Smith, Persifor Frazer (1798–1858)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: June 1, 1995

Persifor Frazer Smith, United States army officer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 16, 1798, the son of Joseph and Mary Anne (Frazer) Smith. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1815 and studied law until 1819, when he moved to New Orleans, where he was elected to several civil offices. He was also elected to the command of a company and then a battalion of Louisiana militia before becoming the state's adjutant general. On January 19, 1822, he married Frances Jeanette Bureau. The couple had one son, who became a physician in New Orleans. Smith raised and, on February 2, 1836, was elected colonel of a regiment of Louisiana volunteers for the Seminole War, in which he served with distinction in the campaigns of 1836 and 1838. Upon his return to Louisiana he became judge of the city of Lafayette and later of Jefferson Parish. With the outbreak of the Mexican War Smith was appointed brigadier general of Louisiana volunteers on May 15, 1846; on May 27 he accepted a commission as United States Army colonel. He commanded a brigade in Gen. Zachary Taylor's army at the storming of Monterrey, and on September 23, 1846, was brevetted to brigadier general for "gallant and meritorious conduct" in that conflict. After transfer to the army of Gen. Winfield Scott, Smith was given command of the new Regiment of Mounted Rifles and took part in the siege of Veracruz. He played a decisive role in the American victory as commander of a brigade of Gen. David E. Twiggs's division at the battle of Contreras, on August 20, 1847. Smith further distinguished himself in the campaign for Mexico City and was brevetted to major general on August 20, 1847, for his role in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. He served on the armistice commission that ended hostilities with Mexico and was appointed military governor of Mexico City. Later, as commanding general at Veracruz, he oversaw the evacuation of the last United States forces from Mexico. After the war Smith became the first commander of the Pacific Division and subsequently, from 1850 to 1856, commanded the Department of Texas. His wife died in 1852, while he was in Texas, and on April 18, 1854, he married Anne Monica Millard Armstrong, the widow of another army officer and the mother of Confederate general Frank C. Armstrong. In 1856 Smith was transferred to command of the Western Department, with headquarters in St. Louis. He was promoted to brigadier general on December 30, 1856. In April 1858 he was assigned to the command of the Department of Utah and given a mandate to suppress the Mormon insurrection, but he died at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on May 17, 1858, while organizing his new command. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.

Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). Justin H. Smith, The War with Mexico (2 vols., New York: Macmillan, 1919).

Time Periods:

  • Antebellum Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Smith, Persifor Frazer,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 19, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995