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Major General William Sooy Smith was born in Tarlton on July 22, 1830. He attended Ohio University and supported himself throughout his college undergraduate career, graduating in 1849. He then entered the United States Military Academy at West Point to pursue engineering and graduated 6th in the class of 1853. In 1857, Smith established the private engineering firm Parkinson & Smith and made the first surveys for the international bridge across the Niagara River near Niagara Falls. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Smith joined the 13th Ohio Infantry, winning the commission of colonel in June 1861. After early victories in western Virginia, he was promoted to brigadier general in April 1862 for his gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Shilo.
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After brilliant service in the Vicksburg campaign, Smith was promoted to major general and became chief of cavalry for the Department of Tennessee and later the Military Division of Mississippi, working under both General Ulysses S. Grant and General William T. Sherman. Following a controversial defeat at the hand of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest at Okolona, Mississippi, Smith left military service to reestablish his engineering firm. He became an internationally known expert on bridges and foundations. In 1867, he sank the first pneumatic caisson in building the Waugoshanee lighthouse at the Straits of Mackinaw and built the first all-steel bridge, constructed over the Missouri River at Glasgow, Missouri. He was awarded the American Centennial Exposition prize in 1876 for his bridge designs. He retired to Medford, Oregon, dying there in 1916.