Brigadier-General Thomas Alfred Smyth, carte-de-visite, by William H. Curry, Wilmington, Delaware, c. 1861-1865
Thomas Alfred Smyth was a hero in the eyes of his men in the 1st Delaware Volunteers. His story begins in Ballyhooly in County of Cork, Ireland, on December 25, 1832. Raised on his father’s farm, he later immigrated to the United States. Upon settling in his new homeland, Smyth joined William Walker’s 1855 expedition to Nicaragua, and apparently became a skilled woodworker. In 1858, he moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where he remained until the start of the Civil War.
Eager to help his new homeland, Thomas Smyth raised a three-month company to assist in the war. When that service was finished, he enlisted as a major in the 1st Delaware Volunteers. Smyth was at the Battle of Antietam, and was present when Captain Rickards (3955JJ) was killed. By the end of 1862, Smyth had earned the respect of his fellow men and commanding officers. On December 18, 1862, Smyth was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Smyth was wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg but was able to return to service. After Smyth’s performance at Gettysburg, General Hancock recommended Smyth for promotion to brigadier general, although the promotion took a year to become official. Those in combat with him were disgusted by the slowness of his promotion, and Surgeon Reynolds of the Irish Brigade wrote a song with each stanza ending: “There’s not a star for you Tom Smyth. There’s not a star for you.”
Between March and May 1864, Thomas Smyth temporarily took command of the Irish Brigade. Finally, on October 4, 1864, Colonel Smyth was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. After his promotion, his officers secretly collected $1,200 and purchased a horse, saddle, saddle cloth, saddle bags, holsters, bridle and martingale, belt, sword, sash, and shoulder-straps. His men quietly arranged everything in his quarters, and gathered to surprise him. Smyth was greatly moved by the actions of his men, and quite appreciative.
Months later, during a cold and rainy April 7, 1865, Thomas Smyth and his men neared the town of Farmville, Virginia, where they encountered heavy fire from the Confederates. While on his horse, Smyth was hit in the mouth, by a sharpshooter. The conical ball had damaged his neck, which resulted in a fractured cervical vertebra. That in turn caused a small fragment of bone to lodge in his spinal cord, resulting in paralysis. His men caught him and brought him to Surgeon-in-chief D.W. Maull (cat. #3955C). The surgeon-in-chief stayed and attended to Smyth, as he was transported to Burkesville Station. Theron Parsons (cat. #3955X) was at Smyth’s bedside. When he regained conscious, he was aware of his wounds, but thought only of his men. On April 9, 1865, at 4 a.m., he passed away. His body was embalmed at Burkesville, forwarded to Wilmington for burial, and laid to rest at the Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington. That same day, the main army of the Confederacy surrendered, making Thomas Smyth the last general officer killed on the Union side. After Smyth’s passing, Maull (cat. #3955C) wrote a memoir of Smyth for the Delaware State Historical Society.
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