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Smith, Charles Henry


Age: 0, credited to Concord, VT
Unit(s): USN
Service: enl, Brooklyn, 9/3/61, Ordinary Seaman, for 3 yrs, reen 3/25/63, Seaman, for 1 yr, pr Coxswain, Acting Master's Mate, m/o 5/12/65; Vessels: North Carolina, Supply, Rhode Island, Unadilla; Medal of Honor!

See Legend for expansion of abbreviations


Birth: 03/07/1826, Standish, ME
Death: 02/04/1898

Burial: Village Cemetery, Concord, VT
Marker/Plot: East Side, Section 2, Row 16
Gravestone researcher/photographer: Kathie Foster, Tom Ledoux
Findagrave Memorial #: 87968759


Alias?: None noted
Pension?: Unknown
Portrait?: Concord Historical Society
College?: Not Found
Veterans Home?: Not Found
(If there are state digraphs above, this soldier spent some time in a state or national soldiers' home in that state after the war)

Remarks: None


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Village Cemetery, Concord, VT

Check the cemetery for location/directions and other veterans who may be buried there.

Medal of Honor

This soldier was awarded the Medal of Honor

Charles Henry Smith

Rank and Organization: Coxswain, US Navy
Place and date: U.S.S. Rhode Island, off Cape Hatteras, NC, 30-31 Dec 1862
Entered service at: Brooklyn, NY
Born: 7 Mar 1826, Standish, ME
Died: 4 Feb 1898, Concord, VT
Buried: Village Cemetery, Concord, VT (left (east) side, Section 2, Row 16)
Date of Issue: Unknown.

Citation: Served on board the U.S.S. Rhode Island which was engaged in saving the lives of the officers and crew of the Monitor, 30 December 1862. Participating in the hazardous rescue of the officers and crew of the sinking Monitor, Smith, after rescuing several of the men, became separated in a heavy gale with other members of the cutter that had set out from the Rhode Island, and spent many hours in the small boat at the mercy of the weather and high seas until finally picked up by a schooner 50 miles east of Cape Hatteras.


Charles Henry Smith was born 7 March 1826, in Standish, Maine, the son of John Smith.

Little is known of his early life, but he apparently had experience as a blacksmith by the time he enlisted. In his pension application he mentions being 1st, 2nd and 3rd mate, and at one point had his own schooner. He at least served four years in the merchant service, starting in 1857. By 1860, he was on the schooner Tamerlane, out of Wiscasset, Maine, and was in Le Havre, France early in 1861.

After Tamerlane returned to the U.S., Smith shipped on the schooner Nathaniel Chase, and sailed to Cuba. On the return voyage, the schooner was captured by the rebel privateer Mariner off Okracoke Inlet, NC. The schooner was sunk in the river near Newbern to obstruct shipping, and he was confined at New Hatteras Inlet until 12 August, when he was released, and sailed to Baltimore, arriving on 16 August. He arrived in New York on or before the 19th, where he submitted a letter to Commodore Breese, Commandant of Brooklyn Navy Yard, detailing the Confederates disposition at Hatteras New Inlet, including details of the forts and the privateers operating from there. Breese obviously forwarded the letter to the Secretary of the Navy, and he, on 20 August, included it in a dispatch to Flag Officer Stringham, commanding the Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Two weeks later, on 3 September 1861, Smith enlisted at the Brooklyn Rendezvous for three years as an Ordinary Seaman. Initially assigned to the Receiving Ship (RS) North Carolina, he served two months on the newly commissioned U.S.S. Rhode Island, probably for training, then sailed on U.S.S. Supply, Commander George M. Colvocoresses (a Vermonter), on 27 December. He would have been on Supply when she captured the Confederate schooner Stephen Hart, in late January 1862, carrying arms and ammunition south of Sarasota, Florida. Returning to New York in mid-February 1862, he returned to North Carolina for six weeks.

On 7 March 1862, Smith was married to Lucretia Brown by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, pastor of Plymouth Church, in Brooklyn, New York. Lucretia, the daughter of Solon Brown, was a native of Concord, Vt. Just two weeks later Smith was again assigned to Rhode Island, and served on her until April 1864, when he was discharged to accept a commission as Acting Master's Mate.

