UPCOMING PROGRAMS 2017 - 2018
|Sep 14||Doug Huddle||The Road to Destruction for the Army of Tennessee|
|Oct 5||John Fox||The Great Train Heist|
|Nov 2||Barb Mallory
Paul Van Nest
|A Great Great Uncle Edgar Wylie Potter and his brother Stanley Noble Potter in the American Civil War|
|Dec 7||John Moyer||1861-65 "A Horse's Tale"|
|Jan 11||Paul Van Nest||Brandy Station: Largest Cavalry Battle in North America|
|Feb 1||Tarun Roy||A Visit to City Point|
|Mar 1||Murray Hogben||Col. Starkweather Holds On at Perryville|
|Apr 5||Gord Sly||Guerrilla War in the Civil War|
|May 3||Bruce Cossar||Kingstonians and the Civil War|
|Jun 7||Dr. Cheryl Wells||The Civil War from a Global Perspective|
Last Month's Presentation
William Franklin (Baldy) Smith
presented by Bill Cookman, CWRT-GK
Speaking for myself, I would have to say that General William "Baldy" Smith is one of those Civil War figures whom I mentally categorize among the second or even third tier of Union commanders. This is probably less a reflection of Smith's military skills and accomplishments on the battlefield than it is my own limited knowledge of the man. Certainly, "Baldy" Smith is a familiar enough name in Civil War histories, and in campaign accounts of the Eastern and Western theatres he sometimes steps forward to takes centre stage at certain critical moments of the story . But in my mind, at least, "Baldy" Smith has always been a vaguely familiar but ill-defined Civil War figure, much like those Hollywood character actors of the 1930s and '40s whose names in the movie credits usually appeared after the "Also Starring" title card. However, after attending the May 4, 2017 meeting of the Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston and hearing Bill Cookman's informative presentation, it is safe to say that all in attendance that night came away with a much greater understanding and appreciation of General William "Baldy" Smith as a man and a military commander.
As with Bill's own forebears, William Farrar Smith was a Vermont man, born in the town of St. Alban's on February 17, 1824. He came from a prosperous farming family and at the age of seventeen young William went off to West Point where he graduated four years later with marks placing him fourth in a class of forty-one cadets. Bill made the point that during his years at West Point Smith would have come to know many of the men who were to play leading roles on opposing sides in the Civil War.
Bill also informed us that it was at West Point that Smith picked up the nickname of "Baldy". Apparently Smith was starting to get a little thin on top and calling him "Baldy" was a convenient way of distinguishing him from all the other Smiths in the locality.
Following graduation in 1845, Smith was assigned to the Topographical Engineer Corps with the rank of brevet second lieutenant. Promotion was slow and Smith did not become a full second lieutenant until 1849, and had to wait another four years to attain the rank of first lieutenant. During his years as an Engineer officer, Smith conducted surveys of the Great Lakes area as well as Texas and the Southwest. His duties also took him to Florida where he contracted malaria, a disease from which he never fully recovered and which continued to plague him intermittently for the rest of his life. Smith also missed the Mexican-American War as during the years 1846-'48 he was teaching at West Point as Professor of Mathematics.
Bill described Smith as a man with strong opinions who did not hesitate to express them. Unfortunately, he often did so in less than diplomatic fashion, often in writing; moreover, he also had the added misfortune of often being right. This was a quality that did not endear him to his colleagues who seem to have found his company something to be tolerated rather than enjoyed. Nevertheless, Smith did have a few close friends in the prewar army, among them fellow Engineer William Buel Franklin and the Virginian Joseph E. Johnston.
When war broke out in April 1861, Smith soon saw action in the Eastern Theatre in a variety of roles. He briefly served on the staff of General Benjamin Butler at Fortress Monroe before returning to his native Vermont to take command of the 3rd Vermont Volunteer Infantry, of which he was appointed Colonel. He then served on the staff of General Irvin McDowell during the campaign of First Manassas and was later instrumental in organizing the famous Vermont Brigade. Promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers, Smith was given a divisional command in the Army of the Potomac as General George B. McClellan launched his campaign to capture Richmond in the early spring of 1862. First in command of the 2nd Division of the IV Corps, and later of the 2nd Division of the VI Corps, Smith distinguished himself during the Seven Days' Battles on the fields of Fair Oaks, White Oak Swamp, Savage's Station, Glendale, and Malvern Hill, earning himself a promotion to Major General of Volunteers in July 1862.
