Persifor Frazer Smith
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About Persifor F. Smith, Military Gov. of Calif.
Persifor Frazer Smith (November 16, 1798 – May 17, 1858) was a U.S. Army officer during the Seminole Wars and Mexican-American War, as well as one of the last governors of California before it became a state.
Smith was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Jonathan and Mary Ann (Frazer) Smith. His maternal grandfather was Revolutionary War figure Persifor Frazer. Other notable relatives include his cousin, Joseph Smith Harris.
Smith served in the Seminole Wars in Florida before taking part in the Mexican–American War. He commanded the 2nd Brigade in Worth's Division at the Battle of Monterrey. He was brevetted brigadier general in September 1846 and joined Winfield Scott's army as commander of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division. He led his brigade at the battles of Veracruz, Cerro Gordo and Contreras. He was brevetted major general for actions at Contreras and fought in the battles for Mexico City. He served on the armistice commission and then as military governor of Mexico City.
After the war, he commanded the Pacific Division of the U.S. Army, predecessor of the Department of the Pacific. In 1849, in his capacity as commander, he sent relief parties across the Sierra Nevada in the fall to meet the last arrivals in the emigration, saving many lives.
He next commanded the Department of Texas, where he selected the site for Fort Davis and issued orders for the establishment of Fort Lancaster. He died at Leavenworth, Kansas, while trying to quiet a disturbance.
It has been speculated that, despite his Northern upbringing, he would have supported the Confederacy in the Civil War as a result of his long-time residence in the South, and would possibly have been one of its most experienced officers. However, he rendered the issue moot by dying three years before the war began. His stepson, Frank Crawford Armstrong, did serve as brigadier general in the Confederate army.
Mexican War Brevet Brigadier General. Began military career during the Second Seminole War as Colonel and commander of Louisiana Volunteers, leading them from 1836 to 1838. The Mexican War saw him again enlist as a Volunteer Colonel. Commanded a brigade with distinction at the Battle of Monterrey, where he won acclaim from General Zachary Taylor. Transferred to General Winfield Scott's command, he led a three-brigade force at the Battle of Contreras, where he defeated a much larger Mexican army. Participated in General John Quitman's attack on Mexico City's Belen Gate during the capture of that city.
Served as Military Governor of Vera Cruz. Brevetted Brigadier and Major General, US Volunteers for his services. He remained in the Regular Army, was promoted to Brigadier General, and commanded various Military Departments until his death in Kansas while on active duty. One of the more skilled and able military commanders in the Mexican War, he has been overshadowed by more famous figures of the times.