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the internet home and headquarters for Ambrose Powell Hill

After Ox Hill, the Second Manassas Campaign ended. The miscreant, John Pope, was sent back west to deal with an uprising of Sioux Indians in Minnesota -- far away from Robert E. Lee and his wiley Army of Northern Virginia. Much to the delight of the men, McClellan -- Hill's old friend -- was placed back in command of the Eastern theater.

Was A.P. Hill a Hothead?

Was A.P. Hill a hothead? Was he overly tempermental and disruptive? Being a hothead is something that Hill commonly gets referred to because of his infamous feuds with both James Longstreet and Jackson. But is it true? Was Hill really a hothead?

To some extent, A.P. Hill was a "hothead." He could tend to be overly sensitive to perceived slights to his honor that came from his superior officers. He engaged in two very infamous feuds-- one with James Longstreet and one with Jackson. In Hill's defense, however, both James Longstreet and Jackson had track records for causing problems themselves. An officer with Jackson recalled that he believed he was the only officer not then under arrest for some infraction or another.

William Loring, Dick Garnett, Maxcy Gregg, and others all had serious difficulties with Jackson and were certainly all not hot-headed. Recall Alexander Lawton's comment during 1862 that at one point he thought he was the only high ranking general not under arrest for something by Jackson at the time. As for James Longstreet, he got himself ensnarled in an ugly feud with even the extremely easy going Lafayette McLaws after his disastrous Tennessee campaign. Hill, however, never fought with his subordinates and never had problems with Lee. In fact, people liked to serve under A.P. Hill and he was well-known as a beloved commander. His command was never rent with the silly feuds that Jackson's and James Longstreet's were infamous for.

Those who think A.P. Hill was a handful need to take a look at D.H. Hill (they are not related). I can't recall where, might've been Chickamauga, but someone on Bragg's staff called D.H. Hill the most pig-headed man he'd ever met ... and considering this was a man on the staff of BRAGG and had access to a whole lot of egotistical men in the AOT, that's saying A LOT. Hill is the one who came up with "Whoever saw a dead cavalryman." Other good D.H. Hill lines include the endorsement for a Georgia soldier's furlough: "Approved because if the soldiers are not allowed to go home occasionally, the next generation will be the offspring of skulkers and cowards." W.H.T. Walker took that joke as a slur on the virtue of the women of his state ... Now you can see why Bragg also had gray hair.

Hill carried on two infamous feuds: the first with James James Longstreet led, allegedly, to Hill challenging James Longstreet to a duel all stemming from a newspaper article written by John Daniel of the Richmond Examiner after the battles of the Seven Days. Hill also feuded with Stonewall Jackson over several issues, leading to several very acrimonious letters being sent back and forth across Lee's desk. Paradoxically, or perhaps in a case of "I will treat others as I wish to be treated," Hill fostered extremely good relationships with his subordinates and became good friends with several of them. One courier noted that "Of all the generals, only A.P. Hill never failed, even during the heat of battle to have a kindly word and perhaps a little joke for the couriers."

Lee, having first thrown back McClellan from the gates or Richmond and having now destroyed Pope and his Army of Virginia, decided to keep the initiative. He turned north into Maryland. It was a costly decision. Many of his troops were already footsore from constant campaigning and straggling was a real problem. The army was also having problems amongst it's high strung commanders. For example, Shank Evans arrested another crack division commander, John Bell Hood, over a minor dispute involving captured ambulances. (Only through Hood's Texans special request ("Give us Hood!") and R.E. Lee's own direct intervention was Hood released from arrest.)

On September 3d, Jackson and Hill continued to show they could not get along while marching. The march for the day was to begin at 4:00 am. Hill's men apparently were not prompt enough for Jackson's liking, and he gave Hill a mild reprimand that Hill took "rather sullenly, his face flushing up." Hill determined then to set a quicker pace, perhaps to keep Jackson from complaining more or perhaps just out of a sort of childish spite. The result of the quicker pace was the Light Division began to get very strung out on the road. Hill also ignored Jackson's customary ten minute rest stops and kept his men marching.

When Jackson discovered the Light Division marching without close ranks and strung out along the road, he was angry. Livid, Jackson ordered General Edward Thomas, commanding the closest brigade of the Light Division, to stop. Hill kept right on going with the rest of the column. When he turned to see the break in the lines, he was enraged. Galloping back, he demanded of Thomas: "Why did you halt your command without orders?"

