William Smith (Virginia governor)

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William Smith
Hon. Smith - NARA - 528722.jpg
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Fauquier County
In office
1876 – 1877
Alongside H.B. Kerrick
30th & 35th Governor of Virginia
In office
January 1, 1864 – May 9, 1865
Lieutenant Samuel Price
Preceded by John Letcher
Succeeded by Francis Harrison Pierpont
In office
January 1, 1846 – January 1, 1849
Lieutenant None
Preceded by James McDowell
Succeeded by John B. Floyd
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1861
Preceded by Thomas H. Bayly
Succeeded by Charles H. Upton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 13th district
In office
December 6, 1841 – March 3, 1843
Preceded by Linn Banks
Succeeded by George W. Hopkins
Member of the Virginia Senate from Culpeper, Madison, Orange, Rappahannock and Greene Counties*
In office
1836 – 1840
Preceded by Daniel F. Slaughter
Succeeded by John Woolfolk
Personal details
Born (1797-09-06)September 6, 1797
Marengo, Virginia
Died May 18, 1887(1887-05-18) (aged 89)
Warrenton, Virginia
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Bell
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Military service
Nickname(s) "Extra Billy"
Allegiance  Confederate States of America
Service/branch  Confederate States Army
Years of service 1861-1863
Rank Confederate States of America General.png Major General
Battles/wars American Civil War
*Battle of Fairfax Court House (June 1861)
*First Battle of Manassas
*Battle of Seven Pines
*Seven Days Battles
*Second Battle of Manassas
*Battle of Sharpsburg
*Second Battle of Fredericksburg
*Battle of Gettysburg
*Until 1838, Greene County was part of Orange County.

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.

Early life and politics[edit]

Smith was born in Marengo, King George County, Virginia. He attended private schools in Virginia and Plainfield Academy in Connecticut. He then studied law and was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Culpeper, Culpeper County, Virginia, in 1818. Two years later, he married Elizabeth Hansbrough Bell. They would have eleven children, several of which died in infancy or as young adults.

He established a line of United States mail and passenger post coaches through Virginia in 1827 and 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), 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 served as a member of the Senate of Virginia from 1836 to 1841, when he resigned during his second term. Smith successfully contested as a Democrat the election of Linn Banks to the Twenty-seventh Congress and served from March 4, 1841, to March 3, 1843. He failed to be reelected in 1842 to the Twenty-eighth Congress. He then moved to Fauquier County.

Smith served during the Mexican-American War as Governor of Virginia from 1846 to 1849 and was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate during that period. He moved to California in April 1849 and was president of the first Democratic State convention in 1850. He returned to Virginia in December 1852 and was elected to the Thirty-third Congress and to the three succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1861).

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.

Electoral history[edit]

  • 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[edit]

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 provide subtle influence because 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[edit]

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 (1877–79). He died in Warrenton and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Linn Banks
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 13th congressional district

1841 – 1843
Succeeded by
George W. Hopkins
Preceded by
Thomas H. Bayly
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th congressional district

1853 – 1861
Succeeded by
Charles H. Upton
Political offices
Preceded by
James McDowell
Governor of Virginia
1846 – 1849
Succeeded by
John B. Floyd
Preceded by
John Letcher
Governor of Virginia
1864 – 1865
Succeeded by
Francis H. Pierpont
Unionist Governor