Kirby Smith came from the sparsely settled state of Florida, and that earned him his West Point (class of 1845) nickname. He graduated middle of his class and went into the infantry, promptly winning two brevets in the Mexican War. When the Army expanded the number of cavalry units to deal with the expanding frontier he transferred, because promotion prospects were better. He also taught for a spell at West Point and fought the Indians in Texas (they fought back; he was wounded).
He made it to Major (2nd Cavalry) before secession, and wasn’t originally sure about secession: he declined to hand his men over to Texas State troops. Soon enough he joined the Confederate service, rising through Lieutenant Colonel through Brigadier General to Major General all in 1861.
He served first with Joe Johnston in the Shenandoah, as chief of staff trying to coordinate raising, organizing, and equipping men, then bringing them where strategy dictated. By June he had the perhaps easier task of simply commanding a brigade, which he led at First Manassas. He was seriously wounded, missing over two months, but he returned to command a division over the winter of 1861-62.
Before the spring campaigning season he was transferred to eastern Tennessee, commanding the Department and the troops there. He worked with Braxton Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky, whipping a Union force at Richmond and occupying Lexington in September 1862. He was promoted to Lieutenant General and given a Corps in Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, but for only a short time.
In January 1863 he took command of the whole Trans-Mississippi west, Arkansas, western Louisiana, and Texas. His domain was large but sparsely settled, and had little industry. Once Grant captured Vicksburg he was effectively severed from the rest of the Confederacy and the area became known as “Kirby Smithdom”. He had to organize manpower, industry, agriculture, imports and exports, and respond to Union efforts. He tried to control blockade running, but the Union controlled many of the Gulf ports, and the surreptitious cotton trade (winked at by profiteering Union generals) didn’t bring many military supplies.
He tried valiantly to move supplies and men across the Mississippi to the rest of the Confederacy, but the U.S. Navy patrolled the waters and little could get through. There were few Union incursions – virtually anything else was a higher priority. The major exception was Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign in early 1864. Banks wanted to seize Confederate cotton, as well as destroy military supplies. He was, however, incompetent – and he ran up against some of the Confederacy’s fiercest fighters, especially Richard Taylor. Smith was a moderating influence, since he had to repulse Steele’s advance from Arkansas at the same time, and couldn’t afford to chase Banks’ defeated men. After defeating both Union operations he retaliated by sending Sterling Price, with a large cavalry force, into Arkansas and Missouri. Price scared the Union (they didn’t expect anything in the backwater sector) but accomplished nothing beyond ruining his command.
There were no more major operations by either side, only the vicious guerillas (Quantrill, Armstrong, and their like), and a few raids on outposts. He surrendered his forces, the last remaining substantial Confederate forces, on May 26, 1865. A few hardliners kept going west, but the war was over.
Content provided by:
Eicher, John H. & David J. Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2001.
Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray - Lives of the Confederate Commanders.
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.