Joining the Confederacy

Last updated June 10th, 2007 by Jenny
A.P. Hill, Eve of his wedding in 1859

Not long after losing the hand of Miss Nelly for good, Hill was back out in the Washington social scene. While attending a party, a beautiful young Kentucky widow with chesnut hair caught his eye. She was 23-year old Kitty Morgan McClung of a prominent Kentucky family -- her brother would later go on to become a famous Confederate cavalry general. In June of 1855 --the same time Hill was pursuing the hand of Miss Marcy-- Kitty had married a cousin, Calvin McClung who was a merchant in St. Louis. McClung, however, died suddenly soon thereafter. Kitty moved to Washington where Hill spotted her at the party.

Hill was smitten. To his beloved sister Lucy, he wrote: "I can reach you and you can reach me easily, that in case either of us be married, we can surely attend the other. Look out for mine at any time! You know I am so constituted, that to be in love with some one is as necessary to me as my dinner, and there is now a little siren who has thrown her net around me, and I know not how soon I may cry, 'Pecavvi!' and yield up my right to flirt with whom I please." He then described Dolly to his sister: "She is a sensible little beauty, and if the spasm will stay in me long enough, and she will say 'yes,' why I don't believe I could do better. Alas, though, I much fear that the good things of this world are unequally distributed in her case. Her beauty and sense are her only dowry! But, when you come down you must be prepared to spend a week at Willard's and judge for yourself. So get your fine dresses ready . . . ."

Hill courted Dolly throughout 1858 and by 1859 they were planning marriage. Hill even wrote his old friend McClellan to invite him to the wedding.

My dear Mac, I have been waiting for some time in the expectation that you would wend your way in this direction, and that I might have the opportunity of telling you over a cigar, that which I have been wanting to tell you for the last month -- I'm afraid there is no mistake about it this time, old fellow, and please God and Kentucky Blue-grass, my bachelor life is about to end, and I shall swell the number of blessed martyrs who have yielded up freedom to crinoline and blue eyes ... She is young, 24 years ... gentle and amiable, yet lovely, and sufficiently good looking for me -- and what's more I know that you will like her, and when you come to know her, say that I have done well -- I believe too her income is equal to mine -- and if this is so I am glad for her sake, and if not I shall not be disappointed -- I expect to be married in Lexington, Ken. on the 18th of July and if you would come down from Chicago, you know there is no one whose presence would delight me more... Hill.

In the same letter, Hill closed the book on Miss Nelly, noting to McClellan "I have heard a report lately which annoyed me a good deal, that the Marcys had given their consent for my marrying Miss Nelly, and that I had declined. Now you would of course know this is untrue, but other might believe it. If you should ever hear it, please flatly contradict it for me. The last communication I ever had with Miss Nelly, about two years ago, she positively and without leaving a ray of hope rejected me -- and that's the truth. This much is certainly due her."

On July 18, 1859, at Dolly's Lexington Kentucky home, the Kitty Morgan and Ambrose Powell Hill married. Dolly was resplendent in a silk wedding dress she would later use to create "a beautiful silk banner, the handiwork of the accomplished lady of our Colonel, and will be prized and defended as the gift of a fair daughter of Kentucky, bidding us God Speed in fighting the battles of the South" for Hill's first Confederate regiment, the 13th Virginia. Hill was handsome in his blue army captain's uniform and sported a handsome red mustache.

Dolly was apparently always somewhat jealous of Powell's previous affairs with Emma Wilson, a beauteous brunette from Baltimore who had been a classmate of Lucy's and had been Hill's first affair and with Miss Ellen Marcy. Powell asked Lucy to not "tease Dolly about Miss Wilson and my other affair."

Dolly and Powell quickly grew to complement each other perfectly. They made both made friends easily amongst others. Hill was particularly proud of both Dolly's musical talents and charm. Dolly tried to remain close to her husband, something that often caused him no little bit of anxiety over her safety. During the War General Alfred Scales wrote, "Mrs. Hill is not satisfied with remaining here after all the ladies had been ordered away & all the other had left, but said she had no home & she might as well make Orange her home as any where else." When she had to leave Dolly would roll her jewelry and other valuables into her hair which she put in to a chignon for safekeeping.

In 1860, the Hills were blessed with a daughter whom they named Henrietta. Around the same time, McClellan -- who had renewed his pursuit after Powell left the picture, married Nelly. Hill served as one of Mac's groomsman at the wedding.

