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Nimitz Library

Watson Smith Papers, 1849, 1862-1863: Finding Aid

Published in December 2008

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 293
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: Watson Smith Papers
  • Dates: 1849, 1862-1863
  • Size: 0.04 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 6 folders containing 14 items
  • Creator: Smith, Watson, d. 1864
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: The Watson Smith Papers span two periods in Smith's naval career, covering 1849 and from 1862 to 1863. The papers, consisting of correspondence, orders, crew rosters, munitions inventories, focus primarily on Smith's involvement in the Yazoo Pass Expedition of the Vicksburg Campaign of the Civil War.

Biography of Watson Smith

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.

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Description of Contents

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.

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The papers are arranged alphabetically by document type into a single series with no subdivisions.

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Access and Use


Access is unrestricted.

Copyright and Permission

The Watson Smith Papers are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Provenance and Acquisition


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Related Materials

Related Archival Material

Additional material pertaining to the U.S.S. St. Lawrence can be found in the Journal of a cruise in the U.S. Frigate St. Lawrence, 1856-1859, MS 19. Materials pertaining to the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Phillip are available in the Daniel D.T. Nestell Papers, MS 310. Both collections are the property of Special Collections & Archives, Nimitz Library.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection.

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Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

Watson Smith Papers, MS 293

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

Callahan, Edward William, List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900. New York: L. R. Hamersly and Co., 1901.

Navy Department. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1959-1981.

United States. Bureau of Naval Personnel. Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1814-

United States. Naval War Records Office. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1894-1922.

Processing Information

This collection was originally processed by Mary R. Catalfamo in 1994 and reprocessed by David D'Onofrio in December 2008. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in December 2008.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Smith, Watson, d. 1864
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Naval operations
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Riverine operations

Genre Terms

  • Correspondence
  • Manuscripts
  • Orders (military records)
  • Rosters
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Contents List

Correspondence, 1863 March, December

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 1

From Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross: Yazoo Expedition, progress of ships towards Tallahatchie River, 1863 March 4

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 2

From Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross: Yazoo Expedition: Request for intelligence pertaining to movement of Ross's command, 1863 March 8

Box 1 Folder 1 Item 3

Draft letter: Court martial of David Lawrence, 1863 December 10

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Box 1 Folder 2

Munitions Inventories, 1863 March

Inventories of shells on hand, shells fired, and casualties for U.S. Ships Chillicothe and Baron De Kalb.

Orders and Instructions, 1849 December, 1863 January, undated

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 1

From Brigadier of Infantry Don Pedro Sureda to Smith while aboard U.S.S. St. Lawrence: In Spanish with partial translation, 1849 December 24

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 2

General Order 11: Movement of transports from Napoleon to Milliken's Bend, 1863 January 17

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 3

Order for line of transports, 1863 January 17

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 4

[Second Division] Divisional Routine, undated

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 5

Second Division Fire Bell instructions, undated

Box 1 Folder 3 Item 6

Second Launch [station assignments], undated

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Box 1 Folder 4

Parole Agreement, 1863

Draft text of a parole agreement for a prisoner of war.

Rosters, 1849 September, 1862 March

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 1

Warrants, dated September 26, 1849 assigning rank from August 10, 1847, 1849 September

Box 1 Folder 5 Item 2

List of Officers of the Mortar Flotilla of Commander David D. Porter's assault on New Orleans, 1862 March (approximate)

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Box 1 Folder 6

Miscellaneous, undated

Photocopies of background material from an unknown source.

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