Friday, March 30, 2012

Col. Robert A. Smith in Life and Death

Robert Alexander and James Smith were brothers. Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, both Smiths emigrated to the United States. James Smith, the elder of the two, came to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1834 and over the next twenty years became a successful businessman. His younger brother Robert arrived in 1850. Unfortunately, James Smith had to return to Scotland due to his wife’s health, leaving his younger brother behind. Back in Edinburgh, the elder brother opened an iron foundry and within in a few years developed a great deal of wealth.

This is the cemetery monument in
Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson.
Based on the shape of the base and
the inscription, it appears to be the
same obelisk seen below in Edinburgh
in the stone-cutter's yard prior
to its shipment to Mississippi. Logic 

would lead one to assume that the
finely dressed gentleman admiring the 
monument is none other than James
Smith, perhaps inspecting it before
shipping it to Mississippi.
When the Civil War broke out, Robert enlisted in the Confederate Army, and was elected colonel of the 10th Mississippi Infantry in 1861 after the first colonel of the regiment unexpectedly died. Back in Scotland, James was doing his part, providing material and financial support to the Southern cause. After the battle of Shiloh and the siege of Corinth, the 10th Mississippi moved into Kentucky with Braxton Bragg’s army. On September 14, 1862, the regiment and the rest of James R. Chalmers’ brigade were engaged in battle at Munfordville, Kentucky. During one of the assaults, Robert Smith was mortally wounded and died a week later. Buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson, Robert Smith was all of 26 years old.

After the war, in 1868, James Smith erected a monument in Greenwood Cemetery to his brother’s memory. Another obelisk, this one located in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh (below, left), was apparently erected at the same time and is very similar to the one in Jackson. Both mistakenly identify the battlefield as “Mumfordsville.” Incredibly, these two impressive monuments were not enough to satisfy James Smith’s desire to memorialize his fallen brother. In 1884. he traveled to Kentucky to locate the place his brother died and purchased enough property there to erect a 25-foot-tall, limestone obelisk weighing 35 tons. This monument (below, right) is dedicated to the “sacrifice of Col. Robert A. Smith and his regiment.” Apparently, the family believed that Chalmers ordered the 10th Mississippi into a suicidal charge in order to eliminate Smith, a potential rival to Chalmers. Carved from a single stone, the only monument made from a single stone larger than this in the United States is "Cleopatra's Needle" in New York. The Munfordville monument is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

While James Smith made every effort to keep the memory of the gallant young colonel alive by erecting three separate monuments, it is James Smith that is perhaps best remembered in Jackson today. In 1884, the same year he traveled to Munfordville, Kentucky, he donated $100 to the city of Jackson to erect a fence around the grassy area just north of the governor’s mansion. Once among a number of green spaces originally designed for Jackson, the land was then mostly occupied by the livestock which freely roamed throughout the city. In appreciation for his gift, the city named the area 'Smith Park.'

Photo sources:
(1) Robert A. Smith:
(2) Greenwood Cemetery: Photo by author, taken March 29, 2012.
(3) Mississippi stone in Edinburgh:
(4) Edinburgh cemetery monument:
(5) Munfordville monument:


  1. I wanted to thank you for your blog post on Col. Robert A. Smith. I grew up in Hodgenville, KY (Lincoln's birthplace), but somehow never managed to visit the site of the Battle of Munfordville fewer than twenty miles away. I will be visiting family there next weekend, and was researching the battlefield in anticipation. I had read a little about the monument before, but wanted to know more about the Colonel and his brother. You gave me a good head start.

  2. Hi. Just found this excellent page about my great great great uncle Robert Smith. His brother James was my great great grandfather. I now live in Edinburgh and only discovered the Dean cemetery monument recently (less than a mile from my house) after it was written up in a local newspaper. I understand the flag and new plaque are thanks to the proprietor of a local tattoo parlour. James (1818 - 86) ran away from home to seek his fortune in America, and after he established his business in Jackson was joined by his sister Harriet and brother Robert. Harriet married James' American business partner, and I am in occasional contact with that branch of the family, my fourth cousins, now living around Virginia and the Carolinas. James' Scottish foundery is no longer - it was once vast. But the Esse Cooker range it manufactured is still part of a group of companies now based in Manchester, England. Best wishes, Ian Lawson.

    1. Greetings Ian
      Hi I am the person who looks after your G G G uncles monument in the Dean Cemetery, It would be great to meet up some time


    2. Greetings Ian
      Hi just to let you know that I`m the one that looks after your GGG uncles Monument in the Dean Cemetery, IT would be great to meet up some time
      all the best

  3. Another person who has found this post about great great great uncle Robert Smith. I have been to both the cemetery in Jackson and the monument in Munfordville (for the rededication in 1994. We were the honored guests and were in a parade!) Also, hello Cousin Ian! I believe we celebrated Easter 1996 together at my cousin Cambria's house in Virginia. I'm now the family record keeper of my generation and I'd love to be in more regular contact and fill in some gaps in my family tree.

    Lydia Melton (