Gustavus Woodson Smith

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Gustavus Woodson Smith
Smith, Gustavus Woodson 1.jpg
Gustavus Woodson Smith, photo taken during the Civil War 1861–65
Born(1821-11-30)November 30, 1821
Georgetown, Kentucky
DiedJune 24, 1896(1896-06-24) (aged 74)
New York City, New York
Place of burial
Cedar Grove Cemetery, New London, Connecticut
Allegiance United States of America
 Confederate States of America
Service/branch United States Army
 Confederate States Army
Years of service1842–1854 (USA)
1861–1863, 1864–1865 (CSA)
RankUnion army cpt rank insignia.jpg Brevet Captain (USA)
Confederate States of America General-collar.svg Major General (CSA)
Commands heldArmy of Northern Virginia
Battles/warsMexican–American War

American Civil War

Other workCivil engineer
streets commissioner
iron manufacturer
insurance commissioner
SignatureGustavus Woodson Smith signature.svg

Gustavus Woodson Smith (November 30, 1821 – June 24, 1896), more commonly known as G.W. Smith, was a career United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican–American War, a civil engineer, and a major general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. He briefly commanded the Army of Northern Virginia from May 31 until June 1, 1862, following the wounding of General Joseph E. Johnston at the Battle of Seven Pines, and before General Robert E. Lee took command. Smith later served as Interim Confederate Secretary of War and in the Georgia state militia.

Early life and Mexico[edit]

Smith was born in Georgetown, Kentucky, and was a brother-in-law of Horace Randal and a distant relative of John Bell Hood. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point as a brevet second lieutenant in 1842. Smith finished eighth out of 56 cadets while at West Point. He entered the Army Corps of Engineers afterward, and was promoted to second lieutenant on January 1, 1845.[1]

Smith fought in the Mexican–American War, winning two brevet promotions for his actions there. On April 18, 1847, he was appointed brevet first lieutenant for his service at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, and on August 20, 1847, brevet captain for his service at the Battle of Contreras. In 1848 he became an original member of the Aztec Club of 1847.

On March 3, 1853, Smith was promoted to first lieutenant. He resigned his commission on December 18, 1854, to become a civil engineer in New York City, and was Streets Commissioner there from 1858 to 1861.[1]

Civil War service[edit]

Smith's home state of Kentucky became a border state when the Civil War broke out in 1861. Some months afterward, he presented himself at Richmond to serve the Confederate States of America. Commissioned as a major general on September 19, he served in Northern Virginia as a divisional and "wing" commander, and fought in the Battle of Seven Pines near Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign.

On May 31, 1862, Smith briefly took command of the Army of Northern Virginia after Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at Seven Pines, due to his being the senior major general in Johnston's army. However, Jefferson Davis replaced him with Robert E. Lee the following day, June 1. On June 2, Smith became ill and took a leave of absence to recuperate.[2]

In late August, Smith returned and took command of the defenses around Richmond, which was expanded to become the Department of North Carolina & Southern Virginia in September. In addition, he acted as interim Confederate States Secretary of War from November 17 through November 21, 1862.

He resigned his commission as a major general on February 17, 1863, and became a volunteer aide to General P. G. T. Beauregard for the rest of that year. Smith was also the superintendent of the Etowah Iron Works in 1863 until June 1, 1864, when he was commissioned a major general in the Georgia state militia and commanded its first division until the end of the war.[1]

Postbellum life[edit]

Smith was paroled in Macon, Georgia, on April 20, 1865, and moved to Tennessee to become an iron manufacturer from 1866 to 1870. He moved back to his native Kentucky to become Insurance Commissioner until 1876, and then moved to New York City and began writing. Smith authored Notes on Insurance in 1870, Confederate War Papers in 1884, The Battle of Seven Pines in 1891, and Generals J. E. Johnston and G. T. Beauregard at the Battle of Manassas, July 1861 in 1892. His final work, Company "A," Corps of Engineers, U.S.A., 1846–48, in the Mexican War, was published in 1896 after his death.

In December 1894 he was one of nineteen founders of the Military Order of Foreign Wars - a military society for officers who were veterans of wars with foreign nations and their descendants.

Smith died in New York City in 1896 and is buried in the Cedar Grove Cemetery in New London, Connecticut.[1]

See also[edit]



  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-8047-3641-1.
  • Sifakis, Stewart. Who Was Who in the Civil War. New York: Facts On File, 1988. ISBN 978-0-8160-1055-4.
  • Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. ISBN 978-0-8071-0823-9.

External links[edit]