William Smith (Virginia governor)

William "Extra Billy" Smith (September 6, 1797  May 18, 1887) was a lawyer, congressman, the 30th and 35th Governor of Virginia, and a major general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. On his appointment in January 1863, at the age of 65, Smith was the oldest Confederate general to hold field command in the war.

William Smith
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Fauquier County
In office
Alongside H. B. Kerrick
30th and 35th Governor of Virginia
In office
January 1, 1864 May 9, 1865 (Disputed)
LieutenantSamuel Price
Preceded byJohn Letcher
Succeeded byFrancis Harrison Pierpont
In office
January 1, 1846 January 1, 1849
Preceded byJames McDowell
Succeeded byJohn B. Floyd
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1861
Preceded byThomas H. Bayly
Succeeded byCharles H. Upton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 13th district
In office
December 6, 1841 – March 3, 1843
Preceded byLinn Banks
Succeeded byGeorge W. Hopkins
Member of the Virginia Senate from Culpeper, Madison, Orange, Rappahannock and Greene Counties*
In office
Preceded byDaniel F. Slaughter
Succeeded byJohn Woolfolk
Personal details
Born(1797-09-06)September 6, 1797
Marengo, King George County, Virginia
DiedMay 18, 1887(1887-05-18) (aged 89)
Warrenton, Virginia
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseElizabeth Bell
ProfessionPolitician, Lawyer
Military service
Allegiance Confederate States
Branch/service Confederate States Army
Years of service1861–1863
RankMajor General
  • Until 1838, Greene County was part of Orange County.

Early and family life

Smith was born in Marengo, (then Richmond County, Virginia now King George County, Virginia) to Mary Waugh Smith (1775-1811) (born at "Mt. Eccentric" in Fauquier County) and her cousin and husband Caleb Smith (1761-1814). His maternal grandfather (also William Smith, served in the local militia and was wounded in Lord Dunmore's War. His paternal grandfather Thomas Smith (1739-1801) had fought in the American Revolutionary War (and overwintered at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania). His uncle Col. Austin Smith served in the War of 1812 then represented King George County in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1814, 1821 and 1822.[1] His mother's Doniphan ancestor had emigrated before 1663 and their joint ancestor, British naval officer Sir Sydney Smith emigrated circa 1720. The future governor had either six or seven siblings, including Rev. Thomas Smith (1799-1847) who was a minister at Smithfield, Virginia and later Parkersburg, West Virginia, and James Madison Smith (1808-1853).[2] Billie Smith attended private school in Virginia and Plainfield Academy in Connecticut, then returned to Virginia to read law.

In 1820, he married Elizabeth Hansbrough Bell, of a similar social class. They would have eleven children, several of whom died in infancy or as young adults. Their son William Henry (1824-1850) was lost at sea and James Caleb Smith (1822-1856) would be admitted to the bar in California but die in Nicaragua.[3] Their sons Austin Smith (1829- ), Thomas Smith (1836-1918) and Frederick Waugh Smith (1843-1928) would enlist in the Confederate States Army, and each for a time fought under their father. After the war Col. Thomas Smith would marry a Virginia judge's daughter, become U.S. Attorney for the Territory of New Mexico and Chief Justice of the territory's supreme court, before returning to Virginia. His brother Capt. Frederick Smith would move to South Africa and also live to old age.[4] His nephew Caleb Smith (1824-1874; Rev. Thomas Smith's son) would resign his U.S. Army commission to fight for the confederacy and be wounded at Bull Run. His brother-in-law Peter Hansbrough Bell was a Texas Revolutionary and Mexican War veteran who served as the third Governor of Texas from 1849 through 1853. His cousin William Waugh Smith (1845-1912) would fight for the Confederacy then become president of Randolph Macon College and found Randolph College, a women's college near Lynchburg.[5]


Smith was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Culpeper, Culpeper County, Virginia, in 1818. About a decade later, in 1827, Smith established a line of United States mail and passenger post coaches through Virginia, then expanded the business into the Carolinas and Georgia in 1831. It was in this role that he received his nickname. Given a contract by the administration of President Andrew Jackson to deliver mail between Washington, D.C., and Milledgeville, Georgia (then the state capital),[6] Smith extended it with numerous spur routes, all generating extra fees. During an investigation of the Post Office Department, Smith's extra fees were publicized by U.S. Senator Benjamin W. Leigh, and he became known as "Extra Billy" in both the North and South.

Smith owned 10 slaves in the 1840 census.[7] Interested in politics and a Democrat, Smith won election to the Senate of Virginia from the Piedmont district consisting of Culpeper, Madison, Orange, Rappahannock and Greene counties, and served from 1836 to 1841. He resigned during his second term, having successfully contested the election of Linn Banks to the Twenty-seventh Congress. Thus Smith served one term, from March 4, 1841, to March 3, 1843, but failed to win reelection in 1842 to the Twenty-eighth Congress. He then moved to Fauquier County.

