I was recently asked how I came to write two books about Major General Charles Ferguson Smith. It is an interesting voyage of discovery,
Let’s begin with how I became interested in the American Civil War. I guess you could say my interest grew from boredom. It all started with visits to my mother-in-law’s home in Binghamton, NY. Upon arrival, mother presented me with a son-in-law to do list. This was a living, breathing list that grew with the time I spent in Binghamton. Being a dutiful son-in-law, I worked hard during the day to complete my tasks.
After dinner or supper depending where you come from, I sat down to enjoy a mindless evening in front of the TV. Unfortunately, the choice of entertainment was limited to Lawrence Welk reruns sprinkled with the Statler Brothers and garnished with a locally-produced polka music show. Now I have nothing against these programs, but a steady diet of this entertainment can lead to serious brain injuries. Faced with mental extinction, I sought comfort among the collection of mother’s books on the American Civil War.
Immediately, I became engrossed with the stories of generals and battles. I learned from a National Geographic article that many of these historic battlefields were threatened by developers. I announced my intention to start visiting the sites before they were displaced by the Walmarts of the world. My wife said she was excited about joining the adventure. I decided to take photographs so I could share our travels with mother.
This humble beginning led to a odyssey of visits to over 135 sites from Arizona to Florida and Pennsylvania to Texas. In the process, we took over 4,000 photographs. I decided to share these images with other students of the American Civil War and launched Civil War Journeys web site. About this time, I began teaching Civil War classes at Collin College in their senior learning program, SAIL. I have taught over fifteen different classes. This effort led to publication of a Civil War blog, Salient Points.
On a visit to Fort Donelson National Battlefield, I learned about General Smith’s attack on February 15, 1862. I also learned that Smith was a former Commandant of Cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point and taught U. S. Grant, W. T. Sherman, and others. I felt a common bond with Smith as an “educator-practitioner” and wanted to read more about him. My career includes positions in the oil and gas industry and at several colleges. (See my biography.)
Unfortunately, there were no books on Smith. So in keeping with my persona as a cocky engineer, see my biography, I said, “How hard can it be?” Well, it was a lot harder than I thought, and five years later in 2015, McFarland Publishers released Teacher of Civil War Generals – Major General Charles Ferguson Smith, Soldier and West Point Commandant. I followed the first book on Smith with a companion volume containing letters to his daughter Fanny and wife Francis. Your Affectionate Father, Charles F. Smith.