A.P. Hill gets a Corps

Last updated June 17th, 2007 by Jenny
A.P. Hill, CSA

It was unclear who Lee would select to head his Second Corps. The First, obviously, would remain under Longstreet. But who to head the Second? Who could take Jackson's place? The Army was abuzz with talk. Would it be Richard Ewell -- who Jackson had suggested follow him, but was coming off a long lay off from a severe wound that cost him his leg? Or would it be A.P. Hill? How about cavalary commander Jeb Stuart who had performed so well after Hill fell wounded at Chancellorsville? Lafayette McLaws and R.H. Anderson were outside canidiates but also were considered viable.

In the end, it came down to Ewell and Hill.

Ewell was something of an unknown to Lee. He had served under Jackson in the Valley but then had fallen wounded in the leg at Brawner's Farm before Second Manassas. He had thus never directly served under Lee. Nonetheless, Jackson had recommended Ewell for corps command if anything ever happened to him and he was the Army's senior commander of division rank.

Hill was well known by Lee. In a letter, Lee had stated "A.P. Hill is the best soldier of the grade with me. He fights his troops well and takes care of them." Lee respected Hill as a fighter and administrator, even if he did not appreciate Hill's cantankerous nature and tendency towards feuding.

Lee had been apparently thinking of dividing his army from two infantry corps to three. Now he had the opportunity to act on those plans. He took one division from Longstreet's corps and then split Jackson's Second corps in half. The old Second Corps was given to Ewell. The new Third corps -- containing Anderson's Division from Longstreet's corps, some reinforcements from the Carolinas, and Hill's Light Division -- was given to A.P. Hill.

History of the Third Corps

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.

Not everyone was thrilled with Hill's selection. Chief among the post-war complainers was James Longstreet. Perhaps still sore over the feud he had with Hill, perhaps jealous of Virginia, he complained:

 As the senior major-general of the army, and by reason of distinguished services and ability, General Ewell was entitled to the command of the Second Corps, but there were other major-generals of rank next below Ewell whose services were such as to give them claims next after Ewell's, so that when they found themselves neglected there was no little discontent, and the fact that both the new lieutenant-generals were Virginians made the trouble more grevious.*

    Afterwards, when Early, noted as the weakest general officer of the Army of Northern Virginia, was appointed lieutenant-general over those who held higher rank than he, there was a serious feeling of "too much Virginia."

    * General D.H. Hill was next in rank to General Ewell. He was the hero of Bethel, Seven Pines, South Mountain, and the hardest fighter at Sharpsburg. His record was as good as "Stonewall" Jackson, but not being a Virginian, he was not so well-advertised. (this is Longstreet's own footnote - Ed.)

Longstreet later writes that Ewell was the superior corps commander to A.P. Hill. D.S. Freeman in R.E. Lee also notes of Longstreet that, "[N]othing quite suited him least of all the appointment of two Virginians to the rank he held. D. H. Hill or McLaws, he grumbled to himself, would have been better than either Ewell or A. P. Hill, but neither was of Lee's own state and consequently both were passed over."

The source of this contention on Longstreet's behalf is R.E. Lee by D.S. Freeman, in a footnote. The footnote reads: Longstreet, who was not friendly to A. P. Hill, thought Ewell that officer's superior. Ewell, he said, was Jackson's equal in execution, but far inferior in independent command, "neither was he as confident and self-reliant" (Washington Post, June 11, 1893, p10). In that same article, Longstreet stated that he had recommended to Lee that Jackson, instead of Kirby Smith be sent to the Trans-Mississippi. Freeman was not a Longstreet fan, but he WAS a careful historian, so I will take that the 1893 article says what it says and use that contention in this defense of Hill.

Most of Longstreet's complaining took place after the War and after Hill was dead. So others had to take up his cause. Colonel William Allen wrote, "It would be about as just to accuse Lee of undue partiality to Georgia in making Longstreet his senior lieutenant, as it is to accuse him of partiality to Virginia in selecting A.P. Hill rather than D.H. Hill or McLaws for the command of the Third Corps."

Longstreet contended that:

As the senior major-general of the army, and by reason of distinguished services and ability, General Ewell was entitled to the command of the Second Corps, but there were other major-generals of rank next below Ewell whose services were such as to give them claims next after Ewell's, so that when they found themselves neglected there was no little discontent, and the fact that both the new lieutenant-generals were Virginians made the trouble more grevious.

But Freeman notes, "With Ewell, the circumstances of promotion were unusual. Lee took him at the valuation of others, rather than on his own knowledge of the soldier. The selection was sentimental and therefore inevitable." That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for Ewell recieving the command of a corps.

