Smith-Taylor Disagreement – Sidebar: November ’99 America’s Civil War Feature

Smith-Taylor Disagreement

The Trans-Mississippi West was hardly a picture of soldierly bliss and harmony, either. There were too many idle generals full of fire and ambition, and not enough combat duties to go around. As a result, they spent their time bickering and intriguing among themselves.

Because he had almost dictatorial powers in the department after he assumed command on March 7, 1863, Edmund Kirby Smith was the sun around which his corps and district commanders revolved. During the latter part of the war, the Trans-Mississippi Department, cut off and isolated from the rest of the Confederacy, was known as “Kirby Smith’s Confederacy,” and he was not adverse to the implications thereof.

Smith simply did not get along with his senior officers–John G. Walker, John Bankhead Magruder, Dick Taylor and Sterling Price–and, at one time or another, he tried to get rid of all of them. The problem was not totally of Smith’s making. He had the misfortune of serving at the end of the line where every misfit, malcontent and incompetent in the Confederate Army was sent.

When Smith took over, he found Dick Taylor, son of the famous Mexican War general and former president, already commanding the Louisiana district. The two men immediately clashed over matters of appropriate strategy and military protocol, and the feud spilled over into the newspapers, which gleefully reported every disagreement. After 12 months of this, Taylor was asking to be relieved from duty under Smith, but Richmond would not even consider his request.

By July 1864, the feud in the far-off Trans-Mississippi had become grist for the numerous rumor mills of Richmond. On July 26, Mary Boykin Chestnut wrote in her diary: “Dick Taylor and Kirby Smith have quarreled. One would think we had a big enough quarrel on hand for one while.” The feuding pair were still a hot topic of conversation a month later, judging by another entry in Mrs. Chestnut’s diary: “At Mrs. Isard’s, met there a clever Mrs. Calhoun. She is a violent partisan of Dick Taylor; says Dick Taylor does all the work and Kirby Smith gets the credit for it.”

Fortunately for all concerned, the situation was relieved by the timely death of Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk during the Atlanta campaign, thus opening the way for a transfer and promotion for Taylor on the other side of the Mississippi River. Taylor was appointed lieutenant general on July 18, 1864, and officially took over Polk’s former department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana.

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