Edmund Kirby Smith was born in 1824 in St. Augustine where his father was a lawyer and a judge. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1845 and served under Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. He taught math at the academy and served in the cavalry on the western frontier. After accompanying the Mexican Boundary Commission, his botany reports were published by the Smithsonian Institution. In 1861, Smith resigned from the U.S. Army to join the Confederate forces. Commissioned as a colonel, he rose to the rank of general. After the war he became president of the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company, chancellor of the University of Nashville and professor of mathematics at the University of the South at Sewanee. He died March 28, 1893, the last surviving full general of either army.
Edmund Kirby Smith’s popularity in Florida is noted by his selection as one of the state’s two citizens chosen for inclusion in the Capitol building’s National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. A Congressional law dating to 1864 allowed each state to contribute two statues featuring a citizen of the state “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services.” One of Florida’s selections for this honor was Kirby Smith, and the other was John Gorrie.
In 1914, a marble statue of John Gorrie, created by C. Adrian Pillars, was given by the state of Florida. The Kirby Smith statue, also a Pillars’ work, but in bronze, was given by the state in 1922. As the Hall crowded, Congress allowed the statues to be dispersed throughout the Capitol Building, and today the Kirby Smith statue is located in the Hall of Columns.
On November 8th, 2004, the St. Augustine Historical Society dedicated a monument to two of the city’s favorite sons, Dr. Alexander H. Darnes and General Edmund Kirby Smith. The men were born and grew up within the same St. Augustine household, although Darnes was approximately 16 years younger. Darnes was son of black slave Violent Pinkney who was a servant in the Smith household.