"I halted because General Jackson told me to do so."

Hill stomped over to Jackson. He presented Jackson with his sword, and sneered at him. "If you take command of my troops in my presence, take my sword also."

"Put up your sword and consider yourself in arrest," Jackson retorted.

Some claim that at this point Hill told Jackson at this point that he was not fit to be a general. Whether true or not, it was clear to everyone around that Hill was very angry. A North Carolina lieutenant remembered Hill from then on "marched on foot with the rear guard all the day through Maryland, an old white hat slouched over his eyes, his coat off and wearing an old flannel shirt, looking mad as a bull."

This sort of thing went on for several days. The angry Hill marched at the back of his division while Lawrence Branch, senior commander, filled in as division head. Gregg and Jackson butted heads as well. Soon after Second Manassas, Gregg had allowed his men -- who had been much bloodied in the prior battle -- an uncalled for break. When Jackson took offense, Gregg defended his gallant men on grounds that they should be allowed to attend to certain luxuries (like filling their canteens). Gregg was very angry over this incident, probably because he thought Jackson was unfair to his troops.

Finally, on the 10th, Hill summoned Henry Kyd Douglas of Jackson's staff. "It is evident a battle is at hand. I do not wish anyone else to command my division in an engagement." Hill went on to tell Douglas that all he wanted to do was command his men; then he would return to arrest after the imminent battle ended. Douglas went to Jackson with the request. Perhaps Jackson was looking for a way to save face and still have Hill -- who had proven to be a crack commander -- command his Division, for he readily assented. When word came, a soldier noted that Hill "donning his coat and sword he mounted his horse and dashed to the front of his troops, and looking like a young eagle in search of his prey, took command of his division to the delight of all his men."

Once in Maryland, Lee had again split his force into two parts. After dividing it further, Jackson (along with A.P. Hill's division) was sent to capture the tempting arsenal and Union force at Harper's Ferry (in current day West Virginia).

Harper's Ferry

From the National Park Service:

Learning that the garrison at Harpers Ferry had not retreated after his incursion into Maryland, Lee decided to surround the force and capture it. He divided his army into four columns, three of which converged upon and invested Harpers Ferry. On September 15, after Confederate artillery was placed on the heights overlooking the town, Union commander Col. Miles surrendered the garrison of more than 12,000. Miles was mortally wounded by a last salvo fired from a battery on Loudoun Heights. Jackson took possession of Harpers Ferry, then led most of his soldiers to join with Lee at Sharpsburg. After paroling the prisoners at Harpers Ferry, A.P. Hill’s division arrived in time to save Lee’s army from near-defeat at Sharpsburg.

At Harper's Ferry, the out-classed and out-manned Federal commander, Dixon Miles, was mortally wounded. Hill and Miles had been friends in the "Old Army" and Miles sent messages to his wife and asked that his wife be given his word through A.P. Hill. Lee's aide Charles Venable noted that "the duties to General Hill, who was every inch a Christian, were held sacred." Harper's Ferry resulted in a massive surrender of both men and material that brought much needed supplies into the Army of Northern Virginia.

A.P. Hill was left behind to deal with the parole of the Federal garrison and other administrative details. In October, McClellan would write Lee to return 27 wagons and teams "furnished by General A. P. Hill at Harper's Ferry in September last for the transportation of private baggage belonging to certain paroled officers of the U.S. Army passing to within our lines. In so doing I desire to express my appreciation of the courtesy thus extended to these officers and to request that you will convey the same to General Hill with my thanks for his action in the matter."

As Jackson and his crew were finishing up at Harper's Ferry, disaster almost struck Lee's Army when, in one of the war's strangest turns of events, two members of the 27th Indiana stumbled upon Lee's battle orders -- wrapped around two cigars in a field outside Frederick! The Orders -- Special Orders Number 191 -- probably belonged to General D.H. Hill of North Carolina. The Orders -- which were given to McClellan -- explained how Lee's Army was split and where each of its units was. It was a huge gift to the Union forces.

Despite having Lee's battle plans in his hands, McClellan still did not move swiftly enough to catch the Gary Fox and his army. Lee, however, was surprised at the alacrity of McClellan's movements. He ended up setting up a defensive line along the Antietam creek (a sluggish tributary of the Potomac) near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, and called for Jackson to rejoin him. Jackson did -- except for Hill's Division which remained behind at Harper's Ferry approximately 17 miles away.

