Andrew Jackson Smith

Historical Marker #2107 in Lyon County commemorates Andrew Jackson Smith, an African American soldier who won the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Civil War.

Smith, the son of an enslaved African American and her white owner, was born in Lyon County, Kentucky. During the Civil War, Smith's father enlisted in the Confederate army. When Smith learned that his father intended to take him along to serve as a body servant, he ran away to a Union encampment in Smithland, Kentucky. There, Smith offered his services to Major John Warner of the 41st Illinois Infantry. When the regiment received their marching orders, Smith went with them.

Smith witnessed the battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh, both fought in Tennessee in early 1862. At Shiloh, Smith was in the heat of the battle and was struck in the temple with a spent bullet, which coursed under the skin to the middle of his forehead. Fortunately, the bullet was removed and Smith was not terribly hurt.

Later, while accompanying Major Warner to Illinois on a furlough, Smith learned about President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Smith also learned that he could serve in the Union army as a fighting soldier, rather than just an officer's servant. Therefore, Smith enlisted in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, which was largely recruited from free African American men across the North. The regiment saw little actual combat until the fall of 1864.

At the Battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina, on November 30, 1864, the 55th fought desperately. During the action the regiment’s color bearer was hit by an exploding shell. Smith caught the flag, carried it through the battle, and was wounded. He was promoted to color sergeant for his gallantry. The commander of the 55th was wounded early in the fight and, subsequently, did not include Smith's heroic act in his official report. Fortunately, this was not the end of Smith's story.

Smith mustered out of the army in August 1865. Although he initially stayed in Illinois, he soon purchased land in Eddyville, Kentucky. The regimental surgeon of the 55th Massachusetts tried to nominate Smith for the Medal of Honor, but due to inaccuracies and the omission of Smith's actions in the battle's official report, his efforts were turned down in 1916. Smith passed away in 1932 and was buried in the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church Cemetery in Grand Rivers, Livingston County, Kentucky. Finally, in 2001, Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, which was received by his descendants.

Images

Andrew Jackson Smith

Andrew Jackson Smith

This photograph shows Andrew Jackson Smith in his color sergeant's frock coat. The image is in the public domain. View File Details Page

55th Massachusetts Infantry

55th Massachusetts Infantry

This image from Harper's Weekly magazine shows Andrew Jackson Smith's regiment, the 55th Massachusetts, triumphantly entering Charleston, South Carolina, on February 21, 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Protection of Colored Troops

Protection of Colored Troops

This broadside explains that the United States expected the Confederacy to treat captured African American soldiers as prisoners of war, not as escaped slaves. Courtesy of the National Archives. View File Details Page

Volunteers!

Volunteers!

This broadside was a recruiting instrument for African American soldiers in the Northern states, including Illinois, where Andrew Jackson Smith enlisted in the 55th Massachusetts. Courtesy of the National Archives. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Tim Talbott, “Andrew Jackson Smith,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 24, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/183.

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