Edmund Kirby Smith

Edmund Kirby Smith, a native of St. Augustine, Florida, was one of the most despised Civil War commanders in East Tennessee. Smith graduated from West Point in 1845, saw action in the Mexican War, served on the frontier, and taught mathematics at West Point before the Civil War. In 1861 he resigned his commission in 1861 and was commissioned brigadier general in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States. He led a brigade at the first battle of Manassas, where he was badly wounded. After he recovered, Smith was promoted to major general and appointed commander of the Department of East Tennessee in March 1862, succeeding Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer, who had been killed at Mill Springs the previous January.

Smith’s tenure as commander was a disaster. Declaring East Tennessee to be “an enemy’s country,” he completely reversed Zollicoffer’s policy of reconciliation and leniency. Acting as virtual military dictator, Smith enforced martial law, suspended habeas corpus, jailed and deported suspected Unionists, and vigorously enforced the April 1862 conscription act, sending hundreds of Unionists into headlong flight to Kentucky. These heavy-handed measures only succeeded in further provoking Unionists and spreading discontent by turning previously neutral East Tennesseans into enemies. Moreover, Smith cast doubt upon the dependability and loyalty of East Tennessee troops raised for Confederate service, suggesting that these men be transferred to the Deep South, where they could be molded into good soldiers away from the pernicious influences of local Unionist leaders. By failing to draw any distinction between the loyal and disloyal, Smith turned Jefferson Davis and the army’s high command against the citizens and soldiers of his department, adding to an already uneasy feeling about the region.

Smith commanded the department through the summer of 1862, repelling minor Union incursions and breaking up East Tennessee Confederate units he suspected of disloyalty. In the fall of that year, he participated in Braxton Bragg’s campaign into Kentucky, winning a spectacular victory over Federal forces at Richmond. Supremely unhappy with his duties in East Tennessee, Smith engineered a transfer to the Trans-Mississippi Department, where he ruled in almost total isolation after the fall of Vicksburg. Smith’s command was the last major Confederate force to surrender, laying down its arms in late May 1865. After the war, he devoted himself to education, teaching for many years at the University of the South. The last surviving full Confederate general died at Sewanee, March 28, 1893.

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  • Article Title Edmund Kirby Smith
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 24, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018