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Lieut.-Colonel Francis W. Smith, C. S. A.

A short Sketch of a short life.

Francis Williamson Smith, son of James Marsden and Anne Walke Smith, was born at Norfolk, Va., November 12th, 1838. His education was commenced at the time-honored Norfolk Academy and continued at the Virginia Military Institute, where he graduated with first honors before he was eighteen. He took the course at the University of Virginia, but was interrupted in the second year by a long and severe attack of typhoid fever, and completed his education at the Ecole des Ponts et Chausees at Paris. On his return home, while still in his minority, he was unanimously elected to the chair of chemistry and geology and commandant of cadets at the State Military Seminary of Louisiana. There he was a colleague and friend of General Sherman, and remained so until Virginia seceded from the Union, when he promptly resigned and tendered his services to his native State.

He was appointed captain in the provisional army of Virginia by Governor Letcher and immediately assigned to duty by General R. E. Lee, who took him on his personal staff as his military secretary. General Lee was at that time stationed in Richmond engaged in the work of organization. General Beauregard at Manassas made application for Captain Smith, as ‘likely to be more useful to him at the front.’ General Lee declined to make the exchange, but when it became known to Captain Smith, after the opportunity was passed and he ardently desired more active service, General Lee advanced him to the grade of major and assigned him to the 41st Regiment Virginia Volunteers. He was given the command of Sewell's Point, the advanced post of Norfolk.

Soon afterwards Major Smith married Miss Deans, daughter of Josiah Lilly Deans, esquire, of Gloucester county. From this marriage there were two children. The eldest, Francis Williamson, died before he completed his first year, and the second, Anna Maria Dandridge survived him. He was at Sewell's Point all the winter, and his battery was engaged in the great naval battle between the ironclad Virginia and the Federal fleet in Hampton Roads, March 8th, 1862.

The provisional army of Virginia was soon afterwards merged into [40] the Confederate States army. Norfolk was evacuated, and Major Smith served on General Mahone's staff near Richmond until after the battle of Seven Pines, in which he was engaged..

He was then appointed Major of Artillery in the Confederate States of America and given command of a battalion at Drewry's Bluff at the time of the battle at that place. He continued there until Grant's demonstration against Richmond on the Southside, in the early campaign of 1864. Major Smith served with the command of General R. H. Anderson at the time of the battle of Chester and the second attack on Drewry's Bluff. Though stationed at the fort, he was able to render valuable voluntary service to General Anderson outside the fort, in consideration of which the General recommended him for promotion.

He was ordered in June to erect the battery at Howlett's House, our lowest point of defence on James river, and this he accomplished in an incredibly short time while under constant fire from the gunboats and batteries at Dutch Gap under General Butler. He held this post with a long line of defence in connection with Pickett's Division of Beauregard's army, until the order for the final retreat was given. During these months the firing on both sides was almost constant, lasting for hours day after day. The order for his promotion was given, but in the confusion and delays of those darkest days it did not reach him.

On the retreat from Richmond the rear of the Confederate line was harried by sharpshooters and continued skirmishing. The place of danger was in the rear, and there, on the evening of April 5th, he was mortally wounded, three of his men falling at the same time. He was taken in an ambulance to Amelia Courthouse, where he was left by our retreating forces, with those who were wounded beside him, without the aid and comforts which might have spared him to life and usefulness.

He died at noon April 6th. Thus, at the early age of twenty-six, a life beautiful and noble was ended in a soldier's grave, in a lost cause, though a cause that was not all in vain. Dum spiro spero. Better had it then been said, Dum exspiro spero—true alike of the vivid life which was passing out of sight, and the cause which three days later at Appomattox received its burial, to unfold anew after God's inscrutable plan—not ours.

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