Edmund Kirby (Seminole) Smith, United States and Confederate army officer, was born on May 16, 1824, at St. Augustine, Florida, the son of Joseph Lee and Frances (Kirby) Smith, both descendents of well-established New England families. He obtained his early training at Hollowell's preparatory school in Alexandria, Virginia. His grandfather, Ephraim Kirby, served as an officer in George Washington's army in the American Revolution and was wounded thirteen times. Joseph Lee Smith served as a lieutenant colonel in the War of 1812. And Edmund's older brother Ephraim graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1826. Edmund Kirby Smith also chose a military career. He was appointed to West Point on July 1, 1841, graduated twenty-fifth in the class of 1845, and was posted as a brevet second lieutenant in the Fifth Infantry on July 1, 1845. He saw extensive service in the Mexican War. After promotion to second lieutenant in the Seventh Infantry on August 22, 1846, he served with distinction in Winfield Scott's campaign against Mexico City. He received a brevet promotion to first lieutenant for "gallant and meritorious conduct" in the battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847, and to captain for his service at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco, on August 20, 1847. His brother Ephraim was killed at the battle of Molino del Rey. From 1849 to 1852 Smith was assistant professor of mathematics at West Point. He later served under Maj. William H. Emory on the commission to survey the United States-Mexico boundary. On March 9, 1851, he was promoted to first lieutenant, and on March 3, 1855, he was assigned as a captain in the famous Second United States Cavalry, "Jeff Davis's Own," in which he saw much service on the Texas Indian frontier. He was promoted to major on January 31, 1861, and subsequently refused Col. Henry E. McCulloch's demand that he surrender Camp Colorado to Texas secessionist forces. Nevertheless, when Florida seceded, Smith resigned from the United States Army and accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel in the Confederate States Army. He served in the Shenandoah valley under Joseph E. Johnston. During his Confederate military career he began to refer to himself as Kirby Smith to distinguish himself from other Smiths in the Confederate Army. He became a brigadier general on June 17, 1861, and contributed materially to the Southern success at the first battle of Manassas, where he was wounded. After recovery, he was promoted to major general, on October 11, 1861, and assigned to duty in the West, where he commanded the District of East Tennessee and led a small army to victory at the battle of Richmond, Kentucky, on August 30, 1862. On October 9, 1862, he was promoted to lieutenant general and given command of the Trans-Mississippi Department. His competent administration of the department and successful defense of the region against Union general Nathaniel P. Banks's Red River campaign in 1864 was marred by his inability to cooperate amicably with his principal field commander, Gen. Richard Taylor. On February 19, 1864, Smith was promoted to the rank of full general, and during this time he presided over the Marshall Conferences. Kirby Smith was almost the last Confederate general in the field, but in a hopelessly isolated situation, he finally surrendered to Gen. Edward R. S. Canby, on June 2, 1865.
Smith served briefly as president of the Accident Insurance Company in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1866. After two years as president of the Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph Company, he was named president of the Western Military Academy at Nashville and chancellor of the University of Nashville. In 1868 he opened a school in New Castle, Kentucky, but it burned the following year. In 1875 he became professor of mathematics at the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. He died in Sewanee on March 28, 1893, and was buried on the university campus.
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Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). Joseph Howard Parks, General Edmund Kirby Smith, C.S.A. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1954). Harold B. Simpson, Cry Comanche: The Second U.S. Cavalry in Texas (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1979).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Thomas W. Cutrer,
“Smith, Edmund Kirby,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 25, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
June 1, 1995
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