While the Hills were finding domestic happiness, the country was in a state of unrest. It was clear by 1860 that the rift over slavery and states rights that had been growing between North and South since the beginning of the Republic was going to lead to civil war. In December, South Carolina seceded from the Union. Seven deep Southern states followed suit and elected Hill's old benefactor, Jefferson Davis, their president. It was unclear what border states like Hill's home state of Virginia would do. But she leaned more and more towards southern secession too and in February, A.P. Hill resigned from the U.S. Army.

Why did Hill turn his back on his of almost twenty years? While he was not a champion of slavery, long conversations with his father long before the darkest clouds had begun to gather had convinced Hill of the doctrine of states rights. Perhaps more critically, he took a challenge to his home state of Virginia as dearly as a challenge to his own honor. He had written in 1847, the year he had graduated West Point, that "There is one regiment on which I would stake my life, and that is the one from dear old Virginia. I would fight for its honor and reputation as soon as my own."

A.P. Hill and Slavery

The main source of information regarding Hill's views on slavery seems to be statements made by his wife Dolly and by a letter Hill wrote to his brother Baptist in 1850. After the War was over, Dolly stated that Hill "never owned any slaves and never approved of the institution of slavery, but thought the Government should not take the slaves from their masters without paying something for them." Hill, as a mere line officer would likely not have had the money to buy a slave even if he had wanted one, although at some point he had $8,000 to loan his friend Ambrose Burnside. His wife Dolly had at least two black servants.

In a book titled Virginia's Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, published in 1909, Beverley Bland Munford stated, A. P. Hill never owned a slave, and regarded slavery as an evil, much to be deplored. For this statement she cited "a letter from his son-in-law, James Macgill, dated April 20, 1908, to the Author, on file in Virginia Historical Society."

The 1850 letter Hill wrote to his brother Baptist may have been not so much an anti-slavery tract as much as more reflective of Hill's peculiarly high sense of fairness, honor, and justice. Hill, while serving in the army, learned that an angry mob in his hometown of Culpeper lynched a black man that was accused of killing a white man. Hill was very angry and wrote to his brother Baptist, "Shame, shame upon you all good citizens. Virginia must crawl unless you vindicate good order or discipline and hang every son of a bitch connected with the outrage." Hill's sense of fairness and desire for law and order obviously crossed racial lines.

Beyond that, not much seems to be know about Hill's views on slavery. He was very much for states rights and I would say it was almost beyond any doubt that states rights was the reason he fought for the Confederacy. Hill's views on slavery were probably somewhat like R.E. Lee's on the slave issue. But Lee wrote more than Hill on that issue that survives, so I am only hypothesising. As far as I know, the two statements above are what survives from Hill on that issue.

Patrick Cleburne probably summed up the views of Hill and many others on the Southern side:

I am with the South in life or in death, in victory or defeat. I never owned a negro and care nothing for them, but these people have been my friends and have stood up to me on all occasions. In addition to this, I believe the North is about to wage a brutal and unholy war on a people who have done them no wrong, in violation of the Constitution and the fundamental principles of the government. We propose no invasion of the North, no attack on them, and only ask to be let alone.

Historian Clifford Dowdey noted that Hill's "well-established family in Virginia's piedmont had been neither planters nor slaveholders." He further notes that "Hill was an intense disbeliever in slavery."

When Virginia left the Union in the spring of 1861 and began to organize its armed forces, A.P. Hill was a valuable commodity as a West Point educated soldier with combat experience -- albeit very little experience. As such, he was quickly made a colonel and tapped to take command of a regiment, the 13th Virginia, a command raised mostly from the Shenandoah Valley region. Dolly used the silk from her wedding gown to make a beautiful battle standard for the regiment.

Apparently, however, not everyone was impressed with A.P. Hill's being made a colonel. An old lady in Culpeper who remembered Hill as a boy tied to the apron strings of his beloved mother shook her head and sighed that "Heaven help us if Powell Hill is going to be a colonel in the Confederate Army!"

The A.P. Hill who took command of the 13th Virginia was a far cry from the boy the old Culpeper woman remembered.

Hill was only thirty-five years old when the Civil War began, and though that was on the younger side for a corps commander, it was probably around average for a general during this conflict. He stood around the average height of the day, between approximately 5'8" and 5'9" and when well weighed around 150 to 160 pounds (illness and stress of being in the field would drop his weight to around 125 by the end of the War). Hill's form and build was slight and his chest was narrow. His face was thin and often pale, but the features were distinct and distinguished. Photographs reveal a handsome man, with high cheekbones and forehead and a chiseled, "Roman" nose. He was generally considered handsome. One of his soldiers called him "one of the handsomest men I've ever seen."

