FLORIDA’S GREATEST CONFEDERATE HERO
Thursday, February 19, 2009
By Bob Hurst
Edmund Kirby Smith
If you have been reading CONFEDERATE JOURNAL regularly I would imagine that you are aware that the Florida Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, primarily through the efforts of Marion Lambert and members of the General Jubal Early Camp in Tampa, have for the past several years been developing a park east of Tampa to honor our Confederate ancestors and their effort to establish an independent South. The centerpiece of this park is a huge Confederate Battle Flag flying atop a 139 foot flagpole that has drawn much media attention. Given the current state of the media in this country, much of the coverage has been unfavorable which says much more about leftwing media bias than about the park, the flag, honoring one’s heritage or private property rights.
I’m happy to report that the flag flew throughout Super Bowl week in Tampa and, despite the trepidations of some of the politically-correct crowd, there were no riots (race or otherwise) and I don’t believe the world now thinks any the less of the Tampa Bay Area because the flag was flying. In fact, we’ve gotten many reports of visitors coming to the game from all over the country who thought it was thrilling to see that magnificent flag flying in the blue Florida sky.
The dedication of the park is scheduled for Saturday, April 25, 2009 and a grand affair it will be. There will be people from all over coming for the event plus some outstanding speakers from throughout the Southland. There will be gentlemen in Confederate uniforms, ladies in period clothing, cannon salutes, food, entertainment… just a fine occasion in every way. The main star, though, will be the park itself and there is much more to the park than just that beautiful flag.
The park is designed to be an educational experience for all who visit and one of the prime elements of this effort is a collection of plaques (eventually there will be about thirty) dedicated to telling the story of individuals, battles, groups and other aspects of the War for Southern Independence with an emphasis on those most pertinent to Florida’s role in the War. I and a fine gentleman from Tampa, Dave Anthony, have been requested to write the texts for these plaques – at least the initial group to be installed.
In a recent telephone conversation, Dave and I divided the topics for the plaques thus far purchased so we could begin writing the plaques texts. When I say "purchased", I mean those plaques which already have a monetary sponsor.
I have written all of this to lead into this month’s column.
One of my assignments is the plaque for General Edmund Kirby Smith and, after my research on this great individual, I am happy to have this particular assignment. Prior to this research, I knew a little about this great Confederate but certainly not enough and I want to use this month’s column to write about some of the accomplishments of this marvelous Floridian.
Edmund Kirby Smith was born in St. Augustine on March 24, 1824. His father was a territorial judge and both his father’s family, the Smiths, and his mother’s family, the Kirbys, had been prominent in their native state of Connecticut. It was said that every person of culture who passed through St. Augustine was a visitor at the Smith home.
Kirby Smith attended college at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Upon graduation in 1845, he first saw military service in the Mexican War where he served under General Winfield Scott and General Zachary Taylor. He was brevetted for gallantry in the battles of Cerro Gordo and Contreras. After the war, he returned to West Point to serve as an assistant professor of mathematics for three years. He then returned to service in the field on the Texas frontier. During this time he had risen to the rank of major.
When Florida seceded from the Union in January of 1861, he resigned from the U.S. Army to return to his native state and offer his services to the Confederacy. He was immediately commissioned a colonel of cavalry.
Kirby Smith fought on every front of the War and proved to be one of the Confederacy’s most valuable and resourceful officers. In 1861 he organized the army in the Shenandoah while serving as chief of staff for General Joseph E. Johnston. He was later severely wounded at First Manassas. In 1862 he was placed in command of the Department of East Tennessee which included Kentucky, east Tennessee, western North Carolina and north Georgia. He invaded Kentucky where he cleared the Cumberland Gap of federal troops and also won the Battle of Richmond. Because of his successes and outstanding leadership ability, he was successively promoted over a sixteen-month period to brigadier general, major general and then lieutenant general on October 9, 1862.
In 1863 he was ordered to Richmond, Virginia where he reorganized the Confederate Army. He was given command of the Department of Trans-Mississippi, one of the three major components of the Confederate Army, and it was at this assignment that he won his greatest fame.
The Trans-Mississippi encompassed Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). During his command he oversaw the production and exportation of cotton, the importation of machinery for manufacturing processes and the production of beef and grain products to feed his troops in addition to commanding his army. The Trans-Mississippi, in fact, became known as "Kirby-Smithdom".
For his outstanding management skills and military leadership, he was promoted to the rank of (full) general on February 19, 1864. Kirby Smith was one of only eight Confederates to achieve the rank of (full) general.
Long after the other generals had surrendered their armies in the East, Kirby Smith finally surrendered his troops on May 26, 1865. His was the last Confederate Army to surrender.
After the War ended, he served as president of an insurance company and as president of the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company before returning to the field of education in 1870 as the Chancellor (President) of the University of Nashville. He spent the last eighteen years of his life as a professor of mathematics at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. He died March 28, 1893 and is buried in Sewanee at University Cemetery. He was the last surviving full general of either army that fought in the War for Southern Independence.
Edmund Kirby Smith truly had an amazing career as a warrior, civilian businessman and educator.
One mystery still remains for me, however, concerning this outstanding Confederate. After researching more than a half dozen books and other materials on the general, I can find no consensus on whether his name should be hyphenated or not. The fine biography on him by Joseph H. Parks is titled "Edmund Kirby Smith C.S.A.", no hyphen. In Clayton Rand’s wonderful book SONS OF THE SOUTH, he is listed as "Edmund Kirby-Smith", with hyphen. In WHO WAS WHO IN THE CIVIL WAR, his listing is "Edmund Kirby Smith". In that great compendium, GENERALS AT REST, where the grave sites of the 425 official general officers of the Confederacy are pictured, the monument over his grave in Sewanee reads "Kirby-Smith". Yet Ezra Warner in GENERALS IN GRAY omits the hyphen.
It gets even more complicated. In T. Harry Williams’ NAPOLEON IN GRAY about General P.G.T. Beauregard, the index listing is for "Smith, Edmund Kirby". Nathaniel Hughes, however, in the index of GENERAL WILLIAM J. HARDEE lists "Kirby Smith, Edmund" using both names but no hyphen. Paul C. Anderson in BLOOD IMAGE about General Turner Ashby uses "Smith, Edmund Kirby" in the index listing while Sam Davis Elliott in SOLDIER OF TENNESSEE about General A.P. Stewart uses "Kirby Smith, Edmund". And finally, the SCV camp in Jacksonville, which is one of the largest in our confederation, is officially the "Kirby-Smith Camp #1209".
I’m still not sure if his last name is "Smith", "Kirby Smith" or "Kirby-Smith". One thing is for certain, though. He is one of the brightest stars in the pantheon of Confederate heroes and he is the most illustrious of all the great Floridians who wore the sacred gray.