Smith Pyne Bankhead.


    Smith Pyne Bankhead was born on August 20, 1823, at Ft. Moultrie, South Carolina. His father Brigadier General James Bankhead was a career army officer from Virginia who was stationed in South Carolina at the time. His mother was Anne Pyne. He grew up in Virginia and attended Georgetown University and the University of Virginia. During the Mexican War Bankhead was a captain of the Virginia Volunteers and he passes through Memphis enroute to Vera Cruz, Mexico to serve under his father who was commanding the American troops stationed there after the city had been captured. After the Mexican War Smith was presented a sword by his country for "Gallant Service." He migrated to California during the gold rush but found life hard there and decided to settle in Memphis in 1851.

    In Memphis, Bankhead became involved in politics and was well known as a Mexican War hero. He founded and edited the Memphis Whig, a party newspaper. He soon sold the newspaper and was elected the city attorney of Memphis in 1852. He built up a reputable private law practice throughout the decade before the Civil War.

    In the spring of 1861 secession was the talk of the south. In April, before Tennessee had seceded, Smith P. Bankhead was already recruiting men to form an artillery battery. Governor Isham G. Harris signed his commission on June 29, 1861 which appointed Bankhead "Sixth Captain in the Artillery Corps in the service of the Provisional Force of the Tennessee Volunteers." Bankhead's first engagement was serving under General McCown at New Madrid where he had to evacuate his command. The guns were evacuated safely but the ammunition and caissons were dumped into the river to avoid capture. His battery was increased from 4 to 6 guns after this engagement.

    Just prior to the battle of Shiloh, Bankhead was promoted to Chief of Artillery, First Corps, Army of Mississippi. Oddly though, he served with his own battery at Shiloh where it was part of Ruggle's Brigade. His command captured six guns, two caissons and 37 horses. Two men were killed and 18 wounded.

    After Shiloh the battery was reorganized at Grenada, Mississippi. Bankhead was promoted to major and transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Department and later became Colonel of Artillery. Bankhead will serve the Trans-Mississippi Department throughout the rest of the war.

    During the occupation of Memphis, Ada Garth Bankhead, wife of Smith P. Bankhead, received an order from General Sherman ordering her into exile, along with 23 other prominent families whose male members were fighting for the Confederacy. The fiery southern lady sought out General Sherman. "General, I won't go", she announced. "Madam", Sherman replied. "We'll have to put you out then at the point of bayonets." "I wish my grandmother was here," she reported. "She'd spank you. To think you were my Grandfather's adjutant in the Mexican War-and trying to put me and my daughter out of our home. I'll not have it, and when you try to force us you had best drag along a cannon instead of a bayonet." General Sherman modified his order of exile.

    Bankhead served under his first cousin Major General John Bankhead Magruder who had been transferred to Texas following his dogged defense at Yorktown in the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia. He was promoted to Colonel on November 13, 1862 after already serving a month as Magruder's chief of artillery. However, Bankhead's promotion papers were not confirmed by the Confederate Senate. Evidently the promotion papers were mislaid in the Confederate War Office and the Senate never saw them. This oversight will not be made good until January 14, 1865 to rank from June 15, 1864.

    In the spring of 1863 Bankhead commanded the post of San Antonio, Texas. He was assigned to command the North Sub-District of Texas as "acting Brigadier General" on May 30, 1863. His tenure as commander of a district was not very successful. His district was overrun by deserters and cotton speculators while he was trying to organize his forces. Several men he had recruited in Memphis were transferred to his command to help him. He was ordered into Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to link up with Confederate forces. He had only 3 regiments of cavalry and skirmished with Federal patrols but failed in his mission. In his absence he was replaced (August 29, 1863) as district commander and soon was replaced as brigade commander of his cavalry. He returned to Texas and reverted to his substantive rank of Colonel., but did not see field service again. On December 28, 1863 he again became chief of artillery, District of Texas.

    On March 1, 1865 Brig. General Smith P. Bankhead passed through the Union lines near New Orleans. The war was not quite over, but for Bankhead he was going home. Major General Canby, USA, gave him a pass of safe conduct and protection with the assurance that he would not fight against the United States again. Under these circumstances Bankhead returned to Memphis where he became a prominent figure in the Reconstruction Government that was harsh on the Memphis area. He was appointed Deputy City Attorney and Trustee of the Navy Yard.

    On Saturday, March 31, 1867 General Bankhead was assassinated near the corner of Main and Washington in Memphis. It was 11:00 pm when he was struck down from behind and beaten to death by persons never identified and the crime is now famous in Memphis as the oldest unsolved murder. Due to his change of coats late in the war his post war activates he had become unpopular with many of his former confederate friends. The funeral was held April 1 at the Calvary Episcopal Church. He was buried in the family plot, lot 67, Chapel Hill Area of Elmwood Cemetery. Although he held the rank of General at the end of the war he is not considered one of the 12 Confederate generals buried in this cemetery. As of the 13th. general he has fallen from grace. In 1997 it was suggested that the cemetery include him in the list of generals, but is unknown if this ever happened.

   Bankhead's wife died in 1872 while in Charlottesville, Virginia and was buried beside him. He had two brothers serve on the Union side during the war. Captain John Bankhead, a commander of the Monitor, and General Henry Bankhead of General Buell's staff.

   On July 14, 1924, Miss Ada Payne Bankhead, only child of General and Mrs. Bankhead died at the family home at 229 Washington Ave. Thus ended the encounter of the Smith P. Bankhead family with the War Between the States.

   A Bankhead letter dated September 24, 1863, mentions that he was appointed brigadier by order of General Edmund Kirby Smith. Kirby Smith actually approved of Magruder's assignment to duty pending action by the War Department.

"Last Updated 7/14/2014"

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