About Thomas Benton Smith
Thomas Benton Smith (February 24, 1838 – May 21, 1923) was a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.
Smith was born in Mechanicsville, Tennessee. He attended the local schools before enrolling in the Nashville Military Academy. He received an appointment to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, but resigned and returned home. He subsequently took a position working for the Nashville & Decatur Railroad.
With Tennessee's Ordinance of Secession and the outbreak of the Civil War, Smith enlisted in the Confederate army as an officer in the 20th Tennessee Infantry. He first saw combat action at the Battle of Mill Springs in January 1862, and in April of that same year participated in the Battle of Shiloh. Later in the year, after being promoted to colonel of the 20th Tennessee and assigned command of a small brigade, he was part of the Confederate forces that unsuccessfully tried to seize the Union post at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Confederate Army commander John C. Breckinridge remarked in his official report that Smith "moved against the enemy in fine style."
At the end of the year, he fought in the Battle of Stone's River, where he suffered a serious wound that put him out of action for much of 1863. After his recuperation, Smith resumed field duties, but was again wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga in September. After another lengthy recovery period, he returned to action during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. He was promoted to brigadier general on July 29, 1864, and commanded an infantry brigade in the Army of Tennessee comprising the 2nd, 10th, and 20th Tennessee, the 37th Georgia, the 30th, 37th, and 50th Tennessee, consolidated, and a Georgia battalion of sharpshooters.
His military career ended at the Battle of Nashville on December 16. Smith surrendered during the battle. After Smith had surrendered and been disarmed, Union Colonel William L. McMillen, whose brigade had suffered heavily in an engagement with Smith's Brigade, reportedly berated and then attacked the Confederate general, now a disarmed prisoner, with Smith's own sword (one source says "wantonly and repeatedly"). Smith's resultant brain injuries were so severe that for a time it was feared he would not live. Confederate General William B. Bate in his report stated, "General T. B. Smith, commanding Tyler's brigade, and Finley's, bore themselves with heroic courage both through good and evil fortune, always executing orders with zeal and alacrity, and bearing themselves in the face of the enemy as became reputations which each had heretofore bravely won." Held at Johnson's Island in Ohio and later at Fort Warren in Massachusetts, Smith was not released until July 24, 1865.
Smith recovered enough to be able to do some railroad work after the Civil War. He ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 1870, but lost the election. However, lingering effects of the savage beating caused permanent damage, and Smith spent much his last 47 years in an insane asylum in Nashville, emerging occasionally for army reunions and other social events.
He was buried beside many of his former comrades in the Confederate Circle of Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.
Smith was born 25 February 1838 in Mechanicville, Tennessee. He was educated at the Western Military Institute in Nashville which he entered at the age of 16. Prior to the war Smith worked for the railroad in Nashville. When the war came Smith helped raise a company of volunteers which would become Company B of the 20th Tennessee. Smith served as a lieutenant. The 20th would see action at Mill Springs and then at Shiloh where it suffered over 50% casualties, including the capture and imprisonment of the company commander, Colonel Joel A. Battle. When reorganized a month later the company elected Smith its colonel. He led the 20th at Baton Rouge, Murfreesboro where he was severely wounded, and Chickamauga where he was wounded a second time. During the fight at Missionary Ridge the brigade commander, Colonel R. C. Tyler, was wounded and Smith assumed command. He would command the brigade throughout the Atlanta campaign and on 29 July 1864 was promoted to brigadier general becoming the youngest general in the Army of Tennessee. He would continue in command at Jonesboro, Franklin and Nashville.
Smith and his command held on valiantly at Nashville obeying the orders to "hold the line at all hazards" given by division commander General William Bates until overwhelmed by superior numbers. Smith was captured. As he was led toward the rear Smith was confronted by Colonel WILLIAM LINN McMILLEN of the 95th Ohio Infantry. McMillen was an alcoholic who had almost been cashiered from Union service for misconduct. Whether drunk or for some other reason possibly stemming from his time in captivity following his capture at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, McMillen began cursing and berating Smith. Smith's reply, according to witnesses, was simply "I am a disarmed prisoner" which further enraged McMillen. He drew his saber and struck Smith three blows to the head. Rushed to a field hospital by shocked Federal officers Smith was told he was going to die. To the surprise of the surgeons Smith survived and was sent to Fort Warren in Massachusetts where he was held until paroled at the end of the war.
Smith returned to Nashville and resumed working for the railroad for awhile showing no affects from McMillen's attack. Smith even sought a seat in the US Congress. All was not well though. Periods of intense clinical depression came upon him in closer and closer intervals and finally robbed him of his ability to live independently.
In 1876, he was admitted to the Tennessee state asylum. Other than occasional trips to reunions of the 20th Tennessee, Smith would remain in what would become known as the Central State Psychiatric Hospital until he died on 21 May 1923.