Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.
[decorative delimiter]

The following text is reproduced from (the report of the) Tenth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12, 1879.

 p20  Thomas Grimke Rhett
No. 1236. Class of 1845.
Died, July 28th, 1878, at Baltimore, Md., aged 58.

Major-General Thomas Grimké Rhett, of the army of the late Confederate States, was a native of South Carolina. His ancestors were Huguenots, who sought protection in the New World — making their home in what subsequently became the "Palmetto State," from the bloody and unrelenting religious persecutions of Catherine de Medicis and the "Wars of the League."​a

From their first settlement in South Carolina, down through all the succeeding generations, to the outbreak of the late unhappy civil war in 1861, the Rhett family occupied a high social position in its native State, and various members of it were eminent in the service and councils of that State, and in the councils of the Nation.​b

The writer deems it proper to make this statement, because it has an explanation bearing on an important slip in General Rhett's subsequent military career, namely, his resignation from the National Army in 1861.

Rhett was born and brought up in the strictest and most extreme school of the doctrine of "States' Rights." He had heard this doctrine proclaimed and taught, from his earliest childhood, by men in whom, from natural relation and their eminent social and public position, he necessarily placed the highest confidence, and to whom he yielded the greatest deference — Fiat justitia, ruat caelum. The moral sought to be taught in Charles Reade's admirable and most interesting novel "Put Yourself in His Place," is, that no one is prepared or authorized to criticize another till the critic has thoroughly studied and appreciated, at  p21 their true worth, all the influences and agencies, of whatever character, to which the subject of the criticisms had been buried. It is an admirable moral, of which all men would do well to take heed.

For the writer's individual self, he distinctly avows he is willing to be tried by it. However divergent and different his own course in that terrific and Titanic struggle for National existence was from General Rhett's, he accords to him the full credit of intense sincerity in the honesty of his conviction as to his duty in that momentous crisis of his life.

And the conclusion seems to be more fully warranted by the consideration that Rhett has gone to that unknown and unknowable home, to which we are all hastening rapidly, and whence comes back the dim and sombre echo: "de mortuis nil nisi bonum."

Of General Rhett's boyhood life and of his special preparation before entering the National Military Academy, at West Point, N. Y. — a spot sacred, dear, and historic in our national annals, the writer regrets his inability to furnish any account. The writer's acquaintance with Rhett commenced on that most beautiful land-locked and water-locked plain in the Highlands of the Hudson, on which is located the military school of our great and beloved Nation, in June, 1861.

Rhett was entered a Cadet in the United States Military Academy, July 1st, 1841. He was graduated No. 6 in a distinguished class of 41 members in 1845. Of his classmates several attained high distinction, both in the army of the Nation and the Confederate States army during the late civil strife.

On graduation Rhett was promoted Brevet Second Lieutenant of the Ordnance Corps, and assigned to duty as assistant ordnance officer, at Washington Arsenal, D. C.

May 27th, 1846, Rhett was appointed Second Lieutenant of the "Mounted Rifles," a new regiment then added to the army on account of the Mexican war, just then precipitated on the country. His first service in Mexico was on the line of operations of the old hero, "Old Rough and Ready," General Zachary Taylor, subsequently President of the United States. Subsequently his regiment was transferred, with other regiments of the army, to the southern line, or to General Scott's zone of operations.

Rhett participated with his regiment in the siege of Vera  p22 Cruz, March 9th‑29th, 1847, and in the defence of the city of Pueblo, September 13th-October 12th, 1847, and in commissary duty, wherein his administrative talents had peculiar play, in 1847‑48. He was breveted "Captain, Oct. 12th, 1847, for gallant and meritorious services in the defence of Pueblo, Mexico."

After the conclusion of the Mexican war, Rhett's service in the Army of the United States varied from Dakota and Oregon — the home of the spruce and pine, to Texas, the home of the palm and the cactus. He was promoted, during all this varied service, Captain of his regiment, September 16th, 1853. In all this service, extending from 1849 to 1858, he was honorably and usefully engaged in scouting service with his regiment among that wily and treacherous enemy — the North American Indian — a service the perils and dangers of which no one knows who has not been engaged in it. Dangers unseen, and often impossible to provide against, attend the professional soldier engaged in it on every hand, against which he has scarcely the power to protect himself. But he must go forward and do his duty, under orders, whatever may be the consequence, though his own life pay the penalty. The Zulu war, in which the British Empire is at present engaged, with all its attendant horrid disasters, is a fine illustration of the dangers to which our soldiers — men and officers — are constantly exposed in this species of warfare, waged for the protection of our infant settlements, made for the extension of the country's authority over the wide Continent, which is the inevitable heritage of American civilization.

