November 16, 1798 - May 17, 1858
Persifor F. Smith was a successful New Orleans lawyer who was also active in the local militia. As Louisiana’s adjutant general, Smith commanded troops from both his home state and Pennsylvania during the Second Seminole War. Smith served under both General Taylor and Scott during the war with Mexico. Following the war, he was known as "the hero of Contreras."
Smith was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 16, 1798. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), He pursued a career as a lawyer, and moved to New Orleans in 1819, where he built a prosperous law practice. He held a series of minor civil and judicial appointments and became active in the local militia, commanding a company and eventually a battalion. In 1834, Louisiana elected its first Whig governor and Smith was appointed adjutant general. In January 1836, Louisiana sent volunteers to Florida to participate in the Second Seminole War. In the politically charged atmosphere of the time, rather than call upon the militia in which Democrats held the senior positions, the state raised a battalion of volunteers to serve under the command of the adjutant general. Smith served admirably in Florida, impressing Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor. After the Louisiana volunteers returned home, Smith returned to Florida where he commanded a Pennsylvania volunteer regiment.
Smith was one of the few politically appointed Whig generals during the war with Mexico. He was commissioned colonel of the newly established Mounted Rifles in May 1846 and joined General Taylor’s Army of Occupation in northern Mexico shortly after the occupation of Matamoros. At the battle of Monterrey in September, Smith commanded the 2nd Brigade (5th and 7th US Infantry) in General Worth’s division, taking part in the successful assaults on Federation Hill on September 21 and Independence Hill the following day. For his actions during the battle for Monterrey, Smith was brevetted to Brigadier General.
Transferred to General Scott’s command in central Mexico, Smith led a brigade under Major General Gideon Pillow, where he fought in all the battles prior to the fall of Mexico City. For his action at Contreras south of Mexico City, Smith earned his second brevet of the war to Major General.
With General William Worth, Smith negotiated the Tacubaya armistice in September 1847, which ended hostilities in the Mexican capital. General Winfield Scott appointed Smith Military Governor of Mexico City in October 1847, in which capacity he oversaw the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the summer of 1848 following the Mexican ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Smith remained in the army following the war. He commanded the Pacific Division in California and served briefly as military governor. He also commanded the Department of Texas. Smith died on May 17, 1858, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Ten days later, he was buried in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, following a military funeral.
Brown, Carter Jr. "Persifor F. Smith, The Louisiana Volunteers, and Florida’s Second Seminole War." Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Autumn, 1993): 389-410.
Carney, Stephen. Gateway South: The Campaign for Monterrey. U.S. Army Center of Military History.
Crawford, Mark. Encyclopedia of the Mexican-American War. Santa-Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 1999.