Bill noted that Smith had a rare opportunity for independent command during the Battle of Williamsburg fought on May 4th and 5th. This occurred when Smith's Division and that of General Joe Hooker were supporting General George Stoneman's cavalry as they pursued the retreating forces of General John Magruder after the Confederates abandoned their defenses at Yorktown. The result was a success, inasmuch as the Union forces held their ground against a rebel counterattack and Magruder subsequently continued his retreat up the Peninsula. However, thereafter General Smith would find himself acting in a subordinate role in future military operations of the Union army, carrying out the instructions of his superiors rather than his own plans and ideas.
Another drag on Smith's career, Bill said, was that he was seen as a "McClellan man." As befitting an Engineer officer, Smith shared McLellan's views on the importance of careful planning and logistical preparation in military operations. Smith also placed a high value on his men's lives and hated to see Union troops squandered in hopeless frontal attacks. Although Smith had criticized McClellan for failing to capture Richmond during the Peninsular Campaign, he remained on generally good terms with "The Young Napoleon." But as the commander of the Army of the Potomac fell out of favour with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, first after the Peninsular Campaign and again after Antietam, Smith was more or less tarred with the same brush and viewed with suspicion in some quarters in Washington.
Still in command of the 2nd Division of the VI Corps, Smith took part in the summer and fall campaigns of the Army of the Potomac where his unit saw action at South Mountain and Antietam, although McClellan kept the VI Corps in reserve for much of these operations. With McClellan's dismissal and his replacement by General Ambrose E. Burnside in November 1862, Smith was given command of the VI Corps which he led at the Battle of Fredericksburg about one month later.
Fredericksburg, of course, was a disaster for the Union army and in the aftermath of the battle Smith and his friend General Franklin wrote directly to Lincoln to express their concerns about Burnside's generalship. Burnside retaliated by preparing to reorganize the command structure of the Army of the Potomac in a way that would eliminate Smith, Franklin, and other critics. Lincoln then intervened to replace Burnside with General Joe Hooker. However, the damage had been done and Smith's direct appeal to the President behind his superior officer's back was viewed as unseemly and disloyal. The Senate voted not to confirm Smith's promotion to major general and he lost command of the VI Corps as well.
His military career being the victim of a self-inflicted wound, Smith was sidelined during the great battles in the East in the summer of 1863. Now reduced to a brigadier general, Smith's role in the Gettysburg campaign was confined to commanding units of raw Pennsylvania militia. In September of 1863, however, Smith was given the opportunity to redeem himself when he was ordered west to report to General William Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland who were then confronting Confederate General Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee. Smith arrived just after Rosecrans' defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga which left the Union army besieged in Chattanooga and placed on reduced rations. The only way for supplies to reach Rosecrans' men was by a rough and circuitous sixty-mile wagon road that was wearing out draft animals faster than they could be replaced. Smith, as the new Chief Engineer of the Army of the Cumberland, devised a plan to shorten the supply route by seizing Brown's Ferry on the Tennessee River, only about five miles from Chattanooga, and use it as beachhead to open a direct supply line into the city. Although Rosecrans seemed uninterested in Smith's proposal, his replacement, General U.S. Grant, gave his approval and by the end of October Smith had succeeded in opening "the Cracker Line" into Chattanooga. Thus, Smith not only saved the Army of the Cumberland from starvation and surrender but helped lay the foundation for the defeat of Bragg's Confederates in the battles around Chattanooga in November.
So impressed was Grant with Smith's performance that he recommended his promotion to major general, which the Senate confirmed in March of 1864. By that time, Grant had travelled east to Washington to take command of all the Union armies and supervise the Overland Campaign against Richmond. According to Bill, Grant considered appointing Smith to command of the Army of the Potomac, but then decided to leave General George Meade in charge. Bill said that Meade was one fellow officer whom Smith admired; George Thomas was another.
One general that Smith did not admire or respect was Benjamin Butler, but he was nevertheless given command of the XVIII Corps in Butler's Army of the James. Butler's role in Grant's overall strategy was to operate against Richmond along the James River; however, Butler only succeeded in getting his army bottled up in the Bermuda Hundred position by an inferior rebel force under General P.G.T. Beauregard.
Under Butler's command, Smith had little chance to demonstrate his abilities and he may have been relieved to have his XVIII Corps detached from the Army of the James to support Grant's planned assault against Lee's army at Cold Harbor. Instead, Smith found himself caught up in exactly the sort of bloody frontal attack against prepared positions that he so deplored. On June 3rd his XVIII Corps lost about 1000 officers and men while charging Lee's entrenched Confederates. At one point Smith refused Meade's order to advance. Bill said that Meade then reported Smith's insubordination to Grant, but Grant declined to take any action.