Of A.P. Hill, Freeman notes, "Hill, however, was devoted, prompt, and energetic, and, though both Longstreet and Jackson had put him under arrest, he deserved promotion. If he did not thereafter display even a spark of the genius of Jackson, he never was guilty of any irremediable blunder."

Further, Jefferson Davis noted of the "too much Virginia" complaints that: ""There had been complaints in certain quarters that Virginia was getting more than her fair share of the promotions. But the truth was that A.P. Hill was so clearly entitled to the place, both on account of his ability as a soldier and the meritorious services he had rendered, that General Lee did not hesitate to recommend him, and I did not hesitate to make the appointment."

Finally, written at the time of Hill's promotion, we have the recollection of Dorsey Pender: ""Do not believe all you see about the last words of Jackson, for some designing person is trying to injure General Hill by saying that he frequently said that he wanted Ewell to have his corps. After it became apparent that he would die, he was delirious most if not all of the time. It is strange what a jealousy exists towards A.P. Hill and this Division, and for what cause I cannot see, unless it is because he and it have been so successful. I hope to stick to him for he sticks to me."

Let's look at who Longstreet would have preferred. He writes:

General D.H. Hill was next in rank to General Ewell. He was the hero of Bethel, Seven Pines, South Mountain, and the hardest fighter at Sharpsburg. His record was as good as "Stonewall" Jackson, but not being a Virginian, he was not so well-advertised .... least of all the appointment of two Virginians to the rank he held. D. H. Hill or McLaws, he grumbled to himself, would have been better than either Ewell or A. P. Hill, but neither was of Lee's own state and consequently both were passed over.

It is curious that even after the War, Longstreet would push McLaws as a potential corps commander. After the ill-fated Tennessee Campaign in 1863, Longstreet made McLaws a scapegoat for failures at Fort Sanders. He even had charges brought against McLaws. As for D.H. Hill, Lee and D.H. Hill did not see eye to eye. Further clouding Lee's view of Hill was the Lost Order.

During the Sharpsburg Campaign, Union soldiers had stumbled upon two cigars wrapped around a set of battle plans from Lee's Army. Lee was shocked at how quickly McClellan moved at Sharpsburg. Marshall says that he "frequently expressed his inability to understand the sudden change in McClellan's tactics." The reason for McClellan's uncharacteristic speed was his discovery of Lee's battle plans, Special Orders 191. Lee learned about this in the spring of 1863. The order that was lost was addressed to -- yes, that's right, D.H. Hill. D.H. Hill vigorously claimed he was innocent, but in Lee's mind, it would be difficult to imagine that he did not assign at least SOME blame to the addressee for losing the order that almost cost him the campaign.

History, with its 20-20 hindsight, may go on to criticize Lee's choice of A.P. Hill as he never rose to spectacular heights as a corps commander; at best he was mediocore. However, he was saddled with subortinates of less promise and came to command a corps when the Union army was vastly improving. These things and others would have a profound effect on how Hill would perform as a corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. For now, the War simply moved on.

Although Chancellorsville was a smashing success, things were generally not going well for the Southern Confederacy at this point in other theaters of the War. Most notably, Union commander U.S. Grant was close to finally capturing the important Mississippi river town of Vicksburg. In a series of meetings in Richmond following Jackson's death, Lee and President Jefferson Davis hammered out a strategy to hopefully relieve pressure on Vicksburg and that would allow Lee to keep the initative in the East. The decision was made to send Lee north into Union territory again with the idea of winning a decisive battle on northern soil and, perhaps, coveted and essential foreign recognition for the Confederacy.

As the two armies stared at each other from across the river, a humorous -- but deadly serious -- incident took place in regards to Hill. Bruce Catton recounts it in his book, Glory Road:

Along the banks of the Rappahannock the Yankee pickets were carrying on trade and exchanging half-amiable insults with the Confederates across the water. The 46th New York, sending a little sailboat across, freighted it with a letter inviting the Rebels to come over for a visit in the evening. The letter closed with the words: "In the hope that Jeff Davis and Abe Lincoln will give us peace, we send our respects." One day a Confederate picket yelled across to a group of Federals: "Say, you Yanks, why didn't you shoot General Hill? He stood right here half an hour ago." The Federals replied they were sorry to have missed a chance they had seen him but supposed he was simply an officer of the guard and not worth shooting. One Confederate, asking loudly, "Where's Joe Hooker now?" was tartly informed: "He's gone to Stonewall Jackson's funeral."

The period of relative quiet had ended; the Civil War was about to begin again in the eastern theater in deadly earnest.

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