Historian and biographer Scott Mingus will speak to the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (Details of the meeting on the left of this page.) His topic will be William “Extra Billy” Smith.
William “Extra Billy” Smith, the oldest and one of the most controversial Confederate generals on the field at Gettysburg, was also one of the most colorful and charismatic characters of the Civil War.
Known nationally as “Extra Billy” because of his prewar penchant for finding loopholes in government postal contracts to gain extra money for his stagecoach lines, Smith served as Virginia’s governor during both the War with Mexico and the Civil War, served five terms in the U.S. Congress, and was one of Virginia’s leading spokesmen for slavery and States’ Rights. Extra Billy’s extra-long speeches and wry sense of humor were legendary among his peers. A lawyer during the heady Gold Rush days, Smith made a fortune in California and, like his income earned from stagecoaches, quickly lost it.
Despite his advanced age, Smith took the field and fought well at First Manassas, was wounded at Seven Pines and again at Sharpsburg, and marched with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania. There, on the first day at Gettysburg, Smith’s frantic messages about a possible Union flanking attack remains a matter of controversy to this day. Did his aging eyes see distant fence-lines that he interpreted as approaching enemy soldiers, or did his prompt action stave off a looming Confederate disaster? What we do know is that his calls for support diverted limited Confederate manpower away from attacks against Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill that might have turned the tide of Southern fortunes in Pennsylvania.
Come join us as Scott Mingus, drawing from his award-winning 2013 biography, paints a broad, deep, and colorful portrait of one of the South’s most interesting leaders and devoted sons. Extra Billy Smith will satisfy anyone who loves politics, war, and a great story well told.