Thomas E. Smith of Northport on October 20, 1861 was appointed an Acting Master in the U.S. Navy. On January 30, 1862, he was appointed as commander of a two masted schooner, which was outfitted as a mortar ship. The U.S.S. Arletta was one of six ships of the line that were manned primarily by black sailors. The others were the Charles Phelps, the Fear Not, and the J. C. Kuhn, the Albemarle, and the Ben Morgan. Among Smith’s crew were two other Long Islanders Benjamin Weeks and David Mills of Cold Spring Harbor. Both men are listed as Landsmen, a rank for inexperienced sailors, equivalent to an Army Private. They are described as being 27 and 22 years of age and 5’ 6’’ and 5’ 2” tall respectively. Their complexions were noted as Mulatto, however we have ascertained that in the 1860 census Mills was listed as American Indian.
The U.S.S. Arletta was assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Its first action was in the bombardment of forts Jackson and St. Philip which lay on opposite sides of the Mississippi river below New Orleans. These formidable defense works had to be neutralized to in order to allow Admiral Farragut’s deep-draft ships to pass and then take New Orleans. Smith and his crew were later present at the taking of New Orleans, Vicksburg and Fort Donalson. Because of his and his ship’s bravery he was promoted to Lt. Commander on January 28,1863. He soon after served as Executive Officer of Admiral Porter’s flagship. Smith later took part in the General Nathaniel Bank’s expedition up the Red River. He remained in the Navy until February 28,1869 serving in the West Coast flotilla primarily off the coast of California.Upon retiring from the Navy he returned to Northport, but soon accepted the Captaincy of a ship of the Reading Steamship Company. He remained in their employ until his death on July 8, 1890. He died in Philadelphia and was returned to Long Island to be buried in the Northport Rural Cemetery. Smith was a member of a Grand Army of the Republic Post in Philadelphia where he had resided. Here was interred with full military honors, which were provided by the Samuel Ackerly Post #426 of Northport. He left a wife and one child.