Less than two weeks later on June 15th Smith narrowly missed capturing Petersburg, a misstep that prolonged the war into the following year and contributed to his sacking by Grant. Smith's XVIII Corps along with a force of cavalry was ordered to advance against the Petersburg defenses as part of Grant's continuing efforts to outflank Lee's army and stretch the Confederate lines to the breaking point. Smith's had about 13,700 infantry plus 2,400 cavalry under his command and the II Corps under General Winfield Scott Hancock was following up in support. Confronting Smith was a meagre force of 2,200 Confederate troops under Beauregard manning the entrenchments around Petersburg. It was early evening on the 15th when Smith attacked and he succeeded in driving the Confederates from a number of fortified positions and forcing them back into an improvised defensive line. Hancock arrived with his men and offered to reinforce a renewed assault upon Petersburg. For some reason Smith declined to attack and merely ordered Hancock to hold his ground. Beauregard was thus given precious hours to scrape together enough troops to mount a spirited defense against the Union attacks that came in the succeeding days. Petersburg was saved and the siege of that city and Richmond continued until March of 1865.
Smith had choked when presented with an opportunity to be the Union's hero of the hour and recriminations flew back and forth between him and Butler. Smith then took medical leave in July 1864 and returned to the army to find that Grant had relieved him of command. It seems that Grant had learned more about Smith's scornful opinions of Butler-and even Meade-and decided that Smith was more trouble than he was worth, or at least , that Smith was expendable from the political point of view but Butler, as an influential War Democrat, was not. "Baldy" Smith sat out the rest of the war "awaiting orders" that never came.
After the war, however, Smith enjoyed a long and respected career in civilian life. He was President of the International Telegraph Company from 1864 to 1873 and later served on the Board of Police Commissioners of New York City, eventually becoming President of the Board. Following those services, he was employed by the Federal government as a consulting engineer for various projects involving inland waterways. He continued working into the new century, retiring only in 1901. Two years later he was done in by a bad cold and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
It would be interesting to know whether Smith was as critical of his civilian colleagues as he was of his fellow officers during the war years. In any case, Bill enlivened his presentation with occasional quotes from Smith's letters and other writings, all of which displayed a scathing wit and almost contemptuous attitude towards their targets. No doubt it was for good reason that Smith directed that his memoirs, Autobiography of Major General William F. Smith, 1861-1864 be published only after his death.
Written by Tom Brzezicki
FROM THE BORED, I MEAN BOARD!
Once in a while your executive gathers to consider matters of state, like budgets, advertising, program, and the like. We did this on May 10: Pres. Tom, Sec. Paul, Treas. Lloyd and Program Chair Bill.
Our finances are in good shape, so good that we won't be increasing our dues. The donations to the Civil War Trust to preserve properties in and about Brandy Station from our members and from the sale of members' books stand at just over $700 and we hope for more donations at our June meeting. The executive has agreed that we can top up our contribution to the Trust to CDN $1000. This will convert to about US$750 which, when multiplied by 6.5 factor, takes our donation to $4875! [Editor's Note: the CWT just informed us that our standing as a donor is 2,924th out of 62,200 donors - placing us in the top 4.7%. Congratulations - we are making a difference.]
Adjustments have been made to our program and, the good news, we have several programs ready to go in 2018-19. A very positive characteristic of our Round Table is the willingness of our members to step up to the podium and offer such interesting and well-researched programs. And as always, we are deeply indebted to Tom Brzezicki for his write-ups each month, all of which are recorded on our website for the world's viewing. What a resource we are providing to the world!
On the advertising front, Sec. Paul submits our program monthly to Cogeco Cable Drum, The Whig-Standard (Community Events) and Kingston-This-Week. We hope the increase in our visitorship is due in some measure to this free advertising. Attendance is averaging about 30 each month now: very impressive.
That's about it. From Sec. Paul
Removal of Statue of Jefferson Davis from its pedestal in New Orleans:
Canadian Press by Kevin McGill and Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS - The statue of the Confederacy's president had been hoisted from its stone pedestal in the pre-dawn hours and the blue glint of police lights was still visible two blocks away outside the corner laundromat where Carol Patterson sat as diverted rush-hour traffic rolled by.
"It's entertaining," Patterson, 74, said of the hubbub surrounding the Thursday morning removal of the statue from the busy New Orleans street that still bears the name Jefferson Davis Parkway.
Police on horseback stood sentry nearby, in the event of demonstrations.
Patterson, who is white, has taken part in anti-racism demonstrations and doesn't share the reverence some white Southerners hold for Confederate figures. But she thinks Mayor Mitch Landrieu's initiative to remove four monuments to Confederate-era figures was a mistake. "It's history. You can't change history. The Holocaust happened. They built a China wall," she said. "You can't destroy history."
The video accompanying this article on line shows protesters both for and against, but there was no violence - just shouting. A lot of young people were there shouting "Take him down" but another group waved Confederate flags and shouted back.
EXECUTIVE - 2016-17
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