The wooden side-wheel steamer was employed as a supply ship early in the war, and in the spring of 1862, was attached to the Gulf Blockading Squadron for several months. Returning north, Rhode Island's next task was towing the ironclad U.S.S. Monitor from Hampton Roads to Port Royal, SC, for repairs. Encountering a heavy gale on the evening of 30 December off Cape Hatteras, Monitor was unable to control flooding and sank, taking with her 16 men.

Rhode Island launched several cutters and managed to rescue the remaining crewmembers, but in the process one of her cutters went missing with eight sailors, including Coxswain Charles Smith. After 18 hours in the open boat "scantily clothed in the cold winter weather, no food or water, wet to the skin," according to Seaman Lewis Horton, another member of the cutter crew, they were rescued by the schooner Ann Colby of Bucksport, Maine. Colby struck a reef attempting to enter Hatteras Inlet, and had to be towed into Beaufort, NC, where the rescued cutter crew spent a week assisting in repairs to the schooner, returning to Rhode Island on 9 January 1863.

For their heroic efforts in the rescue operation, the seven enlisted men in the cutter were awarded the Medal of Honor, and Smith was promoted to Acting Master's Mate. A version of the citation, published in 1887, reads: "These men were of the crew of the first cutter of the U. S. Steamer 'Rhode Island' on the night of December 30, 1862, which was engaged in saving the lives of the officers and crew of the 'Monitor.' They had saved a number, and it was owing to their gallantry and zeal and desire to save others that they became separated from the 'Rhode Island' and were adrift for some hours."

CMOH facts relevant to Charles Smith's award

The Navy Medal of Honor was authorized by Congress and the President on 21 December 1861, and the Army Medal of Honor on 12 July 1862. The Navy medal could be awarded for both combat and non-combat heroism, while the Army medal was only authorized for heroism in combat (Owens, p. 15)

The Medals of Honor awarded to Coxswain Charles H. Smith and the other six crewmen of the 3rd cutter were the first to be awarded for non-combat heroism (Owens, p. 22)

Navy, Marine and Coast Guard officers were not allowed to be awarded the Medal of Honor until 1915, which is why Acting Master's Mate D. Rodney Browne, who commanded the cutter, did not receive the award (Owens, p. 15)

Unfortunately, in the 1940s, a compilation/publication error occurred, and two of the cutter's crew, Captain of the Afterguard Hugh Logan and Coxswain Charles Smith, were erroneously listed as lost at sea.

Currently quoted Citation (from the Congressional Medal of Honor site):

On board the U.S.S. Rhode Island which was engaged in rescuing men from the stricken Monitor in Mobile Bay, on December 30, 1862. After the Monitor sprang a leak and went down, Smith courageously risked his life in a gallant attempt to rescue members of the crew. Although he, too, lost his life during the hazardous operation, he had made every effort possible to save the lives of his fellow men.

As a result, a memorial marker was placed in Ocean View Cemetery, Wells, Maine, showing his date of death as 1862. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States have recently acknowledged that the Charles H. Smith buried in the Village Cemetery, in Concord, Vermont, is the Medal of Honor recipient.

According to George Lang, Raymond Luther Collins and Gerard White, Medal of Honor Recipients, 1863-1994: Civil War to 2nd Nicaraguan Campaign, (Facts on File, New York, 1995), the proper citation should be:

Served on board the U.S.S. Rhode Island which was engaged in saving the lives of the officers and crew of the Monitor, 30 December 1862. Participating in the hazardous rescue of the officers and crew of the sinking Monitor, Smith, after rescuing several of the men, became separated in a heavy gale with other members of the cutter that had set out from the Rhode Island, and spent many hours in the small boat at the mercy of the weather and high seas until finally picked up by a schooner 50 miles east of Cape Hatteras.

Lewis A. Horton, late Seaman, U.S.S. Rhode Island, submitted an affidavit on 26 April 1898, in support of Charles' widow's pension application:

I hereby certify that I personally knew Charles H. Smith having served with him onboard the U.S. Ship Rhode Island during the Civil War, and as one of the 1st cutters crew engaged in rescuing the Officers and crew of the illfated Monitor lost off Cape Hatteras on the morning of December 31st 1862. I further testify that at about noon on that day, after some 12 hours exposure in the open boat, scantily clothed in the cold winter weather, no food or water, wet to the skin and after two hours over exertion in an attempt to reach a Bark sighted in the distance, throughly (sic) exhausted, we lay on our oars deliberating on what to do next. Mr. Smith had a very severe chill that completely prostrated him. It was six or seven hours after this that we were rescued by the Schooner -- Colby of Bucksport, Maine.

John Jones, late Landsman, U.S.S. Rhode Island, also submitted an affidavit, on 30 April 1898:

I hereby certify that Charles H. Smith was shipmates with me for two years, on board the U.S.S. Rhode Island in the Civil War. I also state that Charles H. Smith and myself and five others volunteered in the Rhode Island's first cutter to save the lives of the Officers and crew of the Monitor while sinking off Cape Hatteras Dec. 31st, 1862. With great difficulty we got the Officers and crew off, all but sixteen (16). In our last effort to get to the Monitor she sunk before we got there. And then we returned to go aboard of our ship, but the storm being so severe, we were blown off to sea out of sight of our ship. The weather being severly cold, we being thinly clad and wet through, Smith was severely prostrated and and chilled through, he lay in the stern of the boat all day helpless, untill picked up by the A. Colby of Bucksport Maine. He took stimulents from the Captain of the schooner and he felt some what bettter.

At the end of January, U.S.S. Rhode Island left for the West Indies, in search of the Confederate raiders Florida and Alabama. While unsuccessful in that endeavor, she was able to capture several blockade runners. By the spring of 1864, her boilers defective and in need of repair, the Rhode Island returned to Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston for overhaul, and was decommissioned there on 21 April.

Smith detached, transferred to RS Ohio until 2 May, from whence he was discharged to accept a commission as Acting Master's Mate. Callahan lists him as "Smith, Charles H., Mate, good conduct at loss of Monitor, 21 April, 1864..."

Smith was briefly assigned to U.S.S. Pontoosuc, probably joining her on her commissioning in Portland, Maine on 10 May 1864. The couple probably had the photograph below taken before he was briefly assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, she returned to New York by 12 August, where Smith joined U.S.S. Unadilla. Unadilla participated in the blockade off Georgia and Florida for several months, followed by a six-month overhaul in Philadelphia. Returning to the blockade in October, she participated in the two attacks against Fort Fisher in late December 1864 and mid-January 1865, followed by the capture of Fort Anderson in mid-February, where Smith later claimed he he suffered deafness, which plagued him for the remainder of his life. Following these battles, Unadilla joined the James River Squadron, conducting reconnaissance until the end of the war.

Acting Master's Mate Smith was honorably discharged on 12 May 1865. Meanwhile, at some point, Lucretia had returned to Concord, and gave birth to their only child on 12 March 1865, a daughter, Charlotte. Charles joined them in the summer of 1865, and took up blacksmithing again in 1866.

The history of the town of Concord, in Hamilton Child's Gazetteer of Caledonia and Essex Counties, includes the following biographical sketch:

Charles H. Smith, son of John, was born in Standish, Me., in 1826, and at the age of ten years shipped on board a vessel as cabin boy. Since that time he has had qute a varied experience as a sailor, having visited many parts of both the Eastern and Western continents. He enlisted in the navy in August, 1861, and received a medal for personal valor while on board the Rhode Island. He married Lucretia, daughter of Solon Brown, in 1862, and has one daughter, Lottie E. (Mrs. E. F. Willey), and an adopted son, Leonard A[ustin Stuart]. Mr. Smith is a blacksmith.

