Thursday, February 21, 2008

A.P. Hill the Saviour

History records that Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson called for him on their death beds. Both men were in a state that any last words could have been impossible but if they did call for A.P. Hill it was for a good reason because Hill saved the Confederates from defeat on several occasions.

Their “calls” for Hill were “given” for good reason and I’ve compiled a list of moments that saved the Confederate army from destruction.

August 9, 1862 @ Cedar Mountain, Virginia: Maj. Gen. T.J. Jackson was placed in command of 14,000 men and order by General R.E. Lee to keep Union General John Pope busy. Pope was placed in command of a new army called the Army of Virginia on June 26, 1862. In early August, Pope aggressively marched his men into Culpepper County with the objective of capturing the rail junction at Gordonsville. On August 9, Jackson and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks fought a pitched battle at Cedar Mountain. Back by superior numbers the men in blue easily overcame the graybacks but a Confederate counterattack led by A.P. Hill’s division repulsed the Union onslaught and won the day. The victory was instrumental to the rebel cause because it shifted Union attention from the Peninsula to Northern Virginia, giving General Lee the initiative.

August 29, 1862 @ Second Manassas, Virginia: Confederate soldiers under both Hill and Jackson were “entrenched” along an unfinished railroad cut near the old Bull Run battlefield. Pope’s men attacked relentlessly but Hill and his men held firm and beat back several attacks. Soon ammunition ran low and Hill quickly asserted that the Union men were massing for another assault. A messenger was dispatched by Hill to inform Jackson of his situation but Jackson responded to Hill that me “must beat” the next attack. Reinforcements and ammo were at a premium but Jacksons only choice was to stand and fight so the rest of Lee’s army could arrive to help. Later, Jackson rode out to Hill and personally told Hill "General, your men have done nobly. If you are attacked again, you will beat the enemy back." As these words were spoken the Union assault began. Hill’s men were successful despite low ammunition and high casualties. When Jackson received a message from Hill that stated "General Hill presents his compliments and says the attack of the enemy was repulsed." A rare smile brightened Jacksons face and he responded to Hill "Tell him I knew he would do it!” Hill held the flank of Jacksons line and had they faltered than the soon to be victory at Second Manassas wouldn’t have occurred.

September 17, 1862 @ Sharpsburg, Maryland: Union troops under General Ambrose Burnside had smashed Lee’s right flank after a fierce contest to cross the lower bridge over Antietam creek. Lee had no more reserves to throw into the fight and both his left and center had been bent back from Union assaults staged earlier. At this point the Confederate army was doomed but if A.P. Hill’s men could reach the battlefield in time then it was possible that the day could still be saved. As Lee watched his men retreat from Burnsides assault he looked to the southwest and noticed a dust cloud. Lee’s heart must have been in his throat because if the dust cloud was the result of Union troops that meant total disaster. If the cloud was a result of Hill’s men then the Army of Northern Virginia could be spared. Lee anxiously asked an aide "Who's troops are those?". His assistant spied the troops through a set of binoculars and after a moment stated "They are flying the Virginia flags.” Lee stretched out his chest and excitedly exclaimed “It is A.P. Hill is from Harper's Ferry!" Hill’s men slammed into Burnside (who was one of Hill’s classmates at West Point) and these fresh Confederate troops beat the men in blue backwards. An aide to Hill later wrote that “the blue line staggered and hesitated, and hesitating, was lost.” Lee’s flank was saved and the legend of A.P. Hill saving the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction was created.

Three times in less than two months put Hill in position to save the Army of Northern Virginia and he did so with earnestness and zeal. Both Cedar Mountain and Sharpsburg had solidified Hill’s reputation as a Confederate savior and perhaps put him on the lips of both Jackson and Lee as they lay dying. These actions made General Hill a member of the pantheon of Confederate heroes and backed up Lee’s thesis that “I consider A.P. Hill the best commander with me. He fights his troops well and takes good care of them.” Hill would go on to receive a promotion to Lieutenant General but a mysterious malady would plague him for the rest of the war. (James Robertson once stated that Hill was suffering from Syphilis obtained during his early army days.)


The Official Records

Battles and Leaders of the Civil War

Perhaps the best webpage on any Civil War general

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