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At Petersburg, CT Volunteer Artillery 18th Corps Was Unequaled “in Artillery firing”
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[WILLIAM FARRAR SMITH]. Official Copy of a Letter, Signed Secretarially by C. A. Truesdell, Lieut. 1st Connecticut Volunteer Artillery, to J. H. Burton, Capt. of the 18th Stonington, Connecticut, August 20, 1864. 2 pp.

Inventory #21263.02       Price: $250

Excerpt:

“…I saw much of the service of the 1st Conn. Arty. during the campaign of ‘62 and was thus delighted with the skill and gallantry of the officers and men. And during the time I commanded the 18th Corps before Petersburg I called heavily upon you for heavy guns and [munitions] and never before during the War have I witnessed such Artillery Practices as I saw with your Regiment…The practicability of <2> holding my position then after the 21st of June was due in a great measure to the skill displayed by your Regt. I trust every effort will be made to fill up a Regiment which has not its equal, in Artillery firing, and cannot be dispensed with without great injury to the service.

Historical Background

William Farrar Smith (1824-1903), who was known in the Army as “Baldy,” was born at St. Albans, Vermont, February 17, 1824. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1845, ranking 4th in the class.

As an engineer officer, he spent the years before the Civil War in variety of surveys and exploration duties, as an instructor at West Point, and as Member and Secretary of the Lighthouse Board.

With the rank of Colonel of the 3rd Vermont Volunteer Infantry (from July 16), he took part in battle of First Mansassas on the staff of Major General Irvin McDowell, August 13, 1861. He was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers and commanded a Division of VI Corps on the Peninsula and in the Maryland Campaign and headed VI Corps at Fredericksburg, receiving promotion to Major General to rank from July 4, 1862.

After Fredericksburg, he and William B. Franklin, commander of the “Left Grand Division,” wrote a letter to President Lincoln unsparingly criticizing Ambrose E. Burnside’s plan of campaign of the future. This indiscretion, compounded by the fact that he was a close friend of George B. McClellan, resulted in his losing both his Corps command and his promotion (the Senate failing to confirm his nomination to Major General). This would not be the last time that he would be at odds with his superiors.

After a series of unimportant commands in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, he ended up in Chattanooga as the Chief Engineer of the Department of the Cumberland and later served in this position in the Military Division of the Mississippi. While in Mississippi he had a disagreement with William Starke Rosecrans over who was due credit for opening the supply line which brought commissary supplies and forage to Rosecrans’ starving men and animals after Bragg’s investment of Chattanooga. But he was praised by Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and George H. Thomas for unquestioned engineering genius, and he made a valuable contribution to the assault on Missionary Ridge. He was accordingly reappointed Major General to rank from March 9, 1864, and duly confirmed. Grant now brought him east and gave him command of XVIII Corps of Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James. Although Butler’s fitness for military command was questionable, he wielded enormous political influence, and he might have restrained his impulse to state that Butler was “as helpless as a child on the field of battle and as visionary as an opium eater in council.”

His Corps was attached to the Army of the Potomac in time to take part in bloody repulse at Cold Harbor, where he found time to bitterly criticize George G. Meade. Next, his Corps and a Division of colored troops were ordered to take Petersburg. His fatal hesitation here, perhaps because of formidable Confederate works or perhaps because of a bout with malaria from which he suffered for a decade, may have lost him the opportunity to shorten the war by nearly a year.

On July 19, 1864, he was relieved from command of XVIII Corps, seemingly to placate Butler, for Smith was a Brevet Major General, United States Army, in the omnibus promotions of March 1865. He resigned his volunteer commission in 1865 and his Regular Army commission of Major of Engineers in 1867. In his remaining years he acted as president of a cable car co, as president of board of police commissioners of New York City, and from 1881 to 1901 as a civilian engineer in government employ on various river and harbor improvements. He made numerous literary contributions to the history of the war, including several articles for “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.”

He died in Philadelphia (where he made his home for the last 10 years of his life), February 28, 1903 and was buried with full military honors in Section 1, Grave 150-B, of Arlington National Cemetery. Buried with him are Stuart Farrar Smith, Captain, United States Navy (12 October 1874-3 March 1951) and Clara Farrar Smith (1868-1926), presumably his son and daughter.


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