Grant or Henry Halleck reported Smith's passing and cause of death.) We don't like our heroes to die un-heroically (consider the death of General George Patton in 1945); so 'died from lingering effects of an injury incurred during his gallant charge at Fort Donelson' reads better than 'stumbled and scratched his leg while boarding a yawl; the resulting infection ultimately led to his death.'

Just an opinion...


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            The charge of the 2ndIowa at FortDonelson brought great fame to the regiment and to Major General Charles Ferguson Smith as evident by the painting Ozzy posted.

            The referenced link gives a stirring account of General Smith at FortDonelson as follows:

“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 flinching 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 FortDonelson 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."

Halleck telegraphed that the 2ndIowa was “the bravest of the brave.” Halleck quickly recommended that brigadier general Smith be promoted to Major General so that Smith would then rank Grant but Grant also was promoted and stayed Smith’s senior.

            On page 110 Steven Woodworth wrote in his book Nothing But Victory “ ‘Come on, you volunteers, come on,’ roared Smith. ‘This is your chance. You volunteered to be killed for love of country and now you can be!’ The men may not quite have agreed with Smith as to the purpose of their enlistment, but they came on just the same. Page was dead by this time, and Cpl. James Churcher carried the colors of the 2ndIowa. The regiment broke free of the abatis at last and plunged forward to cover the last few yards to the breastworks. A bullet broke Churcher’s arm, and the colors fell for the third time in the charge. Cpl. Voltaire P. Twombley, last man in the color guard, snatched them up. Almost at once a spent bullet slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. Smith was already leaping his horse over the Rebel breastworks. Twombly scrambled to his feet, climbed up the breastworks, and planted the colors atop the Rebel parapet. The 2ndIowa surged by all around him. Most of the Rebels fled, and the attackers bayoneted those who stayed to fight. Then as the defenders tried to form up for resistance a hundred yards or so in the rear of the breastworks, the Iowans quickly capped their rifles and poured a devastating volley into them.”

            On page 185 of Forts Henry and Donelson – The Key to the Confederate Heartland Benjamin Franklin Cooling wrote: “The stern, yet popular C. F. Smith rode off to start work. His plan was concise: feint with Cook’s smaller brigade while launching the main assault with Lauman’s larger one. Riding over to his favorite 2d Iowa, he shouted; You must take the fort; take your caps off your guns, fix bayonets, no firing until inside the enemy’s works. Regimental formation became ragged once the men reached the bottom of the ravine and crossed the small stream there. Complete confusion attended their ascendance of the opposite slope and entry into the Rebel abatis. They emerged from that obstacle onto slippery slopes, directly within the gunsights of the waiting Confederates.

            Turning in his saddle, the sixty-year-old Smith bellowed: ‘Damn you, gentlemen, I see skulkers.’ Suggesting that they had enlisted to die for their country, he now offered them that chance. Scared to death, one young volunteer confessed that Smith’s tactic worked. He saw the old man’s mustache over his right shoulder and kept on going. Still another soldier thought it incredible that they could go up the hill and keep any sort of order at all. He felt that a rabbit could scarcely get through the brush and logs. Everyone, however, got through behind the white-haired general on horseback, carrying his sword aloft with hat on the blade tip. Again it was the stuff of heroic painting, and the aghast Confederates held their fire until scarcely twenty yards separated them from the onrushing Yankees. Only three battalions of the 30thTennessee under Major James Turner held these works, and their double-barrel shotguns proved no match for the northerner’s cold steel. ‘Right gallantly was the duty performed,’ beamed Smith later.

            The impression that it was General Smith who led the charge is also found in Kendall Gott’s, Where the South Lost the War on page 226. “Smith rode along the front of his division and addressed each regiment. It was not a speech, as such, but it impressed the men greatly. He told them to rely on the bayonet and not to fire a shot until the enemy works were reached and his line broken. Members of the 2ndIowa learned that they were to lead the attack. If they had any lingering doubts of possible defeat in the coming assault, their former brigade commander (Smith) dispelled them. ‘Second Iowa, you must take the fort. Take the caps off your guns, fix bayonets, and I will lead you!’ Each man took up his gun, dressed the lines, and waited for the command to move forward.