In the meantime, McClellan brought the Army of the Potomac up and massed it for an attack. At dawn on September 17, 1862, McClellan attacked.


On-site resources for the battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) include:

From the National Park Service:

On September 16, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan confronted Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, Maryland. At dawn September 17, Hooker’s corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee’s left flank that began the single bloodiest day in American military history. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller’s cornfield and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Federal advantage was not followed up. Late in the day, Burnside’s corps finally got into action, crossing the stone bridge over Antietam Creek and rolling up the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A.P. Hill’s division arrived from Harpers Ferry and counterattacked, driving back Burnside and saving the day. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout the 18th, while removing his wounded south of the river. McClellan did not renew the assaults. After dark, Lee ordered the battered Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley.

The battle of Sharpsburg was fought in three major stages and Hill completely missed the first two: Stonewall Jackson's men wrested for control of the Miller Cornfield and the Dunker Church in the morning, and then later in the day, the Union troops nearly over ran the Confederates holding onto a sunken road in the field's center known as "The Bloody Lane." The third stage was fought near a stone bridge that spanned the Antietam creek by General Ambrose Burnside, one of Hill's old West Point classmates.

Word had gone out early that Hill was needed, and he had Division on the road marching hard and with speed towards the battle. The day was hot and the dust hung in a very thick and choking veil. But speed was important as Lee's army was badly outnumbered and fighting for it's very life. As the day wore on, matters became more and more desperate for the badly outnumbered and thinly stretched Lee who was forced to shift his bloodied units to each new point of crisis.

As it would turn out, only Hill and McClellan's cautiousness would save Lee from disaster. As Burnside, who had finally fought his way across the "Lower Bridge" that now bears his name, readied for his attack and to deliver the final coup de grace on the right, Lee looked through his glasses. He saw the dust of a rapidly approaching column from the southwest. "Who's troops are those?" he asked anxiously. An aide looked through his glass and said, "they are flying the Virginia flags." Lee exclaimed "It is A.P. Hill is from Harper's Ferry!"

A.P. Hill had "come up" -- just in the nick of time The legend was born. Riding ahead of his division, Hill was met by an embrace from Robert E. Lee -- probably the only time that happened on a field of battle!

The National Park Service web site states what happened next:

At 3:40 p.m. Gen. A. P. Hill's division, left behind by Jackson at Harpers Ferry to salvage the captured Federal property, arrived on the field after a march of 17 miles in eight hours. Immediately Hill's 3,000 troops entered the fight, attacking the Federals' unprotected left flank. Burnside's troops were driven back to the heights near the bridge they had taken earlier. The attack across the Burnside Bridge and Hill's counterattack in the fields south of Antietam resulted in 3,470 casualties--with twice as many Union casualties (2,350) as Confederate (1,120).

A soldier remembered how Hill showed his intolerance for cowardice at the battle:

At Sharpsburg he (Hill) arrived late in the engagement because of a forced march from Harper's Ferry, crossing at Boteler's ford, near Shepherdstown. While hurrying to take position on the line he encountered a second lieutenant of some command crouching behind a tree.His indignation was so wrought up that he took the lieutenant's sword and broke it over him.

His intolerance for cowardice was mainly towards officers, however. To a trembling soldier who told him "I can not stand it, General" Hill told him to simply go to the rear so he would not cause other good men would not run.

Henry Kyd Douglas, Stonewall's aide who had helped get Hill released from arrest, recalled in Battles and Leaders that:

But then, just then, A.P. Hill, picturesque in his red battleshirt, with 3 of his brigades, 2500 men, who had marched 17 miles from Harpers Ferry and had waded the Potomac, appeared upon the scene. Tired and footsore, the men forgot their woes in that supreme moment, and with no breathing time braced themselves to meet the coming shock. They met it and stayed it. The blue line staggered and hesitated, and hesitating, was lost. At the critical moment A.P. Hill was always at his strongest. ... Again A.P. Hill, as at Manassas, Harper's Ferry, and elsewhere had struck with the right hand of Mars. No wonder both Lee and Jackson, when, in the delirium of their last moments on earth, they stood again to battle saw the form of A.P. Hill leading his columns on; but it is a wonder and a shame that the grave of this valiant Virginian has not a stone to mark it and keep it from oblivion.

The Army of Northern Virginia had escaped disaster because of Hill and his Division's speed and hard-hitting fighting.

** Fredericksburg **


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