Donald Chester Stith was born July 21, 1829, in the ancient city of Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire, now known as Izmir, Turkey. Stith’s parents were Americans traveling abroad at the time of his birth.
U.S. Military Academy Cadet
Historians know little about Stith’s youth until he entered the United States Military Academy on September 1, 1846. He graduated four years later, on July 1, 1850, ranked last among the forty-four cadets in his class.
U.S. Army Officer
Upon graduating from West Point, the army brevetted Stith to second lieutenant of infantry and sent to the American West. He served the next decade on frontier duty mostly in Texas and New Mexico. Stith received a promotion to the full rank of second lieutenant on April 30, 1853, and to first lieutenant on October 18, 1855.
When the American Civil War erupted, Stith was serving with the 5th Infantry in New Mexico. In late June or early July 1861, Confederate troops captured him near Guadalupe, Mexico, while he was on a mission to deliver a letter, dated June 23, from Major Edward R. Canby to the Governor of Chihuahua. The Rebels took Stith to Fort Bliss, arriving there on July 18. Two days later, Stith wrote to Canby that Colonel John R. Baylor had paroled him.
On August 8, 1861, Union officials promoted him to captain with the 5th Infantry of the U.S. Army. One month later, a letter from William Byrd, Adjutant-General of Texas, to Colonel H.E. McCulloch, Commanding Department of San Antonio, Texas, Provisional Army of the Confederate States, dated September 9, 1861, refers to Stith as a captain and assistant adjutant-general in the Confederate Army. On September 25, 1861, the U.S. Army dismissed Stith.
By 1862, Confederate officials had promoted Stith to major in the Rebel army. A report written by Major General Earl Van Dorn mentions, “members of my staff, Majors Kimmel and Stith, Assistant Adjutant Generals.” An after-action report filed by Major General Stephen D. Lee (CSA) in January 1863 states that, “Maj. Donald C. Stith, Brigade Inspector, behaved with gallantry and coolness under fire, and did good service” during the Vicksburg Campaign.
In 1863, Confederate officials promoted Stith to colonel, the rank at which he finished the war.
After the Civil War, Stith spent six years in St. Louis, Missouri, employed in the insurance business. He then returned to Texas, where he spent six years in the railroad business, after which he taught school for seventeen years.
In 1894, Stith took up residence at the Confederate Home at Austin, where he died on March 18, 1920, aged ninety. Stith was buried at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
What caused Stith to change allegiances during the Civil War remains unknown. What is known, however, is that he was one of four West Point graduates to fight for the Union during the war before switching sides. The others were Manning M. Kimmel, William T. Magruder, and Richard Kidder Meade.