            The assault force of Lauman’s brigade formed in column of battalions of five companies each. The 2ndIowa was in the center with General Smith, followed by the other regiments. Surrounded by his staff, Smith rode to the head of his division, and the command to advance came at last. The columns moved silently through the ravine without firing scarcely a gun. After a slight alignment in the march, Lauman’s brigade, with the 2ndIowa in the lead, came squarely into open view of the Confederate earthworks some 200 yards away.”

            But, Alas! It did not happen that way.


            For you see it was Colonel James Madison Tuttle who led those Iowa Hawkeye farm boys up that slope, through the abatis and over the walls of the fort without firing a shot while sustaining upwards of 200 casualties.

            Tuttle led the left wing, five companies, of the 2ndIowa, in the assault while the right wing trailed behind them from 100 to 150 yards and reached the fort after the left wing had routed the Confederates out of the trenches. Major General Smith came up with the right wing and did not lead the assault.

            Here is a case of injustice where the commanding officer received the credit for the gallantry and heroic actions of a subordinate. Does that not sound familiar?

            If General Charles Ferguson Smith received the same treatment as General Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss for receiving credit for something his subordinate had done Smith, too, would be reviled, hated and hounded in his grave.

            Voltaire Twombly was awarded the Medal of Honor for being the last color bearer standing and it was Twombly who carried the flag of the 2ndIowa over the ramparts. He knew who led them up the hill. In 1901 he wrote a short account of the charge of the 2ndIowa at FortDonelson. To honor Colonel James Madison Tuttle he wrote the short book that can be found here:




            For reasons unknown historians have ignored Colonel Tuttle’s official report dated February 18, 1862 in which he states:


“In the meantime the regiment was assigned position on the extreme left of our forces, where we spent a cold and disagreeable night, without tents or blankets. We remained in this position until two o’clock p.m. of the next day, when we were ordered to storm the fortifications of the enemy in front by advancing the left wing of the regiment supported a short distance in the rear by the right wing. I took command of the left wing in person and proceeded in line of battle steadily up the hill until we reached the fortifications without firing a gun. On scaling the works we found the enemy flying before us except a few who were promptly put to the bayonet. I then gave the order to fire which was responded to with fatal precision until the right wing with Lieutenant Colonel Baker arrived headed by General Smith, when we formed in line of battle again under a galling fire and charged on the encampment, across the ravine in front, the enemy still retreating before us. After we had reached the summit of the hill beyond the ravine we made a stand and occupied it for over an hour.”


            For reasons unknown Tuttle’s brigade commander’s official report by Colonel Lauman was not included in the official reports of volume 10 first published in 1884 and did not appear until 1898 in supplement volume 52 even though the report is dated February 18, 1862. Lauman described the charge of the 2ndIowa:


“The 2ndIowa, Colonel Tuttle, led the advance followed by the 52nd Indiana (temporarily attached to my brigade) who were ordered to support them. This regiment was followed closely by the 25th Indiana, the 7thIowa and 14thIowa. The sharpshooters were previously deployed as skirmishers on our extreme right and left. Colonel Tuttle led the left wing of his regiment in line of battle up the hill, supported by the right wing advancing at a distance of about one hundred and fifty yards in the rear. So soon as he came within range of the enemy’s line, he led his men forward without firing a gun up to and charged into the rebel works, driving the enemy before him and planting his colors on their fortifications. He was closely followed by the other regiments in the order of advance before named.”


            Finally, there is the report of the “old man” himself (also in Vol. 52 of the ORs). At some point after his death Smith’s widow discovered a penciled, unfinished report by Smith in his papers describing the actions at FortDonelson. Fortunately it includes Smith’s account of the charging of the fort in the afternoon of February 15, 1862:


