One-tank trips: Hollywood Cemetery – Part 6
Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, is the final resting place for 22 Confederate generals from the Civil War, as well as governors of Virginia, presidents of the United States, and other leading figures of the 19th century. Among the graves is that of William Smith, who was the oldest Confederate general at the Battle of Gettysburg, long-time U.S. Congressman, and a two-time governor of Virginia.
Nationally known in his day as “Extra Billy” for his penchant for garnering extra compensation from the government on his array of postal delivery contracts, Smith was at one time a firebrand Southern leader who was instrumental in the creation of Nevada (hoping it would become a slave state). He spent time in California during the Gold Rush, made and spent multiple fortunes, and survived several wounds in the Civil War, the most serious being at the Battle of Antietam / Sharpsburg.
Smith and his wife Elizabeth had twelve children, three of which died in infancy. Several of the boys died as young men — Austin Smith perished in the Civil War at the Battle of Seven Pines; another son was lost at sea near Hawaii before the war while in the Navy; still another died of fever while on an expedition to Nicaragua; and another died from a gunshot wound shortly after the Confederacy fell.
Smith was governor of Virginia during the Mexican War, raising troops for the U.S. Army. Jubal Early was among the officers Smith commissioned. As governor, Smith advocated removing free blacks from the Old Dominion as they were a drain on the economy, but the plan was never executed. Later, as the governor again in 1864-65 during the Civil War, Smith was one of the first significant politicians to call for the arming of slaves as Confederate soldiers to augment the dwindling manpower (the North was already using ex-slaves and free blacks as soldiers, including for front-line combat).
Four of Smith’s sons served the Confederacy. Austin (grave above) died during the Peninsula Campaign. Peter Bell Smith, who had lost an arm as a child after falling out of a tree, was Smith’s secretary and aide late in the war. Colonel Thomas Smith led a brigade in the 1864 Valley Campaign. Young Frederick Smith was his father’s aide-de-camp during the Gettysburg Campaign and served as a courier during the Battle of Gettysburg, relaying messages from General Smith to Jubal Early.
Extra Billy Smith’s performance at Gettysburg has been questioned, both at the time and down through history. His repeated reports of a large Yankee force advancing on the York Road during Day 1 of the battle led to his commanding general, Jubal Early dispatching another brigade to check out the situation, thus cutting into the available manpower for any push on Cemetery Hill in the late afternoon and early evening.
Of course, some critics of Confederate generalship at the battle also note that Smith’s role of protecting the flank might have been best served by cavalry and not by an infantry brigade should Jeb Stuart have been present (the battles of Westminster and Hanover had delayed Stuart’s arrival).
Extra Billy Smith’s Virginia brigade was among the 6,000 Confederate troops that invaded York County from June 27-30, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign. Fond of carrying a blue umbrella into battle on sunny days, the teetotaler Smith allegedly made a colorful speech in downtown York which greatly amused the civilians but angered Jubal Early by delaying the passage of the Confederate column.
Smith’s men camped on various farms along what is today’s North George Street between Emingsville and North York. It is uncertain on which farm Extra Billy pitched his HQ tent, but it may have been the King farm (just south of today’s U.S. Route 30).
Smith is the subject of an upcoming biography by author Scott L. Mingus, Sr. – Gettysburg’s Controversial Old Confederate General – Gov. William “Extra Billy” Smith of Virginia (El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2012).
To get there:
Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery (412 S. Cherry Street) is an easy drive from Interstate 95. Take Exit 76B toward US-1/Belvidere St/US-301 for about 0.1 mile. Turn left on W. Leigh Street and then right onto US-1 South/US-301. Drive about a mile and turn right on Spring Street. In 0.2 miles, turn right onto S. Cherry Street. The entrance to Hollywood Cemetery will be on your left.
To read the rest of this series on Confederate graves at Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery: