Monday, December 29, 2008

Reading Robertson's "A.P. Hill"

I am just about to finish James Robertson's General A.P. Hill: The story of a Confederate Warrior and I am really excited about finished it. It is a wonderful book about a man who only has one other major biography about him. Known for his red battle shirt and his hard-hitting attacks at the head of the famed Light Division, Ambrose P. Hill proved to be an example of the Peter principle.


Hill was a West Pointer (1847) and veteran artilleryman, he resigned as a first lieutenant on March 1, 1861, and joined the South, where his services included: colonel, 13th Virginia (spring 1861); brigadier general, CSA (February 26, 1862); commanding brigade, Longstreet's Division, Department of Northern Virginia (ca. February 26 - May 27, 1862); major general, CSA (May 26, 1862); commanding Light Division (in lst Corps from June 29 and 2nd Corps from July 27, 1862), Army of Northern Virginia (May 27, 1862 - May 2, 1863); commanding 2nd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia (May 2 and 6-30, 1863); lieutenant general, CSA (May 24, 1863); and commanding 3rd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia (May 30, 1863-May 7, 1864 and May 21, 1864-April 2, 1865).
In reserve at lst Bull Run, he fought at Yorktown and Williamsburg before being given command of a division. On the day he assumed command he directed the fight at Hanover Court House. He then took part in the Seven Days, distinguishing himself. After fighting at Cedar Mountain, 2nd Bull Run, and the capture of Harpers Ferry, he launched powerful counterattacks at the right moment at both Antietam and Fredericksburg. At Chancellorsville he was on Jackson's famed march around the Union right flank. When Jackson was wounded, Hill took command of the corps but was wounded carrying out his chief's orders to "press right in." At the end of the month he was given command of the new 3rd Corps, which he led to Gettysburg where, suffering from a now unidentifiable illness, he put in a lackluster performance.
He was responsible for the disaster at Bristoe Station that fall and, again ill, was virtually circumvented at the Wilderness when Lee in effect took over command of the corps. He relinquished command temporarily after the battle and missed Spotsylvania but returned for the North Anna and Cold Harbor. Taking part in the siege of Petersburg, he was again ill during part of the winter of 186465. With the lines around the city collapsing on April 2, 1865, he was shot and killed in an encounter with a stray group of federal soldiers.
Interestingly enough, both Stonewall Jackson and Lee called for Hill and his division in their dying delirium. It must have been the old Hill they were recalling. (Hassler, William W., A.P. Hill: Lee's Forgotten General and Schenck, Martin, Up Came Hill.- The Story of the Light Division and of its Leaders)

One of the best quotes that I found in this book was Hill's letter to fellow COnfederate General Wade Hampton. It was the latter part of 1864 and Hampton's son was just killed defending the city of Petersburg, Virginia. Hill's letter to his friend Hampton fully expresses his grief over his friends recent loss. Moreover, his letter expresses the feelings that many of us has felt when a friend or a spouse has lost someone who might not have been close to us. Read on and enjoy it!

"October 28, 1864

My Dear General

I take the liberty of writing to you, to express my deep sympathy with you in the end of your nible boy, and my earnest desire, were such a thing possible, to alleviate your grief. Any assistance which I can give you in forwarding your wishes in any way, please do not hestatie to call upon me. With great sympathy, being truly your friend.

A.P. Hill"

Sources: Who Was Who In The Civil War by Stewart Sifakis & General A.P. Hill: The story of a Confederate Warrior by James I. Robertson Jr.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who should I promote? Robert E. Lee after the death of Thomas J. Jackson

After Stonewall Jackson was killed the Confederate high command had an important decision ot make. The Army of Northern Virginia had entered a state of change after the beloved commander of the Second Corps met his end by a volley fired by his own troops. Lee had six eligiable candiates to replace Jackson and if you look at the list you could form a second army around these guys.

Richard Ewell-->Served with distinction with Jackson in the Valley and the Second Bull Run campaign where he was wounded.

A.P. Hill-->Lee called him his best division commander. This was very difficult for anyone to argue because Hill's division saved the Confederate right at Sharpsburg and despite a questionable performance at Fredricksburg, Hill's division possessed one of the best fighting forces in America. This was due to the strength of Hill as a commander.

