Daniel Smith Donelson

Soldier, Politician, Tennessean

  • Author(s): Spence, Richard Douglas
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2022-07-02
  • Status: Active
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Daniel Smith Donelson was the grandson of two of early Middle Tennessee’s most famous founders—John Donelson and Daniel Smith—and nephew of Tennessee’s perhaps most famous soldier statesman, Andrew Jackson. And while Civil War historians are familiar with Donelson because he led a Confederate brigade, his namesake fort in Middle Tennessee, and his importance to the war effort as he transitioned into Confederate war administration, Donelson the significant son of Tennessee has eluded a full study, and no book-length biography has been published, until now.

Unfortunately, Daniel Smith Donelson left no body of papers, which leaves any biographers, as Richard Douglas Spence contends, to approach their subject through a “historical back door” via Donelson’s legendary uncle and his brother, Andrew Jackson Donelson, who enjoyed a significant political career in his own right. Spence’s biography begins with Donelson’s upbringing at the Hermitage after Donelson’s father died when he was three. From there Spence follows Donelson’s career as a planter, militiaman, state congressman, Civil War general, and finally an administrator overseeing the Confederate Department of East Tennessee. Fort Donelson was named in his honor, and his brigades fought at Cheat Mountain, Perryville, and Murfreesboro (Stones River). He was posthumously promoted to major general after dying of disease on April 17, 1863, at the age of sixty-one.

Spence’s approach reveals aspects of Donelson’s life and career that in many ways rival his Civil War record for importance, providing fresh perspectives on Jackson’s tumultuous presidency and the contentious nature of antebellum politics in Tennessee.

RICHARD DOUGLAS SPENCE is an associate professor of biology at the University of Texas, Permian Basin. He is the author of Andrew Jackson Donelson: Jacksonian and Unionist.