Major General Andrew Jackson (A.J.) Smith
Here’s a brief biography of a general who seems to have earned a good reputation wherever he went, the respect of famed leaders he worked for and achieved a solid record of success, yet escaped the glare of fame. Some of his service was in the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati region, when he replaced Lew Wallace as head of local forces as the “Siege of Cincinnati” concluded and Wallace was assigned elsewhere. Below is some brief research I had done on him in the recent past.
If ever a man was born with a military career as his destiny, Andrew Jackson Smith was it. Born in Pennsylvania in 1815 to a father who was a veteran of both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, Smith was also named for a war hero and future President, Andrew Jackson, the Hero of New Orleans.
A.J. Smith was appointed to West Point in 1834, and graduated 4 years later, 36th in a class of 45. He joined the First Dragoons as a Second Lieutenant and served in Oregon and throughout the West. During the Mexican War, he was stationed mainly in California.
When the Civil War broke out, he was colonel of the California Cavalry, but resigned this commission to go east, where he was assigned as colonel of cavalry under Henry Halleck in Missouri. In May of 1862, he was promoted to Brigadier General and he continued to serve under Halleck through the advance on Corinth which ended at the end of May.
In late summer of this year, General Smith was ordered to Covington, KY, where he replaced Lew Wallace in command of local forces. One of his communications from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion was to General Wallace and mentioned a famed local group of militiamen:
Fort Mitchel, KY, September 17, 1862:
Reports from the front state that the enemy are in full retreat. I ordered all the cavalry I have in front to follow up and ascertain the road and direction they were taking. Cannot I get rid of the Squirrel Hunters? They are under no control.
In the fall of this year, he served under Gordon Grange in the Army of Kentucky, before taking command of a division under William T. Sherman in December. He took part in the failed attack on Chickasaw Bluffs as the Union attempted to capture the key city of Vicksburg.
In early January, Smith was part of the successful attack on Arkansas Post in the Arkansas River. He then joined in the next Union attempt to capture Vicksburg, under Ulysses S. Grant.
This time the Union forces succeeded, and the Confederates in the city surrendered on July 4, 1863.
After this success, he also joined Sherman on the successful attack upon Jackson, the state capital of Mississippi.
In August of 1863, he was put in command at Columbus, Kentucky, where he stayed for several months before joining Sherman again in early 1864 for the campaign against Meridian, Mississippi, which ended in February with the destruction of much of that city.
After this assignment, he was ordered to the Army of the Tennessee as part of Nathan Bank’s Red River Campaign, which took place through most of March and April and even into early May. Smith’s men were at the front of the Union army and fought in every engagement of this campaign that resulted in failure for the Union forces.
In May, Smith received another promotion, this time to Major General of Volunteers.
During the summer of 1864, he and his men were stationed in La Grange Tennessee, before he led them on a expedition to Tupelo, Mississippi. It was here that General Smith and his men repulsed an attack by famed Confederate raider Nathan Bedford Forrest on July 14, inflicting perhaps as much as 40% casualties on the Rebels.
In the late summer, Smith was sent to Missouri to help repel the raid by Confederate General Sterling Price, but as fall arrived, he was quickly summoned to Nashville to assist in George Thomas’ defense against John Bell Hood’s Confederates. Smith was commended for his actions in this Union rout of their opponent and won brevet (temporary) promotion to Major General in the regular army.
In early 1865, his command had was designated the XVI Army Corps and took part in the campaign that captured the city of Mobile, Alabama.
The war ended soon after this, but Smith remained in the army, serving as Colonel of the 7th Cavalry. In 1869, President Grant offered him the position of postmaster of St. Louis, which Smith accepted after resigning his army commission. He served in many positions in this river city through the rest of his life.
In 1888, Congress passed an act reinstating Smith to the position of colonel of cavalry so he could retire at that rank, which he did later that same day.
Despite his many successes on military fields, and the trust he had earned from Generals like Grant and Sherman, A. J. Smith never received the same fame or glory as did many of his contemporaries. Part of this may have been due to how often he and his forces were moved around, which earned them nicknames like “the lost tribes of Israel” and “Smith’s Guerrillas.” Smith simply went where he was told and did his duty so well that superior officers constantly asked for his services.
A.J. Smith passed away in St. Louis in 1897 at 82 years of age.
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