Hill peered at the world through eyes that were described as blue to green, but usually were nearly clear and colorless. As was the style of the time, he grew a heavy beard that hid his handsome, youthful face. His hair color was a reddish color, described probably best as chestnut or auburn brown. He wore his hair long and it curled towards the ends.

James Longstreet would later sneer that there was "a good deal of 'curled darling'" around and about Hill -- which is a humorous criticism given that one of Longstreet's special favorites, George Pickett, was a complete and total "curled darling" and that didn't ever seem to bother Longstreet! Despite Longstreet's snipe that Hill was a dandy, when going into battle, he apparently preferred function over form. Often when going into battle Hill wore a flaming red "hunting shirt" that his men quickly dubbed it his "battle shirt." When he was seen wearing the red shirt, the call would go up and down the ranks that a fight was soon to come. In the field, he was most likely to be seen in a black felt hat, calico shirt, wool shell jacket, trousers stuffed into knee high boots, with a artillery saber and a navy revolver strapped to his waist. Private Goolsby noted Hill's appearance and drew a nice word portrait of him: "He had long, curly hair, and was the noblest Roman of them all. His career had been one of unparalleled success, and the confidence reposed in him by Generals Lee and Jackson found expression in their last days, and has gone into and become part of history."

When in Richmond, though, Hill dressed the part of the Confederate general with at least some of the gilt and gold. Perhaps this is what led Longstreet to label him as something of a dandy.

Hill spoke in soft, Virginia drawl, laced with what one biographer called then "Negroisms." He pronounced girl as "gyel" for example. His sense of humor, when aroused, included a repressed coughing sort of laugh that ended in "key, key, key." At least somewhat superstitious, he always carried in his pocket a hambone given to him by his mother before he left to go to West Point.

He looked like a general, but not so much that he would not join his men in a squirrel hunt. Amongst his prized possessions was a pipe carved for him by his men.

Hill generally placed himself appropriately as a man of his rank should, but at times he could be found on the front lines. At Williamsburg, where he held a brigade command, for example "he twice saved, by his own hand, an unknown private who was struggling in personal combat."

J. William Jones noted that "His noble traits of heart and mind were best revealed in private friendships." Hill was very courtly and reserved of nature. He was a social favorite in Richmond, and was remembered by everyone for his friendly courtesy and easy informal nature. A soldier called him "genial without familiarity." Another thought him "the most lovable of disposition" of all the Confederate generals. With friends, he could be outwardly warm. He probably had a close relationship with his brigadiers in the Light Division, especially Pender and Gregg.

Hill's men loved him. He was generous with praise. While he demanded only their best in action, he was casual to officers and men in camp. He looked after his men with a great deal of care and would indulge their needs. They loved him for it.

In his book on Lee's Generals, Edward Pollard noted, "Gen. Hill was of slender frame and delicate health, but of a handsome person and strangely fascinating manners. He had a quick and retentive intellect, a cordial and affectionate disposition, and sensibilities of rare refinement. Of his untiring devotion to the cause of the South, and able services in the field, it is unnecessary to speak. To his ceaseless care of his men, every veteran of his command will testify ; and to his honour be it said, in every position he held, the health, comfort and safety of his brave comrades were considered as inferiour only to the imperative call of the country." That sort of devotion to his men made Hill an able administrator. It also earned him "love." Generals like Jackson could inspire awe and were deeply respected for their fighting abilites, but few stern discplinarians like Hill were actually loved by their men.

His men were to always be first; Pollard notes that "During many campaigns, Gen. Hill was too feeble to continue on horseback, and was dragged from field to field, yet unwilling to be absent from the post of duty and danger." His own health, which would become dreadful during the War, would not even drive him from the Cause. "In the campaign of the last year of the war, this was the case, though his attending physicians were then urging his family to use their influence to save his services to his country, by inducing him to rest. But no entreaty could avail; the iron will of the brave man spared not his feeble frame. He had returned from a furlough coerced by his Commanding General, in the hope of recruiting his health, on Friday before the fatal Sunday on which he fell. "

Friends during the War would call him Powell, as his mother had done. Because of his slight form, men, especially Jefferson Davis, took to calling him "Little Powell." He would go down in the annals of the Army of Northern Virginia as "A.P."

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