Elected by legislators as Governor of Virginia in 1845, Smith served from 1846 to 1849, during the Mexican–American War, but failed to earn legislative approval necessary for election to the United States Senate during that period. As his gubernatorial term ended and consecutive terms were forbidden, Smith moved to California in April 1849 after the California Gold Rush and was president of the first Democratic state convention in 1850.[8] Smith soon returned to Virginia and in December 1852 was elected to the Thirty-third Congress and to the three succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1861). Although chosen for the Confederate States Congress, he resigned in 1862 in favor of military service. He was again elected governor in 1863 (this time by popular election in Confederate-held territory) and served until the end of the war.[9]

Electoral history

  • 1853; Smith was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with 51.79% of the vote, defeating Whig Edgar Snowden.
  • 1855; Smith was re-elected with 78.01% of the vote, defeating Independents P. Johnson Barbour and David Funsten.
  • 1857; Smith was re-elected with 57.5% of the vote, defeating now-American Snowden.
  • 1859; Smith was re-elected with 49.36% of the vote, defeating Independent Democrats Henry Wirtz Thomas and Henry Shackleford.
  • 1863; Smith was elected Governor of Virginia with 47.77% of the vote, defeating fellow Conservative Democrats Thomas Stanhope Flournoy and George W. Munford.

Civil War

When Virginia seceded from the Union, Smith declined to accept a commission as a brigadier general because he rightly admitted he was "wholly ignorant of drill and tactics". A few weeks after the war started, he was present during a Union cavalry charge at the Battle of Fairfax Court House (June 1861). He took command of the Confederate troops after the death of their commander John Quincy Marr and found he enjoyed the experience. He requested a commission and was appointed colonel of the 49th Virginia Infantry regiment just three days before the First Battle of Bull Run, where the regiment and new commander performed well.

General William Smith

Smith served in the Confederate Congress in 1862 but returned to the 49th Virginia at the start of the Peninsula Campaign. He was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines and his regiment received favorable notice in his commander's report. During the Seven Days Battles the regiment was lightly engaged, but he and his command again were described as having "characteristic coolness" and "fearlessness." He was known for expressing contempt for West Point graduates ("West P'inters") and their formal tactics, recommending common sense to his men instead of a military education, and distinguished himself with his unorthodox field uniform, including a tall beaver hat and a blue cotton umbrella.

At the Battle of Antietam, Smith temporarily commanded a brigade in Maj. Gen. Jubal Early's division. He was wounded three times but continued to command, and Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart wrote that he was "conspicuously brave and self-possessed." By the end of the battle, he had to be carried from the field. In recognition of his performance, he was promoted to brigadier general as of January 31, 1863. He commanded a brigade in the Battle of Chancellorsville but achieved no distinction in this role.

By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, Smith's superiors were leery of his performance, but had to maintain some degree of support, since he was the former governor and at the time the governor-elect of Virginia. Early directed Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon to keep close contact with Smith and effectively exercise a joint command over their two brigades. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Smith refused to pursue retreating Union XI Corps troops, concerned that a Union force was approaching from his left, which was a significant reason that the Confederates failed to attack and take Cemetery Hill on July 1, 1863. Smith was the oldest general on the field and fought (unsuccessfully) the oldest Union general, Brig. Gen. George S. Greene, at Culp's Hill on July 3, 1863. He was the only general not commended in Early's official report and, as a result, decided to resign his commission on July 10. He nevertheless received an essentially honorary promotion to major general and Assistant Inspector General on August 12 and performed recruiting duty in Virginia.

Postbellum career

Before the Gettysburg Campaign, Smith was elected again as Governor of Virginia and served from January 1, 1864, to the end of the war. He was among the first Southern governors to advocate arming blacks to provide manpower for the Confederacy, and he occasionally returned to the field to command troops in the defense of Richmond. He was removed from office and arrested on May 9, 1865, but was paroled on June 8.

He returned to his estate, "Monte Rosa" (later renamed "Neptune Lodge") near Warrenton, Virginia, where he engaged in agricultural pursuits. At the age of eighty, he became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (187779). He died in Warrenton and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

See also

  • List of American Civil War generals (Confederate)


  1. Lucy Montgomery Smith Price, The Sydney-Smith and Clagett-Price Genealogy (Strasburg, Shenandoah Publishing House 1927) pp.50-54
  2. Lucy M.S. Price, pp.46-47
  3. Memoirs of William C.Smith available online
  4. Frederick Waugh Smith (July 6, 1928). "VMI Archives Historical Rosters: Frederick Waugh Smith". Archivesweb.vmi.edu. Retrieved July 19, 2022.
  5. Appleton's Cyclopedia vol. V, p. 594
  6. Becker, Carl M. (1989). ""Tardy George" and "Extra Billy": Nicknames in the Civil War". Civil War History. 35 (4): 302–310. doi:10.1353/cwh.1989.0075. ISSN 1533-6271.
  7. 1840 U.S. Federal Census for Culpeper County, Virginia p. 60 and 61 of 73
  8. Appleton p. 594
  9. Appleton's p. 594
  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Mingus, Scott L., Sr. Confederate General William "Extra Billy" Smith: From Virginia's Statehouse to Gettysburg Scapegoat. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2013. ISBN 978-1-61121-129-0.
  • Sifakis, Stewart. Who Was Who in the Civil War. New York: Facts On File, 1988. ISBN 978-0-8160-1055-4.
  • Tagg, Larry. The Generals of Gettysburg. Campbell, CA: Savas Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-882810-30-9.
  • Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. ISBN 978-0-8071-0823-9.
  •  This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
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