Book Review: Teacher of Civil War Generals: Major General Charles Ferguson Smith, Soldier and West Point Commandant


by Allen H. Mesch

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015. Pp. xii, 332. Illus., maps, appends., tables, notes, biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 078649834X

A Notable “Forgotten” Civil War General

Retired energy industry executive and lifetime Civil War “buff,” Mesch, manager of the online Civil War Journeys photograph site and the Civil War Blog Salient Points, gives us a biography of one of the most overlooked officers of the ante bellum and Civil War era. Pennsylvania native Charles F. Smith (1807-1862) graduated from West Point in 1825 as an artillery officer and did the usual tours of garrison duty in the peace time army until 1838, when he was appointed Commandant of Cadets. In his five years at the Academy (1838-1843), Smith was in daily contact with 32 future generals, in either Blue or Gray, among them William T. Sherman, George Thomas, Richard Ewell, John Reynolds, Earl Van Dorn, James Longstreet, and Ulysses S. Grant. Leaving West Point, by-then Captain Smith served again in garrison, fought in the Mexican War from Palo Alto through Churubusco, earning brevets for major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel, was promoted to colonel and commander of the 10th Infantry in 1855, and took part in the Utah Expedition (1857-1860).

Smith was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers in early 1862, and formed a division out of raw recruits, which he led with distinction in the Henry-Donelson Campaign. An officer of great promise, well regarded by his peers, subordinates, and commanders, notably U.S. Grant, who had passed from being his student to being his commander, much was expected of Smith, but he died as a result of a boating accident in early 1862. Mesch does an excellent job of telling Smith’s story, while helping the reader get a better grasp of the military practice of the day.

Although not definitive, given the sparsity of original sources, this is an interesting book about an important and influential officer who ought to be better known.

Note: Teacher of Civil War Generals is also available as an ebook ISBN 978-1-4766-2038-1.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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