Articles Main
Site Library

Welcome to And Then A.P. Hill Came Up

the internet home and headquarters for Ambrose Powell Hill

A Short Biography of A.P. Hill

Of all of Lee's commanders, Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was the most enigmatic and hard to characterize. He was famed for the red shirt he liked to wear into battle sometimes and his hard hitting attacks at the head of the famous Light Division (particularly at Sharpsburg). But a mysterious and cruel illness severely inhibited him as a corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. Still, he was in command of one third of Lee's army and A.P. Hill was the man that both Stonewall Jackson and R.E. Lee called upon in their dying moments.

Ambrose Powell Hill, Jr., --A.P. in the records and annals of the Army of Northern Virginia, Powell to family and friends-- was born on the morning of 9 November 1825 outside of the town of Culpeper, in central Virginia.

He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in the summer of 1842 as a member of the famed class of 1846, but an embarrassing illness contracted on summer furlough resulted in Hill being sent home to recover his health in his junior year. Returning, he graduated 15th in the class of 1847 and was posted to the artillery.

Sent to Mexico, he saw little action as the United States war with Mexico had already drawn to a conclusion, unlike most of his former classmates in the Class of '46. His antebellum army years were marked by service in Florida and with the U.S. Coast Survey. He married in 1859 to a young widowed woman named Kitty Morgan McClung.

Upon the outbreak of war he resigned as a First Lieutenant to cast his lot with the South because of a strong belief in states rights and because he felt it was his duty to defend the honor of Virginia. He was given command of the 13th Virginia as colonel. Seeing little action in the West Virginia Romney Campaign, he saw action at Yorktown and Williamsburg. Recommended for promotion, in a mere 90 days he had jumped from Colonel to Major General. Seeing action in the series of battles around Richmond known collectively as the "Seven Days," he established a reputation for great bravery, skill, and aggressiveness while leading what became known as the Light Division. A sharp feud and supposed challenge to a duel involving his commander James Longstreet about a newspaper account about a battle during the Seven Days resulted in Hill being transferred to the command of former classmate and a man who proved to be totally incompatible with Hill as far as personality, T.J. Jackson.

Despite a severe and on going quarrel with the dour Jackson that led to his eventual arrest, Hill distinguished himself at Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, and the capture of Harper's Ferry.

While technically still under arrest, he made a brilliant, rapid march to Sharpsburg to save the day and battle in his finest hour as a battlefield commander. His performance at Fredericksburg in December was lackluster, however, and he left an infamous gap in his line. Over the winter he continued the ugly argument with Jackson, demanding a court martial to investigate Hill's conduct and to exonerate him, but Lee pretty much shelved the argument.

In May of 1863, at Chancellorsville, he was on Jackson's famed flank march and took command of the corps when Jackson fell wounded in the arm on the night of the 2nd. Soon after, a shell struck Hill in the back of the legs, knocking him from further command.

With Jackson's death later and subsequent reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia, Hill received command of the newly formed Third Corps (and promotion to the rank of Lieutenant General) which he led in the Gettysburg campaign.

His men began the battle, though he was ill on the first day of the fighting. On the second and third days, his men were effectively turned over to other commands. In the fall of 1863, Hill made the mistake of failing to conduct proper reconnaissance and met with bloody disaster at Bristoe Station. Illness struck him again at the Wilderness in the spring of 1864, almost resulting in a disaster when he could not ride out and reorganize his tired men and lines. He missed the battle of Spotsylvania because of the illness, but followed the troops anyway in an ambulance. He returned in time for the battles along the North Anna and Cold Harbor.

His men held many of the main lines around Petersburg during the siege and were involved in most of the major engagements. Walter Taylor, Lee's aide, would later write that the Petersburg campaign was "the diary of the command of A.P. Hill". Sickness, that seemed to worsen as the siege dragged on, continued to plague him causing him to often take brief leaves of absence. Returning from illness and a sick leave on the morning of April 2, 1865, Hill painfully rode out to try and rally his collapsing lines. In the process he was shot through the heart by a stray group of soldiers from the Union Sixth Corps. He died instantly. With tears in his eyes, Lee remarked very sadly, "He is at rest now and we who are left are the ones to suffer."

Handsome and brave, "Little Powell" Hill was beloved by the men and officers under his command, but he also proved often to be a troublesome and rebellious subordinate. Despite a chronic and painful illness, he put in the best effort possible under the circumstances and in many ways his story was the story of the Army of Northern Virginia who he served for so long. General Lee considered him next to Jackson and Longstreet amongst his lieutenants and paid him the compliment of, "He fights his troops well and takes care of them." He was perhaps the War's finest division commander. A statue, raised by the survivors of his famous Light Division, to him now stands over his grave in Richmond.

Where to go from here . . .

Explore the much larger and longer narrative biography of A.P. Hill for a more extensive examination of his life and career.


flags Home | About | Articles | Library | Contact flags