Guide to the Watson Smith Papers, 1849 and 1862-1863
A collection in the
Special Collections & Archives Department,
United States Naval Academy
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5029
Prepared by: David D'Onofrio
(Original Guide by Mary R. Catalfamo, 1994)
Special Collections & Archives Department
United States Naval Academy
Watson Smith joined the United States Navy as a midshipman on October 19, 1841. After serving aboard several ships, Smith was appointed to the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1847.
Within a year of graduation, Smith was assigned to the U.S.S. St. Lawrence (frigate), which was commissioned in August 1848. Serving in European waters, St. Lawrence engaged primarily in goodwill missions, visiting England, Portugal, Spain, and Prussia, as well as training four Prussian midshipmen before returning to domestic waters in November 1849.
Smith continued to serve aboard various ships until the outbreak of the Civil War. After a brief tour of blockade duty aboard U.S.S. Powhatan (screw steamer) in 1861, Smith, who had been promoted to Lieutenant in 1855, took charge of the First Division of Commander David Dixon Porter's Mortar Flotilla as captain of the U.S.S. Norfolk Packet (Mortar Schooner No. 1, commissioned February 7, 1862). As part of the Mortar Flotilla, Norfolk Packet and the First Division took part in the bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Phillip (April 16-24, 1862), as well as Vicksburg (June 27 - July 8, 1862).
In August 1862, Smith, by now a Lieutenant Commander, was detached from Norfolk Packet, and in January 1863 was ordered by David Dixon Porter to assume command of the First Division of Light-Draft Vessels. Consisting of U.S. Ships Signal, New Era, Romeo, Rattler and Glide, the First Division was at the heart of the naval assault on Fort Hindman, also known as the Battle of Arkansas Post, in early January 1863. Shortly after the Battle of Arkansas Post, Smith was tapped to command the Yazoo Pass Expedition. Commanding a division consisting of U.S. Ships Baron De Kalb, Chillicothe, Rattler, Forest Rose, Marmora, Petrel, and Signal, as well as the rams Lioness, and Fulton, Smith attempted to navigate Mississippi tributaries and bayous in order to achieve high ground above Vicksburg, only to be thwarted by the hastily constructed Fort Pemberton.
During the Yazoo Pass Expedition, Smith was taken ill, and was given a leave of absence at the behest of Porter. After convalescing at his home in Trenton, New Jersey, Smith returned to service to participate in the Red River Campaign in 1864. Ultimately, Watson Smith succumbed once again to illness and died on December 19, 1864 in Trenton, New Jersey.
Scope and Content Note
The Watson Smith Papers, consisting of 14 documents, span two periods in Smith's naval career, covering the years 1849 and 1862 - 1863.
The collection consists of correspondence, orders, crew rosters, munitions inventories, a parole agreement, and several photocopies from an unidentified reference publication.
The papers are arranged alphabetically by document type into a single series with no subdivisions. A majority of the papers pertain to Smith's naval service during the Civil War, especially during the Yazoo Pass Expedition of the Vicksburg Campaign, and to a far lesser extent, the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Phillip. The documents, largely functional and instructional in nature, deal with subjects such as crew and munitions complements, station assignments, daily routine and standard operating procedures, and requests for intelligence and progress reports. Included among the papers are a letter regarding the court martial of David Lawrence and a draft of a prisoner of war parole agreement. Two documents, predating the Civil War, pertain to Smith's tour aboard the U.S.S. St. Lawrence, including a roster of warranted officers and a document from Spanish Brigadier of Infantry Don Pedro Sureda.
The Watson Smith Papers reflect the general nature of Civil War era naval operational documents. However, very little about the personal experiences and responsibilities of Smith, or details of the engagements in which he was involved, can be gleaned from the material.
|1||1||Correspondence, March and December 1863|
|2||Munitions Inventories, March 1863|
|3||Orders and Instructions, December 1849, January 1863 and undated|
|4||Parole Agreement, 1863|
|5||Rosters, September 1849 and [March 1862]|