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the internet home and headquarters for Ambrose Powell Hill

A.P. Hill's Commands

This page gives brief histories of A.P. Hill's two major commands during the War Between the States: The Light Division and the Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. A.P. Hill served exclusively in the Eastern theater of operations during the War Between the States.

The Light Division

The Light Division, it was said, was "made of steel, rather than flesh and blood."

In the spring of 1862, the Light Division was created from the troops then serving with Joseph E. Johnston. It was the largest division in the Army at its inception, containing six brigades. Its first commander was A.P. Hill.

The Division was made up of six brigades and of excellent material. The First Brigade was made up of Virginia troops under the command of Charles Field, a Kentuckian and a West Pointer. The Second Brigade was consituted of troops from the Palmetto state under the command of an accomplished citizen soldier, Maxcy Gregg. Georgians under the command of Virginian Joseph R. Anderson, the former commandant at the Richmond Tredgar Ironworks, made up the Division's Third Brigade. The Fourth Brigade, like the Sixth, was made up of Tarheel troops. The Fourth Brigade's commander was Lawrence O'Bryan Branch, a former U.S. Congressman. The Division's Fifth Brigade contained a mixture of troops from Tennessee and Alabama under the command of Princeton-educated and former soldier James Jay Archer. Finally, the North Carolinians of the Sixth Brigade were under the command of an extremely promising young West Point educated officer, William Dorsey Pender.

Of these commanders, division commander Hill would be killed at Petersburg, Branch would be killed at Sharpsburg, Gregg at Fredericksburg, and Pender at Gettysburg while in command of the Division. Archer would also not survive the War, dying as a result of illness brought about from the stress of being held as a POW at Johnson's Island prison camp for a year after his capture at Gettysburg.

Other important later brigade commanders with the Division would include Edward Thomas, long-time commander of the Georgia brigade who succeeded Anderson after he was wounded in the Seven Days and returned to Tredgar; James H. Lane; Samuel McGowan; and Henry Heth.

Hill named the Division on June 1, 1862 by simply heading a dispatch as "Headquarters, Light Division." Possible reasons could be Hill wished to differentiate his division from that of D.H. Hill and as a student of military history his whole life was inspired by the British "Light Brigade." Or, perhaps Hill meant it to epitomize his troops as fast, nimble, and hard hitting. The men felt they were known as the Light Division because "we are lightly armed, lightly fed, but march rapidly, fight frequently." Hill also did have a good sense of humor, and it is entirely possible that he gave the name in jest over the Division's large size of six brigades which made it larger than any of the Army's other divisions.

However it got its name, the Light Division quickly established itself with a reputation as hard-hitting shock troops on the offensive and stubborn on the defensive. It saw heavy action during the Seven Days, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

After the battle of Chancellorsville, A.P. Hill was promoted to command of the newly formed Third Corps. In creating the Third Corps, the old Light Division was broken up. The core of the Division stayed together and was placed under the command of long-time and oft-wounded brigade commander Dorsey Pender. Two brigades -- the Virginia brigade and Archer's brigade -- joined a new division under the command of Henry Heth. The core of the Light Division stayed together, fighting in all the major battles with the Third Corps. After the mortal wounding of Pender at Gettysburg, the Division continued under the capable leadership of Cadmus Wilcox.

SOLDIERS OF THE LIGHT DIVISION:

You have done well and I am well pleased with you. You have fought in every battle from Mechanicsville to Shepherdstown, and no man can yet say that the Light Division was ever broken. You held the left at Manassas against overwhelming numbers and saved the army. You saved the day at Sharpsburg and at Shepherdstown. You were selected to face a storm of round shot, shell, and grape such as I have never before seen. I am proud to say to you that your services are appreciated by our general, and that you have a reputation in this army which it should be the object of every officer and private to sustain.

A.P. Hill

The Third Corps Army of Northern Virginia

The Third Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was created in the after-math of Stonewall Jackson's death at Chancellorsville. The Corps was created from a division from Longstreet's corps, Hill's Light Division, and some troops that were new to the Army of Northern Virginia. The division from Longstreet's corps belonged to Richard H. "Fighting Dick" Anderson. The over-sized Light Division, formerly commanded by A.P. Hill, was broken up. The core of the Division remained under the command of newly promoted Dorsey Pender. Two of the Division's six brigades were placed along with some new troops in a division given to Henry Heth, Hill's West Point classmate.

The Corps saw its first action at Gettysburg. Its history was marked by a mixture of failure and success, though it saw very prominent and heavy action in many of the great battles from 1863 onwards. The Corps put in its best service in defense of Petersburg during the summer and fall of 1864.

The Corps lost one commander killed (A.P. Hill at Petersburg); one division commander, Dorsey Pender, was also killed. Jubal Early temporarily commanded the Third Corps when Hill was ill; sometimes Henry Heth, as senior divisional commander, also filled in. Of the orginial commanders, Anderson went on to command the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. His place was ably filled by William Mahone, a spare Petersburg native and graduate of VMI who was simply stellar in the Petersburg campaign. Pender's position was filled for the rest of the War by the capable Cadmus Wilcox while Heth remained as a division commander with the Third Corps for the entire War.

After Powell Hill's death on April 2, 1865, command of the Third Corps should have fallen to Henry Heth. However, General Lee could not easily locate Heth and chose to instead place the remanants of the Third Corps under James Longstreet. And so the Third Corps finished out the War as a part of the First Corps.

 

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