A Civil War Biography

Martin Luther Smith

Smith was born 9 September 1819 in Danby, New York. He entered West Point in 1838 and graduated ranked 16th in the class of 1842. He was assigned as a brevet 2nd lieutenant in the topographical engineers, receiving the full rank a year later. He served during the war with Mexico in the engineers and was brevetted 1st lieutenant on 30 May 1848 for meritorious conduct while making surveys in enemy territory. Once he returned from Mexico, Smith was involved in a project to improve navigation on the Savannah River and another project to build a ship channel across the Florida peninsula. He also did some surveying in the Department of Texas. In July 1856 he was commissioned a captain in the engineers. Settling in Florida, although still officially in the military, he took a civilian position as chief engineer of the Fernandina & Cedar Keys railroad.

When it became apparent that war was imminent Smith resigned his commission on 1 April 1861 and offered his services to the Confederacy. He was commissioned a major in the corps of engineers on 16 May 1861. He worked on the defenses at New Orleans, Louisiana and in February 1862 became the colonel of the 21st Louisiana infantry regiment. He was promoted to brigadier general on 11 April 1862 and on 26 June 1862 was given command of the Third District in the Department of Southern Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana. He planned and oversaw the construction of the defenses of Vicksburg. He was promoted to major general on 4 November 1862. As commander of the Second District in the Department of Southern Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana he was in command at Vicksburg when the city was attacked in December 1862. During the May 1863 campaign against the Confederate stronghold and the eventual siege Smith commanded a division. He was surrendered with the rest of the garrison on 4 July 1863 and paroled. When finally exchanged in March 1864 he was assigned as chief engineer of the Army of Northern Virginia. In July 1864 he was sent west and assigned as chief engineer of the Army of Tennessee. In this position he supported John B. Hood during the Atlanta campaign. Smith's final assignment was to construct the defenses at Mobile, Alabama. He remained in Mobile until that city fell. He surrendered at Athens, Georgia in May 1865.

After the war Smith settled in Savannah, Georgia. He established a civil engineering company in Savannah where he died on 29 July 1866.

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