Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The forgotten general of the Confederacy: Daniel H. Hill

General Daniel Harvey Hill (1821-1889) was the brother-in-law of "Stonewall" Jackson and served in the Confederate armed forces for the entire war. He was a brilliant man who taught mathematics at the college level. During the Mexican War, Hill served with distinction by earning two brevets before the conflict ended. Hill is a forgotten General in Civil War literature because he was transferred around due to his ability to "offend many and conciliate none." Confederate officer E. Porter Alexender said that Hill "had done as much hard fighting as any other general." Like more famous brother-in-law, Hill was extremely religious and "earnest in his Puritan beliefs." Hill led by example, often leading attacks at the front of his men and risking his life as much as his soldiers were risking theirs. At times Hill was known to shoulder a musket and fight in the ranks with his soldiers.

This uncommon bravery inspired hope, fortitude and courage among the common ranks of his soldiers who seemed willing to follow him to the death. Ordinary soldiers wrote frequently of Hills bravery in battle, a Texas soldier marveled at Hill's "true bravery and nerve" in combat. Major James N. Edmondson observed that Hill "in action & under fire he commands the admiration & respect of everyone." Another soldier wrote that Hill was "a determined bulldog fighter...a fighter from way back." These postive comments, though wonderful, do not fully explain the reasoning behind Hill's exclusion from talk about top Civil War commanders.

D.H. Hill's courage, zeal and heroism in battle did not guarantee him a place amongst the pantheon of Civil War heroes. His fighting prowess was rarely questioned but his sarcastic negativity towards fellow officers and situations put him at odds with a lot of people who later became responsible for a large portion of post-war Civil War literature. Hill was temperamental and G. Moxley Sorrel, an good judge of character who wrote a lot about the personality of Lee's generals wrote that Hill had a "marked and peculiar character." James Longstreet backed Sorrel's statements by stating that Hill lacked some backbone because when he could see that his attacks or criticisms were destined to fail he would give up if "unrewarded" initially. Robert E. Lee wrote that Hill was "an excellent executive officer" who when left to himself "seems embarrassed and backward to act."

The head of the Confederate ordinance department, Josiah Gorgas wrote that Hill was "harsh, abrupt, often insulting in the effort to be sarcastic." Therefore, Daniel Hill made enemies easily due to his often critical analysis of those in power above him. During the war a friend wrote that Hill was destroying "with his pen the reputation the reputation he has won with his sword." Hill's tendency to deliver pessimistic opinions caused him problems with such leaders as President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee. Hill had a disagreeably ability to pick a fight with the wrong people when he felt that he was personally and morally right. Throughout Hill was moved around because he quarreled or criticized the leaders above him but avoided total censure because of his marvelous fighting prowess.

During the conflict Hill moved up that officer ladder quickly by earning a commission as colonel of the 1st North Carolina. After his regiment, fought at Big Bethel, Virginia he was awarded the rank of brigadier general on July 10, 1861. This rank place him in the armies defending the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and Hill would remain here for over a year. After serving faithfully during the Peninsular campaign, Seven Pines, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, South Mountain and Antietam. Historian Gary Gallagher feels that Hill's sharp criticism of Robert E. Lee during these campaigns is what caused his transfer out of the Army of Northern Virginia. He states that the battle would have been a complete victory if the artillery and infantry fought "in detail" and his attack failed because of "the want of concert with the infantry divisions." Furthermore, Hill called Lee's management of the Malvern Hill battle as "blundering." Lee's direct response to the criticism is unknown but after the Sharpsburg campaign Hill was transferred away from Virginia and he served in the North Carolina defenses. This would not be the last time that Hill was pushed out of a military position and face a new assignment.

During the Gettysburg campaign, Hill was recalled to help in the defense of Richmond as Robert E. Lee moved north. After a promotion he served with General Braxton Bragg's Army of the Tennessee during the Battle of Chickamauga. He later recommended Bragg's removal because Hill felt that his commanding general was incompetent. This placed it at odds with Confederate President Jefferson Davis who supported Bragg and removed Hill from command. This quarrel with Davis would later come back to haunt Hill as his opportunity to become a Lt. General went unapproved by the Confederate Congress with which Davis had influence over. Hill was moved again, this time back to North Carolina where he was given a small command in Bentonville. He would surrender with General Joseph Johnston and the Army of Tennesse to Union General William T. Sherman in 1865. After the war he ran a newspaper and magazine in North Carolina, wrote two marvelous articles in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War and also contributed to algebra and religious literature. He also served as a college administrator becoming the first president of the University of Arkansas. Hill died on September 24, 1889 and is buried in North Carolina at the Davidson College Cemetery.

General Daniel Harvey Hill was a great leader who easily found ways to get into trouble with his superiors. One wonders how far Hill's fame would have risen had he been able to keep his mouth and pen quiet. But he was a man who stood by his beliefs despite the ideas of those around him. Perhaps he summed up his attitudes best when he wrote "It is unfortunate to have views different from the rest of mankind. It secures abuse."

The above information was take from these three sources:

Boatner, Mark Mayo, Allen C. Northrop, and Lowell I. Miller. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: D. McKay Co, 1959.

Bridges, Hal., Lee's Maverick General. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1991.

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