In the last week of June 1863, Confederate Gen. William “Extra Billy” Smith rode into York — creating a traffic jam by making a colorful speech to the bystanders and even calling up the band.
When his commander discovered Smith’s antics, he rode up in a fury and ordered him off the road.
It’s a story Manchester Township writer Scott Mingus Sr. came across while researching other books. Smith’s actions sparked Mingus’ interest in the man, so much so that he devoted three years to researching and writing Smith’s biography.
“Confederate General William ‘Extra Billy’ Smith: From Virginia’s Statehouse to Gettysburg Scapegoat,” an in-depth look at the controversial and charismatic Southerner, was published in April by Savas Beatie.
“There’s a lot of colorful stories about what Smith and his men did in this general area,” Mingus said.
They passed through the region on their way to Gettysburg, where Smith would fight his second battle as general. During their two-day stay between Emigsville and North York, Smith’s men were “heavily engaged in stealing horses and chickens (and) personal property all along George Street and in that vicinity,” Mingus said.
“He liked to let his boys roam, as he used to say,” Mingus added. “Many a farmer in the northern outskirts of York came to know Smith’s Virginians.”
Aside from time spent in York and Gettysburg, Mingus’ biography covers Smith’s life, from the late 1790s through the late 1880s.
Smith grew up amid the expansion of slavery in the south. He developed a solid postal network between Virginia and Georgia and served as governor of Virginia during the Mexican War. He also served as a lawyer during the California gold rush and as a five-term U.S. Congressman during debates over the westward expansion of slavery.
It was during his time with the postal service that Smith earned the nickname “Extra Billy,” Mingus said. Because his postal contract paid him by the mile, Smith ordered stagecoach drivers to take mail to individual farms rather than a town’s post office.
“He made quite a fortune doing that until an unfriendly U.S. senator got wind of the shenanigans and finally put a stop to it,” Mingus said.
Mingus found the research and writing “much different” than his previous books, which all focused on a single event or short burst of time.
“This man was so colorful and he lived such a long time,” Mingus said. “And he wrote and spoke so extensively. Trying to fit everything into a 400-page book and still tell a man’s story with the flavor of how he lived without leaving anything out — that was quite a challenge.”
And although there were mixed reviews on his work as a general (“He was promoted perhaps one level too high,” Mingus said with a laugh), Smith was a prominent name on the Confederate side at the Battle of Gettysburg.
“I thought there was a void,” he said. “Nobody had written a full-length book yet.”
Name: Scott Mingus Sr.
Lives in: Manchester Township
Family: Married, three children, four grandsons
Occupation: Global director of new product development at Glatfelter
Hobbies: Miniature wargaming, tour guide for the York County Heritage Trust, blogging at Cannonba!! and Charge! Civil War wargaming
To purchase: Online retailers and several local bookstores
Mingus is gearing up for a busy schedule in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Here are some of his planned events:
- 7 p.m. June 25— Guthrie Memorial Library, 2 Library Place, Hanover; presentation on Hanover Junction in the Civil War and book signing
- 7 p.m. June 26— York County Heritage Trust, 250 E. Market St., York; talk and book signing with Jim McClure
- 5:30 p.m. June 27— Guthrie Memorial Library; book signing and 6 p.m. Civil War Round Table panel discussion
- 6:30 p.m. June 28— John Wright Restaurant, 234 N. Front St., Wrightsville — book signing in conjunction with Burning of the Bridge re-enactment
- 10:30 a.m. June 29— Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Cumberland Township, Adams County; book talk and 11:30 a.m. book signing
- 3 p.m. June 29— Dover Community Park, 2481 W. Canal Road, Dover Township; book signing
- 1 to 3 p.m. June 30— Wrightsville Historical Museum, 309 Locust St., Wrightsville
- 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. July 1— Gettysburg Gift Center and Wax Museum, 297 Steinwehr Ave., Gettysburg
- 1 to 7 p.m. July 2— Sheppard Farm, Westminster Road, Union Township, Adams County
- 9 to 5 p.m. July 7-8— 1085 Table Rock Road, Cumberland Township, Adams County; 150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Reenactment
Also of interest
Read about Mingus’ other recently published book with Jim McClure, “Echoing Still: More Civil War Voices from York County, Pa.”