William Smith was born in King George County, Va, in 1797. He opened a law practice in Culpeper, Va. in 1818 where he married Elizabeth Bell and fathered 11 children. In 1827 he organized a stage line between Washington, DC, and Culpeper that later expanded to Milledgeville, Ga. As the line grew he received extra payments from the Post Office for carrying the mail over a longer distance, which led to his receiving the nicknamed "Extra Billy".
In 1836 he was elected to the Virginia State Senate, then to the US House of Representatives in 1841, and served as Governor of Virginia from 1845 through 1847. He was in California from 1849 - 1852, and on his return to Virginia was elected to the US House of Representatives where he served four more terms.
On June 1, 1861, while still a civilian, he was visiting at Fairfax Courthouse when the post was attacked by Federal cavalry and the captain of the the infantry stationed there was killed. Smith rallied the company and helped repulse the enemy. Several weeks later he was commissioned Colonel and given command of the 49th Virginia Infantry Regiment which he led at 1st Manassas, on the Peninsula and the Seven Days, at Cedar Mountain and 2nd Manassas, and at Harpers Ferry and Sharpsburg. At Sharpsburg he was wounded three times and was out of action for 6 months. Returning to active duty in April, 1863, he was appointed Brigadier General and given command of the brigade which he led during the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg Campaigns.
Although he was already Governor Elect of Virginia, he was promoted to Major General after Gettysburg and served on detached duty until he was inaugurated Governor on January 1, 1864. When Richmond was evacuated on April 2, 1865, he rode west to Danville where he attempted to rally the people of Virginia. After the US government put a $25,000 reward on his head he finally surrendered and was paroled on June 8. He returned to his pre-war home in Warrenton, Va., and lived the life of a gentleman farmer, with one term in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1877. "Extra Billy" Smith died shortly before his 90th birthday in 1887 and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
For more information on Extra Billy Smith you can visit David Meisky's website at www.extrabillysmith.com