Portrait of William Farrar Smith

While attending the U.S. Military Academy, William F. Smith’s classmates began referring to Smith as “Baldy” because of his thinning hair. [Wikimedia Commons]

William Farrar Smith Facts

February 17, 1824 - February 28, 1903

Key facts about Major General William F. Smith a prominent officer in both theaters of the American Civil War who was commonly known as "Baldy," Smith .

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Full Name:

  • William Farrar Smith

Birth Date:

  • February 17, 1824

Birth Location:

  • St. Albans, Vermont

Parents:

  • Ashbel and Sarah (Butler) Smith

Education:

  • United States Military Academy (1845)

Occupation:

  • Military officer

Career Summary:

  • Major (USA)
  • Major General (USVA)

Spouse:

  • Sarah Ward Lyon (1861)

Nickname(s):

  • Baldy

Place of Death:

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date of Death:

  • February 28, 1903

Place of Burial:

  • Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Significance:

  • William F. Smith attended the U.S. Military Academy from July 1, 1841 to July 1, 1845.
  • While attending the U.S. Military Academy, William F. Smith’s classmates began referring to Smith as “Baldy” because of his thinning hair.
  • While attending the U.S. Military Academy, William F. Smith developed a reputation for being brusque and outspoken, a trait that would later hinder his advancement as a military officer.
  • William F. Smith graduated fourth in his class of forty-one cadets at the U.S. Military Academy.
  • Upon graduating from the U.S. Military Academy, William F. Smith was brevetted to second lieutenant and was assigned to the Topographical Engineers Corps.
  • William F. Smith was promoted to the full rank of second lieutenant on July 14, 1849.
  • William F. Smith was promoted to first lieutenant on March 3, 1853.
  • William F. Smith was promoted to captain on July 1, 1859.
  • When the Civil War erupted William F. Smith was appointed to mustering duty at New York City from April 15 to May 31, 1861.
  • William F. Smith married Sarah Ward Lyon, the daughter of a New York businessman, on April 24, 1861. Their marriage lasted thirty-eight years and produced five children.
  • On July 16, 1861, William F. Smith was commissioned as a colonel with the 3rd Vermont Volunteers, and assigned to the staff of Brigadier General Irvin McDowell from July 20 to August 13, 1861.
  • William F. Smith participated in the Manassas Campaign and the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861).
  • William F. Smith was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on August 13, 1861.
  • When McClellan launched his Peninsula Campaign in March 1862, William F. Smith commanded the 2nd Division of the 4th Army Corps.
  • While assigned to the 4th Corps, William F. Smith participated in the Siege of Yorktown (April 5 to May 4) and the Battle of Williamsburg (May 5).
  • On May 18, 1862, William F. Smith was reassigned to the newly created 6th Army Corps.
  • As a member of the 6th Corps, William F. Smith participated in the Battle of Seven Pines (May 31 – June 1, 1862), Battle of Savage Station (June 29), the Battle of Glendale (June 30, 1862), and the Battle of Malvern Hill (July 1, 1862).
  • William F. Smith was brevetted to lieutenant colonel in the regular army (effective June 28, 1862) “for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Battle of White Oak Swamp,” which was part of the Battle of Glendale.
  • On July 4, 1862, William F. Smith was promoted to the rank of major general in the volunteer army. However, his promotion was contingent upon Senate approval.
  • During the Maryland Campaign William F. Smith took part in the Union victory at the Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862) and in the bloodiest single-day engagement of the Civil War, the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862).
  • William F. Smith was brevetted to colonel in the regular army for his “Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Battle of Antietam,” effective September 17, 1862.
  • William F. Smith commanded the 6th Army Corps from November 14, 1862, to February 4, 1863.
  • Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s General Order No. 8 proposed that William F. Smith be relieved from duty with the Army of the Potomac. The proposal was never enacted.
  • William F. Smith commanded 9th Army Corps from February 5, through March 17, 1863.
  • William F. Smith was relieved of command of the 9th Army Corps on March 17, 1863, because the U.S. Senate refused to confirm his promotion to major general.
  • William F. Smith was promoted to the rank of major in the regular army on March 3, 1863.
  • Commanding a brigade of New York National Guard and a brigade of Pennsylvania militia, during the Gettysburg Campaign, William F. Smith prevented Confederate General J.E.B.’s cavalry from razing Carlisle, Pennsylvania on July 1, 1863.
  • On September 5, 1863, William F. Smith received orders to report to General William S. Rosecrans, whose Army of the Cumberland was pursuing General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee near Chattanooga.
  • As chief engineer of the Army of the Cumberland, William F. Smith was credited with opening the Union “Cracker Line” in October 1863, during the Siege of Chattanooga.
  • William F. Smith played a prominent role in planning the Union breakout from Chattanooga in November 1863.
  • On March 9, 1864, the U.S. Senate approved William F. Smith’s promotion to major general of volunteers.
  • William F. Smith commanded the 18th Army Corps from May 2 to July 19, 1864.
  • Forced to labor under Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s largely inept leadership, William F. Smith and his 18th Army Corps were tarnished by their participation in the unsuccessful Bermuda Hundred Campaign in May 1864.
  • William F. Smith participated in the Battle of Cold Harbor (May 31–June 12, 1864).
  • William F. Smith botched an opportunity to capture lightly-defended Petersburg, Virginia, during the Second Battle of Petersburg on June 15, 1864
  • At Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s urging, on July 7, 1864, the U.S. War Department issued General Order No. 225, assigning William F. Smith to command 18th Army Corps.
  • On July 19, 1864, with no explanation, Ulysses S. Grant informed William F. Smith that he was relieved of command of the 18th Army Corps.
  • William F. Smith was brevetted to the rank of major general in the regular army effective March 13, 1865 “for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Field during the Rebellion.”
  • William F. Smith resigned his commission in the volunteer army on November 4, 1865.
  • William F. Smith retired from service in the regular army on March 21, 1867, after twenty-two years of active service.
  • William F. Smith died at his home in Philadelphia on February 28, 1903, at the age of seventy-nine.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title William Farrar Smith Facts
  • Coverage February 17, 1824 - February 28, 1903
  • Author
  • Keywords William Farrar Smith
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 27, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 29, 2021
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