U.S. ARMY, ARMY OF MISSISSIPPI, AND CONFEDERATE ARMY: MAJOR GENERAL SAMUEL GIBBS FRENCH

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Item Code: 1138-1807

Later in life French reckoned that between the war in Mexico and the Civil War, he had seen action in thirty-five engagements. His first was at Palo Alto as a lieutenant in Ringgold’s battery of horse artillery where his duty was to, “sit on my horse to look at the fight and supervise the caissons.” After watching a Mexican shell pass through the driver of the lead horses of one team and explode, he decided that helping to work one of guns was better than, “sitting still on a horse offering myself as a target for cannon balls.”

Born in New Jersey in 1818 and accepted from that state into West Point in 1839, French graduated 14th in the Class of 1843, which included U.S. Grant. He was appointed brevet 2nd lieutenant the 3rd U.S. Artillery 1 July 1843, but had to wait until 18 June 1846 for appointment as (full) 2nd lieutenant. He made 1st lieutenant 3 March 1847 and was assigned as assistant quartermaster with the rank of captain 12 January 1848. He resigned from the army 31 May 1856, having acquired a plantation in Mississippi by marriage. He had seen considerable action in the Mexican War, having served in Ringgold’s battery of horse artillery, and received brevets to 1st Lieutenant and Captain for gallant and meritorious conduct at Monterey and Buena Vista, where he was wounded in the thigh, and was an original member of the Aztec Club.

At the outbreak of the Civil War French sided with the Confederacy, for which remained an unapologetic proponent throughout his life. His first appointment was as lieutenant colonel and chief of ordnance in the Army of Mississippi on 12 February 1861, little more than a month after the state’s secession. This force was commanded by the Governor and a Military Board, and was to consist of a division of eight infantry or rifle regiments, ten companies of cavalry and ten of artillery. Although in that state post, French worked behind the scenes to get state troops to Richmond and into the Provisional Army of the C.S. against the wishes of the governor. His actions and abilities were not unnoticed in Richmond and in October 1861 he was offered and accepted appointment a brigadier general in the Confederate Army and was assigned to the defense of the Potomac River, though in July 1862 he led a mischievous demonstration against McClellan’s camp at Harrison’s Landing. He then commanded the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia into early 1863 and oversaw improvements to Fort Fisher and the building of other forts at Wilmington, North Carolina and around Petersburg, Virginia. He was promoted to Major General in October 1862 and in April and May 1863 served under Longstreet in the fighting around Suffolk (Hills Point and Fort Huger.) He seems not to have gotten along with Longstreet and perhaps as a result was transferred to the western theatre, where he commanded a division under Johnston at Jackson, Mississippi, in the effort to join forces with Pemberton at Vicksburg. He had later service the corps of Polk and then A.P. Stewart in the Army of Tennessee in the Atlanta Campaign and saw action again in the Franklin–Nashville Campaign, effectively starting it off at Allatoona Pass in October. He was home on sick leave in December, but returned to take part in the defense of Mobile in 1865. In his 1901 autobiography he calculates that he served in thirty-five engagements in the two wars. He died in Florida in 1910.

In this very clear sixth-plate tintype French is shown chest-up with a military style vest with brass buttons lightly gilt by the photographer, who has also delicately tinted his cheeks red and his open coat a bluish-gray. The coat shows no insignia and may or may not be military, but he wears his hair closely cropped and has a mustache and goatee, looking just slightly younger than images of him in a general’s uniform, the vest has brass buttons, and we expect this was taken while he still serving in the Army of Mississippi. The image is housed in a very nice leatherette case with facing pad embossed with the mark of the Memphis photographic establishment of “F.H. Clark / W.H. De Shong / Artist,” a partnership that dates 1854-1858/59. [sr] [ph:L]

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