1862: Col. Joseph Rowe Smith to Gen. Joseph R. Smith

This letter was written by Col. Joseph Rowe Smith , Jr. (1831-1911), the son of Joseph Rowe Smith, Sr. (1802-1868), an 1823 graduate of the Military Academy and a former US Army Brigadier General.


Joseph R. Smith, Sr.

Joseph Rowe Smith, Jr. graduated from the University of Michigan in 1848 followed by a degree in medicine from the University of Buffalo. He entered the army in 1854 and served with distinction in Indian campaigns. During the Civil War he served as an Assistant Surgeon in 1861. In May 1861, he and his fellow medical staffers were captured by Confederate troops while working at an army hospital in San Antonio, Texas. After he was paroled, he returned to the District of Columbia, and was placed in charge of the hospital at Georgetown where this letter was written, just prior to his appointment as chief assistant to Dr. William Alexander Hammond in the Surgeon General’s Office.

By a General Order from President Lincoln in February 1865 he became Surgeon General and Medical Director of the U.S. Army. Junior was twice breveted, once for meritorious service and once for superior ability and excellent management of his department. He retired from service as a Brigadier General in 1895 and died in 1911 at the age of 79.

Joseph’s younger brother, Henry Warren Smith (1836-1869), served as an Assistant Adjutant General during the Civil War. He was appointed as a Lieutenant in the 3rd Cavalry and died a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel at Fort Stanton, New Mexico, in 1869.

Joseph’s younger brother, Horace H. Smith (1845-1922) is mentioned in the letter. There were two Horace H. Smith’s from New York State that served in the Civil War — one was in the 34th New York and the other was in the 76th. Both regiments were engaged during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia.

Joseph was married to Claramond (“Clara”) Colquhoun Cleeman (1834-1905), the oldest daughter of Gustavus B. C. Cleeman. The couple had two children but both died young.


July 4th [1862]

My dear father,

We are still anxiously watching for every item of intelligence from the desperate and unequal contest at Richmond. The suspense has been fearful and its relief so slow owing to the non-publication of the official dispatches. I have seen officers from the earlier days of the conflict. The fight has been fearful and every hour almost brings me additional names of my friends perished on the field of battle. Of one thing there is no doubt whatever — our soldiers have displayed the coolest courage under the most desperate circumstances, and that alone has saved the army from impending destruction, for they have been completely overwhelmed.

McClellan has been calling and calling for reinforcements and in vain. While such men as Fremont and Shields and Banks and McDowell have been amusing themselves in the vicinity of Washington to make political capital, amusing themselves by running away from an inferior opposing army, the wants of McClellan have been unrelieved — his cried unheard — and in my opinion the responsibility of every life and every loss in the last battle rests on the unworthy head of Mr. Secretary Stanton. It would not be well for him if a revolutionary hanging mood would seize upon the people.

I feared Horace was killed but yesterday a gentleman called on me and left this note which I enclose to you. So it is my believe that he is still safe. Just as I received the note, I received also a telegraph from O. H. Drew, Burlington, Iowa, inquiring about Horace to which I replied immediately. So I suppose Carrie must be there and will feel somewhat relieved. I would have written to her had I known her address. Pamelia had better transmit the note to her.

I enclose you also a communication from the Surgeon General with accompanying enclosure which will explain themselves. I have just learnt today that my duties are to be changed. I am detailed to relieve Dr. Edwards on duty in the Surgeon General’s Office, and as a member of the Medical Examining Board. I am apprehensive that my time will be even more fully occupied than it has been hitherto. I am very busy now making arrangements to turn over my property to whoever will relieve me. [   ] went down to Fortress Monroe day before yesterday. He has no idea where Gen’l. Casey will be. Cousin Kenny Patterson, Ann, Cora, and Julia Tumer left yesterday so we are alone in our house for he first time since we have been housekeeping. I wish you could come and make us a visit.

Clara unites with me in much love to you all. Ever your affectionate son, — J. R. S.

Col. J. R. Smith, U.S.A. F&S

P.S. Send me transportation accounts and I can get you a little [   ] transportation your last summer journey here. — J. R. S.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s