My new book, Civil War Rogues, Rascals, and Rapscallions, is the second in my series, “Civil War Personalities, 50 At a Time.” Here is another sample, about four generals named William Smith, from the book, which is available, along with all my other books, at
“The two best known Generals William Smith are the Confederates’ “Extra Billy” Smith and the Union’s “Baldy Smith. Confederate General Smith got his nickname before the war when he was inclined, through finding loopholes in federal mail contracts, to gain a “little extra” for himself. His Union counterpart “Baldy” got his nickname as a youth because of a prematurely receding hair line. Both men earned other names for themselves during the Civil War, but those reflected negative factors in their military aptitude and behavior.
One biographer writes of Extra Billy: “In some ways Smith proved a natural warrior, in others not quite the perfect subordinate.” He was Virginia’s Governor from 1846 to 1849, and a member of Congress from 1853 to 1861, when he resigned to support the Confederacy. Baldy’s biographer writes that though he was one of the most capable senior officers in the Union army, “his service was hampered by ill health, his political associations, and a habit of giving highly critical opinions about military affairs,” leading to “acrimonious relations” with his superiors.
Given his age (63) and seniority, Extra Billy was free with his opinions, castigating “West P’inters” and their formality, as contrasted to his “man of the people” approach. The latter included wearing a beaver hat and carrying an umbrella to ward off the rain and sun while he was on the battlefield. He was wounded at Seven Pines and at Antietam, but gained praise from his commanders for his courage and leadership.
Baldy performed well at the Seven Days and at Antietam, and he accompanied William Franklin to Fredericksburg where the latter commanded Burnside’s left wing. Franklin’s failure to adequately support Burnside’s frontal attack was a key to the Union defeat there. Both Franklin and Baldy afterward were insubordinate in writing to Lincoln questioning Burnside’s leadership. All those involved were removed by Lincoln and told to await orders – which did not come for a time.
Extra Billy ran for and won the Governorship of Virginia in 1863, his term to begin in 1864. At Gettysburg he committed what later turned out to be a fateful error. On July 1, with the Union forces in a desperate state north of the city, Extra Billy reported that Union troops were about to attack in their rear. Many men were sent to repel the nonexistent threat, ruining any chance of taking Cemetery Hill. After the battle, he was the only general not commended by Jubal Early.
Grant appointed Baldy to be deputy commander of General Ben Butler’s Army of the James in 1864, hoping he would rein in that rambunctious officer. In mid-June Baldy was ordered to attack the breastworks outside Petersburg. Despite only token opposition, he hesitated and lost an opportunity to destroy Lee’s supply line a year earlier than it was done. Grant removed him and he got no further orders.
The two other Generals William Smith:
William Sooy Smith, an 1853 graduate of West Point, served in the West under Grant and Sherman. Here is a post-war picture:
Confederate General William Duncan Smith was an 1846 graduate of West Point. He fought in minor battles in Georgia and South Carolina and died in Charleston in 1862 of yellow fever. Here is his picture:
Below are a picture of the book and of the two major Generals Smith (Extra Billy to the left, Baldy to the right)