During all the period just adverted to, from 1849 to 1858, Rhett was stationed at many posts on the western frontier, of dangerous proximity to the hostile Indians; but the names of these many posts it would be neither instructive nor useful to give in this brief narrative.

April 7th, 1858, Rhett was appointed Paymaster, with the rank of Major, in the United States Army. Subsequently he was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, being engaged in the payment of the troop stationed in the surrounding country.

On the approach of the hostile conflict between the opposing sections — Northern and Southern — of our country, in 1861, Rhett resigned his commission in the army of the United States and cast in his fortunes with the late Confederate States.

 p23  On this action the writer is not impressed that he is called to make any adverse criticism. He feels that he has, in the preceding portion of this sketch, very sufficiently expressed his convictions of duty in this matter; and he further feels he may justly say "Here let the mooted question stand, to be tried and settled by the impartial muse of history."

After leaving the service of the United States Rhett reported to the Confederate Government, then assembled at Montgomery, Ala., and not receiving the recognition from that provisional government he believed himself entitled to, he proceeded to his native State and reported for service to the Governor thereof, the late Francis W. Pickens, and by him was commissioned a Major-General in the service of the State.

But Rhett was not content to remain an idler in his native State when the alarm of war was resounding throughout "the wide borders of the land."

Under the commission of Governor Pickens — the validity of which it is not here necessary to examine — Rhett proceeded to the Confederate army, then assembled in North-eastern Virginia. On arriving there he was made the chief-of‑staff of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.J. E. Johnston. General Rhett remained on General Johnston's staff, as his chief-of‑staff, till the battles of May and June, 1862, in General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, when, General Johnston being wounded, his staff was broken up, and the members thereof sent to other fields of duty.

After the termination of the Peninsular campaign of 1862, Rhett was ordered to the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederate States; but, after a diligent search, the writer has not been able to obtain such information of Rhett's services and career in that wide domain of activity as would make a narrative of it instructive or interesting to his brother graduates.

After the conclusion of the civil war General Rhett, in conjunction with officers both of the National and Confederate States army, sought service under the Khedive of Egypt. How long he remained in the Khedive's service, what rank he attained, or what were his duties, the writer has not been able to learn satisfactorily.

The writer has sought information of the family and personal friends and associates of the late General Rhett, with a view to  p24 making this narrative as full and complete as possible. To those who have rendered the writer assistance, with matériel pour savoir, namely, Mrs. Rhett, a brother of General Rhett's, and to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.C. W. Field, Doorkeeper of the House of Representatives of the Congress, and who was in Egypt with Rhett, the writer returns his thanks; but he regrets the scarcity of the information furnished him.

While in the Khedive's service General Rhett was subjected to a stroke of paralysis. With a hope of relief from his malady, he resigned his commission and visited Europe, spending several years there; but all in vain. He at last returned to his native land to render that account to which we all will be called "soon or late."

As stated in the caption of this sketch, Rhett died in Baltimore, Md., July 28th, 1878, aged 58. As his decease occurred at the residence of his brother, Mr. Charles H. Rhett, his departure from this life had doubtlessly all the attendance which affection can bestow.

The writer is informed that Mrs. Rhett survives her husband, and resides in New York City. Whether General Rhett left any other family the writer is not informed.

(Brevet Major-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wood, U. S. A.)

Thayer's Notes:

a The French did very briefly build and hold forts in what would become South Carolina, and in the time of Catherine de Medicis; the first, Charlesfort, in 1562; the second, Fort de la Caroline, in 1564. Both forts were named for the then French king Charles IX, and ultimately lie at the root of the name Carolina, used in 16c maps before the British saw the area, and repurposed to honor the British king Charles I only two generations later. The French were expelled by Spain in 1565, and the French colonists who did not die at sea at that time were captured and massacred by the Spanish, almost none escaping. We can thus seriously question whether in fact Gen. Rhett's ancestors did find their way to the place during the time of Catherine de Medicis, remaining there continuously after that. I suspect their emigration to the New World took place in two or more stages, as was common among displaced Huguenots: first out of France — often to Holland — then to America. Our obituary is vague enough on other points of information: the statement is probably just a piece of very loose writing.

[decorative delimiter]

b Gen. Rhett was born Thomas Moore Smith. The general's parents were, however, descended from the Rhetts prominent in South Carolina in colonial times, but thru a female line: they and all their siblings changed their name from Smith to Rhett in 1838 when the future general was a teenager. Details can be read at

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 15 Apr 15