A Civil War Biography

William Smith

Smith was born 6 September 1797 in Marengo, King George County, Virginia. He attended private schools in Virginia then the Plainfield Academy in Connecticut. He studied law then passed the bar in 1818, setting up a law practice in Culpepper, Virginia.

In 1831 he established a US mail passenger coach service which operated through Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia running between WASHINGTON DC and MILLEDGEVILLE, GEORGIA. Smith was given the nickname "Extra Billy" because as the mail service business grew he demanded and got extra payment from the US Post Office Department.

Turning to politics, in 1836 Smith was elected to the Virginia state Senate and served five terms until resigning in 1841 to run for the US Congress. He contested the results of the 1841 13th District Congressional election and replaced Linn Banks as the 13th's representative on 6 December 1841. Smith failed in his bid for a second term. He moved to Fauquier County. He was elected governor of Virginia in 1845 and served until 1849. While serving as governor he was an unsuccessful candidate for the US Senate. Following his term as governor Smith moved to California. Although asked to run for state office in California, Smith refused because he would not give up his Virginia residency. He did serve as president of the first Democratic State Convention in 1850. Smith returned to Virginia in December of 1852 and was again elected to the US House of Representatives. This time from the 7th District. He would be re-elected to three more terms serving from 4 March 1853 until 3 March 1861.

Although he was 63 years old when the civil war began Smith was commissioned a colonel in the 49th Virginia infantry. He fought at First Manassas. He was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives in the fall of 1861 and tended to his political duties when his military duties permitted. He fought at Seven Pines and at Sharpsburg where he was wounded three times. After taking several months to recover, he returned to active duty and was promoted to brigadier general on 31 January 1863. He was again elected governor of Virginia in May 1863 but chose to remain with the army commanding Smith's Brigade/ Early's Division/ Ewell's Corps at Gettysburg. Smith was promoted to major general on 12 August 1863 and remained with the army until taking office as governor in January 1864.

When the war ended the Federal government put a price on Smith's head, but once he surrendered he was soon paroled. He returned to his estate, "Monterosa", near Warrenton, in June 1865 and took up farming. He returned to politics as a member of the Virginia State House of Delegates in 1877 and ran, again unsuccessfully, for the US Senate in 1878. Smith retired to his estate where he died on 18 May 1887 at the age of 91.

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