Ambrose Powell Hill was born on November 9, 1825, at Greenland, his father's plantation near Culpeper. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842, but repeated a year due to illness and therefore was not graduated in 1846 with Jackson, George B. McClellan, George E. Pickett, and George Stoneman. Instead, he finished in 1847, fifteenth of thirty-eight. (Ambrose E. Burnside and Henry Heth were graduated the same year.) His antebellum U.S. Army service included assignments as quartermaster of the 1st Artillery and with the U.S. Coast Survey.
Beginning of the Civil War
At the head of a six-brigade "light" division that was, in fact, the largest in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, Hill built a reputation for marching quickly, fighting at a moment's notice, and committing his troops decisively. Still, after the Seven Days' Battles (1862) on the outskirts of the Confederate capital at Richmond, the Confederate high command was in personal turmoil, with Hill and Longstreet sniping at each other in the pages of the Richmond Examiner. The dispute reached such a pitch that a duel seemed imminent. Lee attempted to solve the problem by transferring Hill to Jackson's command, but he soon clashed even more seriously with his new superior. The rift hurt both men's effectiveness in spite of Lee's best efforts to mediate it.
At the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862, Hill's Light Division helped Jackson win a narrow victory when it joined a counterattack just as darkness fell. On the defensive later that month, at the Second Battle of Manassas, Hill's division stoutly withstood a succession of attacks even when in danger of running out of ammunition.
As a Corps Commander
The Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 was another story. The only Union success in what was otherwise a miserable defeat came when George G. Meade achieved a breakthrough against Hill's division, requiring troops under Jubal A. Early to help restore order. Hill performed brilliantly the following May at Chancellorsville, and when Jackson was wounded, he would have assumed command of the corps had he not himself been wounded at almost the same time. (The corps went instead to the ranking general on the field, the cavalryman J. E. B. Stuart.)
Although Hill recovered from his wound, Jackson did not, and the famous general's death resulted in Lee reorganizing the Army of Northern Virginia. Longstreet kept the First Corps and Richard S. Ewell was promoted to fill Jackson's position. Calling him "the best soldier of his grade with me," Lee promoted Hill to lieutenant general in command of a new Third Corps. His first test came two months later, in Pennsylvania.
Hill's worst day as a general came at Bristoe Station on October 14. His haste to attack and his failure to reconnoiter resulted in a debacle in which two Confederate brigades were nearly destroyed by three Union divisions he did not know were there. (They were hiding behind a railroad embankment.) A Confederate general, Carnot Posey, was mortally wounded and Lee, by all accounts, was upset with Hill. On a tour of the battlefield the next day, however, he refrained from rebuking Hill directly, only saying, "Well, well, General, bury these poor men and let us say no more about it."
The following spring, on the first day of the Battle of the Wilderness, the Third Corps stood its ground against repeated assaults. A vigorous Union attack early the next day, however, drove many of Hill's men back in confusion before a counterattack by Longstreet's First Corps turned the tide. Longstreet was wounded in the battle, only a short distance from where Jackson had been shot a year earlier. A week later, during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Hill fell ill and was forced to hand his corps over to Early. He returned to duty after two weeks but did not perform well in the battles at North Anna River (1864) and Cold Harbor (1864).
Both Jackson and Lee are said to have called for Hill from their deathbeds, Jackson saying, "Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action," and Lee saying, "Tell Hill he must come up!" Though questions have been raised about either man's ability to say anything of substance in their last moments, the meaning of these anecdotes is nevertheless clear: both generals believed that they could depend on Hill, whose record as a division commander was perhaps the best in the short history of the Army of Northern Virginia.
November 9, 1825 - Ambrose Powell Hill is born at Greenland, his father’s plantation near Culpeper, Virginia.
1842 - A. P. Hill enters the United States Military Academy at West Point.
1847 - After being forced to repeat a year due to illness, A. P. Hill graduates from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
1856 - While stationed in Washington, D.C., A. P. Hill proposes marriage to Mary Ellen Marcy, whose father is an Army officer. Her family disapproves and Marcy later marries George B. McClellan, one of Hill's good friends.
1859 - A. P. Hill marries Kitty Morgan McClung, sister of future Confederate cavalry general John Hunt Morgan.
July 21, 1861 - A. P. Hill and the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment are held in reserve at the First Battle of Manassas.
December 13, 1862 - The only Union success at the Battle of Fredericksburg comes when Union general George G. Meade achieves a breakthrough against Confederate general A. P. Hill's division.
October 14, 1863 - At the Battle of Bristoe Station, Confederate general A. P. Hill attacks Union forces too hastily. His failure to reconnoiter results in a debacle in which two Confederate brigades are nearly destroyed by three Union divisions hiding behind a railroad embankment.
April 2, 1865 - Union forces breach Confederate lines south of Petersburg, in a sector held by troops under Confederate general A. P. Hill, who is killed in the fighting. Confederate general Robert E. Lee manages to hold off the Union forces long enough to evacuate Petersburg and flee to the west.
- Civil War, American (1861–1865)
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First published: May 27, 2009 | Last modified: March 25, 2014