            “During the course of this day I made a personal reconnaissance of the ground on our extreme left and satisfied myself that the only apparent practicable point of assault was in that quarter, the enemy’s extreme right being protected by an impassable slough, which fact was communicated to the commanding general. Under the orders of the commanding general the division remained quiet on the next day (15th), except to keep up the annoyance by skirmishers and slow artillery fire, until toward 3 o’clock p.m., when I received the general’s personal order to assault the enemy’s right a half mile or more from my habitual position. On receipt of the order the artillery was ordered to open heavily and the brigade commanders to press forward with large numbers of skirmishers, and make a dash at any available opening, whilst the 2nd Iowa, supported by the 52nd Indiana, (belonging to the 3rd brigade, but which had been posted to guard the left), 25th Indiana, 14th Iowa, etc., was ordered to lead the assault. The regiment (2ndIowa) was ordered to rely on the bayonet and not to fire a shot until the enemy’s ranks were broken. Right gallantly was the duty performed. The left wing of the regiment, under its colonel (Tuttle) moved steadily over the open space, down the ravine, and up the rough ground, covered with heavy timber, in unbroken line, regardless of the fire poured into it, and paused not until the enemy broke and fled. It was quickly followed by the other wing, under Lieutenant Colonel Baker, in the same manner, the united body pursuing the enemy through their encampment and towards the enemy’s works just above, where they skirmished for a considerable time. The movement of this regiment was a very handsome exhibition of soldierly conduct.”


            Dr. Cooling quoted Smith as stating “Right gallantly was the duty performed” without specifically noting that Smith was not referring to men he had led but to those led by Colonel Tuttle.


            Histories written by admirers of regular officers, like surgeon John Brinton, describe the charge as being led by Smith in order to promote the valor of the regular officers. Read Brinton’s account and note how the credit goes to the regular leaders, like Smith and Grant, and how the volunteers are denigrated with the implication that had it not been for the regular officer Major General Charles Ferguson Smith the battle would have been lost.


            Brinton’s memoirs can be found here:



Start at page 120 and you will find descriptions of the charge used by historians over the years. No mention of the valiant Colonel Tuttle and the men of the 2ndIowa but unkind comments about the volunteer soldiers.

            But when you read Smith’s incomplete account you see that Smith makes no claims to having led the assault and credits Colonel Tuttle.

            The leading charge was made by five companies of the volunteer regiment, 2ndIowa, led by their volunteer Colonel Tuttle. However, I have yet to find a single account by a historian that depicts that fact.

            I do not recall exactly when, and how, I discovered that it was actually Tuttle who led the charge up the hill and not Smith. Probably I ran across Twombly’s account. I believe it was the historians who failed to note that the soldier who described seeing Smith’s mustache was in the right wing of the 2ndIowa and they came up behind the left wing of the regiment.

            An injustice is served upon Colonel Tuttle for not recognizing his part in storming FortDonelson. But the injustice is served by historians and Smith worshippers who wrote erroneous accounts and not Major General Smith himself. I started the post with examples of descriptions of the charge of the 2ndIowa, of which Tuttle was the Colonel, that do not mention Tuttle at all. This includes the two major books describing the battle of FortDonelson.

Based on Smith’s previous conduct I believe that had he been alive and known of the injustice done to Colonel Tuttle he would have taken steps to remedy it.

            There is no discredit meant here to General Smith but only an attempt to provide the truth of what happened.

            The area where the 2ndIowa came down off the hill to start their advance is now a residential area but the FortDonelson park boundary extends to the bottom of the hill they charged up so it is possible to walk in their footsteps.



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Inspiring.... chilling... legendary.  When one reads fully the story of that charge of February 15th at Fort Donelson, the wonder of it... how inexperienced volunteers could attempt that assault, with uncapped rifles... Great telling of their story; thanks for bringing 'the complete account' to our attention.

One of the former Presidents of the United States once remarked:  'Any man can achieve great things, if he is not overly concerned about who gets the credit.'  Unfortunately, it is human nature to want that glory. Reputation depends upon it; promotions come because of it; elevation above one's peers (sometimes those very peers who assisted with gaining the glory.)

Charles Ferguson Smith did not submit a report after the Battle of Fort Donelson (the draft report was found among his belongings, after his death.) I begin to understand, now, why he did not furnish that report... and admire him the more for his inaction. 



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  • 3 years later...

Just made available in 2019 is the following podcast (with transcript) detailing the Civil War career of Charles F. Smith:

https://www.wvtf.org/post/general-charles-f-smith#stream/0  provided by Radio IQ - wvtf (Virginia Public Radio)

[And for those with an interest in any of the other subjects of the Civil War Series compiled by Virginia Public Radio through the work of Dr. James Robertson, Jr. you may access those recordings: https://www.wvtf.org/category/civil-war-series#stream/0 ].

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