Acting Chief Master's Mate Charles and Lucretia (Brown) Smith
(Photographer JR Hall, Biddeford, Maine)
(Photograph courtesy of the Concord Historical Society)

Charles applied for a pension on 24 June 1880. It took seven years to get his pension approved, due to government red-tape, despite Congressional support for his claim by Vermont Representatives Luke Poland and William W. Grout, in 1884 and 1886, respectively. In a letter on 11 February 1864 asking Representative Poland's support, his frustration was evident in his statement, "I wish you would try and hurry them up, for I should like the pension before I am dead." His pension was finally approved in February 1887! The one bright spot in the whole process was the monies in arrears he received: $7.50 a month from 13 May 1865, increased to $10.00 a month starting 3 April 1884, increased again to $12.00 a month starting 7 October 1885, a little over $2,000. His pension increased to $27.00 a month starting 27 August 1888, which he received until his death. On his death, Lucretia applied for and received a widow's pension until her death.

Of note, Captain of the Afterguard Hugh Logan, who also 'lost his life' in the rescue effort, applied for a pension in 1891 from his native Scotland, and did not die until 11 November 1903.


Caledonian, 11 February 1898.

West Concord.
Death of Charles H. Smith.

The grim messenger death has again come into our community and removed another landmark from our midst. At the dawn of the day, Feb. 4th, Charles H. Smith died at his residence in this place after a few days' illness with pneumonia. Mr. Smith was born in Standish, Me., March 7, 1826. Leaving home when a mere boy he went to sea and was a sailor for more than 30 years, visiting in that time every country on the face of the globe. Being a true patriot he promptly enlisted in the American navy at the breaking out of the rebellion and served through the war, coming out with a brilliant record for bravery. He was given a medal by special act of congress as a reward for bravery displayed on the famoush iron-clad. Monitor. At the close of the war he left the sea and learned the blacksmith's trade. He came to this town over 30 years ago and has resided here most of the time since, working at his trade up to the very day he was taken with his last sickness.

Mr. Smith's rough sailor like ways, caused by his long sea-faring life, were only on the outside, for he was one of the most kind-hearted and accommodating of men. Always ready to divide his last farthing with those in need and to extend a helping hand to any in trouble, yet when trouble and adversity came to him he bore it with a fortitude seldom equalled. Only last July when his home and almost all the property he possessed inthe world was swept away by the flood in a single night he was never heard to complain but to express thanks that his family escaped with their lives and that it was not so bad as it might have been. Nevertheless it was a severe blow to him and he never fully recovered from it. He married Lucretia, daughter of Solon Brown, who with one daughter, Mrs. Lotty WIlley, and an adopted son, Leonard A. Smith, survive him. He also has two brothers and two sisters living. To the family thus so suddenly bereft of a kind husband and loving father the warmest sympathies are extended by all. The funeral was held at the Universalist church Sunday, February 6, Rev. H. H. Hoyt officiating. Woodbury Post, G. A. R., of which deceased was an honored member, attending in a body and gave their burial service.

An affidavit filed with his pension record indicated the Smith's boarded with Henry A. Joslin for six months in 1897, presumably while repairs were made to their home. According to the Concord Historical Society, his medal was also lost in the flood. Descendants requested a replacement medal, which was authorized in 1951. Its current location is unknown.

Charles is buried in the Concord Village Cemetery (left (east) side, Section 2, Row 16). Although at GAR flagholder indicates some military service, there is no mention of which branch or the Medal of Honor.

Tombstone photographs courtesy of Kathie Fisher, President of the Concord Historical Society. Kathie also provided a newsletter article on Smith from the 1990s, and the portrait of Charles and Lucretia, above.

There are descendants of Lottie (Charlotte) by her first husband, Edward Willey, still living in St. Johnsbury and Waterford, VT.


The following are digitized versions or previews of books available through Google Books:

The following are transcribed from the original

U.S. Naval History Division. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Edited by James L. Mooney and others. Washington: GPO 1959.

The following is a private organizaton's website

Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Subscription sites (these may not be available to everyone):

Charles H. Smith's pension record (Certificate #4782)

Hugh Logan's pension record (Certificate #23934)

1890 Census citing Charles H. Smith's inclusive dates of service (1861-1865), and his service on U.S.S. Rhode Island

"West Concord. Death of Charles H. Smith," Caledonian, 11 February 1898.

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