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Biography from the Confederate Military History

Lieutenant-General Ambrose Powell Hill, the brilliant Confederate corps commander, was born in Culpeper county, Virginia, November 9, 1825, and was trained for military life at West Point academy where, graduating with distinction in 1847, he began service in the First artillery, in which he was promoted second lieutenant the same year. His studies of the great masters of war gave him early reputation for accurate and extensive acquaintance with the art to which he had devoted his life. His services were required in Mexico during 1847 and afterward in the hostilities with the Seminoles. Detached from field duty by the government he was employed in the position of superintendent of the coast survey, having in the meantime received promotion to the rank of first-lieutenant.

In October, 1860, he obtained leave of absence, and in March, 1861, his devotion to the cause of the South as against armed invasion induced him to resign his commission in the United States army. Virginia was beginning at that time to organize its forces for defense against the threatened coercion, and conferred upon the accomplished soldier the rank of colonel, with assignment to the command of the Thirteenth regiment Virginia volunteers, which he industriously drilled and disciplined for the great service it afterwards performed. The regiment thus made effective became distinguished in the army of Northern Virginia.

Commissioned brigadier-general February 26, 1862, he acquired especial distinction at the battle of Williamsburg, and was promoted to the rank of major-general May 26, 1862. In the campaigns of this year he was constantly relied on by Lee for services requiring expedition, skill and courage. In the preliminaries to the battle of Mechanicsville, Lee assigned Hill to the duty of crossing the Chickahominy, and without waiting for Jackson ordered him to make an immediate attack. Hill's guns opened with effect June 26, 1862, and drove the enemy from their position. His command bore a great part of the "brunt of battle" at Cold Harbor, Frayser's Farm, and in the following movements by which McClellan was driven from Richmond.

The command of Hill was usually termed "the Light Division," a suggestive designation of which its commander seemed to be proud, and which it illustrated by the celerity and courage of its movements in the battles against Banks at Cedar Run, and Pope at the second Manassas. He participated in the capture of Harper's Ferry with its garrison of 11,000 troops and large supplies of artillery, small arms and general military stores, and was appointed to parole the prisoners and secure the fruits of the capture. This accomplished he hurried to the field of Sharpsburg, reaching the scene of that bloody battle in time to be of special service in a critical juncture. Attacking promptly at double-quick, with a part of his command, immediately on reaching the field, he joined other Confederate forces in a countercharge on Burnside's forces, which sent them back in confusion.

After remaining with Jackson in the valley he was ordered to join Lee at Fredericksburg, and was stationed on the right of Jackson's corps in the battle of the 13th of December. At Chancellorsville, in 1863, he commanded his division under Jackson at the moment of that great soldier's wounding. His orders from his daring chief were to "press right in," and while obeying the command he received the news of Jackson's fall. The command devolving on him, and perhaps freshly inspired by the heroic orders of his commander, he "pressed right in" with an impetuosity which was stayed only by the severe wound which disabled him from further service that day.

The army was reorganized after the battle of Chancellorsville and General Hill, made lieutenant-general May 24, 1863, was assigned to the command of the Third army corps, which he commanded at Gettysburg and in the subsequent operations in Virginia On the 2d of April, 1865, his thin line at Petersburg was overwhelmed, and while personally commanding a part of his rallied force he ventured on danger with daring that was natural to him, and was killed by a Federal command whose surrender he had demanded. The General's gallant escort and staff at once charged the enemy and recovered his body. He was buried while Petersburg and the capital of the Confederacy were aflame and occupied by the Federal armies, and his corps was on retreat to Appomattox. Without the usual military honors he was committed to the grave. His personal purity, his devotion to the South, his military renown, have become the heritage of his people.

About this Work

The Confederate Military History is a 12-volume set of works. Each state from the Confederacy has its own volume, including Virginia. This biography of Powell Hill is from the Virginia volume. The Confederate Military History was edited by CSA General Clement A. Evans and was published in Atlanta, Georgia in 1899.


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