Letter – William Smith, 1 November 1888

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Letter written by former Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith, Chief Engineer for the Army of the Cumberland, to General Henry M. Cist, from Philadelphia, PA. Smith writes that he thoroughly analyzed Ulysses S. Grant’s account of the battle of Chattanooga, which he wrote as a reply to General William T. Sherman’s “Grand Strategy of the War” that was published in Century Magazine. Smith never published his analysis, but promises to send a copy to Cist. Smith goes on to describe the roles played by Generals Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph Hooker, William T. Sherman, and George H. Thomas at the battle of Chattanooga. Smith writes of how Grant gave the order to attack the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge, a decision that Smith refers to as “absurd.”


-Page 1-

1902 Pine Street Phila

Nov 1st 88

My dear General Cist,

Your favor of the 29th ult. reached me this morning. I have made a very exhaustive analysis of the account of the battle of Chattanooga as given by Grant and his satellites in a paper & wrote to reply to Gen Sherman’s “Grand Strategy of the War” published [in] the Century Magazine last Feb 7, (I think). I have no copy of it, having never published the paper as I intended in pamphlet form as I had no money to put up for such a labor to others’ interests. I will make a copy of that paper so far as it relates to the

-Page 2-

battle of Chattanooga and send it to you. If given out the whole paper in print you would see what an inconsequential writer Sherman is. He it was who began to revile the Army of the Cumberland in his memoirs and before and I always attributed to him the strictures that Grant pressed on it. I was on Orchard Knob during all the time, but knew nothing of Grant’s order to Thomas. It may or may not be true. The first I knew of such a design was the order from Grant in person to go and give the orders to Baird to attack the rifle pits at

-Page 3-

the base of the Ridge at a given signal. If you will read my paper carefully you will find that Thomas had his own views and had given his own orders apparently without consultation with Grant and that Thomas was waiting to hear from Hooker before ordering a forward movement from the A[rmy] of C[umberland]. I told Thomas in the early morning that Hooker would not send him word when Rossville Gap was carried as it would not be for his interest to do so. That he (Thomas) ought to have a staff officer with Hooker to be sure to get the information – About the time when Grant says he had ordered Thomas to make the assault Thomas and I had a short talk on

-Page 4-

Orchard Knob. It was the only time when I ever saw Thomas show worry and anxiety and it was because he could not understand why Hooker was not heard from. The order to assault the rifle pits was an absurd one. It was retrieved from disgrace and defeat because the soldiers went on and did the necessary thing and because also Hooker had crossed the ridge and was sweeping down it so that a lot of prisoners were taken between his command and that of Johnson. I will send you my paper and you may publish what you please of it.

Yours

Wm F Smith


William Farrar “Baldy” Smith, was born February 17, 1824 at St. Albans, VT. An engineer (USMA 1845 – 4th in his class), he was an instructor at the Military Academy prior to the Civil War. He was commissioned colonel of the 3rd VT Infantry in 1861. He served at 1st Bull Run as a staff officer with General Irvin McDowell before being appointed brigadier general of volunteers on August 13, 1861. Smith commanded a division of the VI Corps and then the corps itself from the Peninsula to Fredericksburg, earning promotion to major general July 4, 1862. His outspoken criticism of Burnside and his close ties to McClellan resulted in his removal, and the Senate failed to confirm him as a major general. In 1863 he was assigned to the Army of the Cumberland as its chief engineer. He was re-nominated as a major general, effective March 9, 1864. Smith commanded the XVIII Corps under general Benjamin Butler, and fought at Cold Harbor. Due to his failure to take Petersburg during the early fighting he was removed from corps command July 19, 1864. His continued outspoken criticism of senior commanders resulted in his resignation in 1865 (vols.) and 1867 (reg. army). In civilian life, Smith was the president of a telegraph company, then president of the NY city board of police commissioners, and worked as a harbor engineer for various govternment projects. He lived in Philadelphia for many years prior to his death Feb. 28, 1903.

Henry Martyn Cist was from Ohio, enlisting as a private in the 6th OH Infantry on April 20, 1861. He was commissioned 2nd lieutenant of the 52nd OH Infantry on October 16, 1861, and 1st lieutenant and adjutant of the 74th OH Infantry on Oct 22, 1861. He served on staff duty with Rosecrans as A.A.A.G. before being promoted to captain April 20, 1864, and major 13 March, 1865. Cist was brevetted lieutenant colonel, colonel, and brigadier general for Stones River, Chickamauga, and war service. He was mustered out January 4, 1865, and lived until December 16, 1902. He also wrote for Century Mag.

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