Why General Charles F. Smith?

I was recently asked how I came to write two books about Major General Charles Ferguson Smith. It is an interesting voyage of discovery,

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Mother and Allen

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.

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Allen at Gettysburg

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.

 

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Allen presenting talk on General Smith

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.)

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Allen with Smith’s photograph and copy of his portrait

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.