John Bell Hood-->Next to Hill he was argulably Lee's best division commander. Hood had smashed the Union line at Gaines Mill and saved the Confederate left at Sharpsburg in 1862.

Richard H. Anderson-->Had one of the best resumes of any of the six commanders. He served with distinction during the Seven Days Campaign, Antietam and Second Bull Run. Anderson also was a very humble man like R.E. Lee.

Lafayette McLaws-->Another division commander and like Hood he served with skill under the commands of James Longstreet and Jackson. Like Hill he fought in every single battle that the Army of Northern Virginia had ever seen.

Jackson died on May 10, 1863 and by May 23rd the gray-bearded Lee had made his decision. He would divide his army into three corps instead of the two that had previously existed. This would make it easier for Lee and his corps commanders to dictate orders and fight battles. Longstreet would remain in command of the First Corps. As successor to Jackson, General Lee decided that Richard Ewell would become the new commander of the Second Corps.

Meanwhile the command of the newly minted Third Corps would fall to A.P. Hill. Many in the army critisized the decision and stated that the army's commander picked Hill because he was a Virginian. Years later Jefferson Davis would put this theory to rest in his memorirs by stating "There had been complaints in certain quarters that Virginia was getting more her fair share of the promotions. But the truth is that A.P. Hill was clearly entitled to the place, both ont he account of his ability as a soldier and the meritorious services he had rendered, that General Lee did not hestiate to to recommend him, and I did not hestiate to make the appointment."


Robertson, James I. General A. P. Hill : The Story of a Confederate Warrior. New York: Random House, 1987.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Forgotten Battles of the Civil War: The Battle of Sheperdstown, September 19-20, 1862

It has been quite a while since I published a Forgotten Battle of the Civil War. But I am back now and today's episode will focus on the Battle of Sheperdstown.

After Lee's "defeat" at Sharpsburg both he and the Army of Northern Virginia retreated across the Potomac at Shepherdstown. Covering the Confederate retreat was Lee's chief of artillery General William Pendleton. General Pendleton set up 44cannon on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. It was Pendleton's job to make sure that the Union army did not prance upon Lee's retreating troops. Two small brigades of infantry helped protect Pendleton's guns as the Confederates waded the river and by daybreak almost the entire army was across. On September 19th Union caverly and the 5th Army Corps under General Fitz John Porter sent the First U.S. Sharpshooters and one company of the 5th New York Infantry forward. They used the dry trench of the C & O Canal as cover and began to pick off Confederate gunners on the far side of the river. Some Union artillery shells crashed into Shepherdstown itself, causing confusion and chaos among the townspeople and wounded rebels left there.

As Union fire intensfied General Pendleton spread his troops thing so all of his guns could be protected. Just before dark General Porter ordered 500 men to attack and the Confederate infantry was forced back. Pendleton managed to pull out most of his guns but four pieces fell under Union control. Porter pulled the captured guns and his troops back to the Northern side of the Potomac River. As for the Confederates Pendleton mistakenly reported to Lee that Union forces were in Virginia and had captured the entire reserve artillery. Lee and Jackson reacted by ordering A. P. Hill's and Jubal Early's Divisions to stop their withdrawal, turn, and drive the pursuers back into Maryland.

The following day, General Porter ordered two brigades to cross the Potomac and clear out any rebel forces that were in the area. Waiting for them were the troops under Early and Hill. With the Confederates advancing in force, Porter ordered his troops to retreat and he ordered his artillery to cover the "retreat" with a heavy artillery barrage. Colonel Charles M. Prevost, commanding the newly formed 118th Pennsylvania Infantry refused to retreat and Hill's Confederates slammed into the Pennsylvanians as they formed near the edge of the Potomac. Prevost's men quickly attempted to return fire but many of them had defective guns and scores of his men dropped their ineffective weapons in disgust and dashed across the Potomac. Colonel Prevost was wounded trying to steady his men, other officers led a bayonet charge which was smashed, and the regiment broke apart. Some tried to escape by climbing down the bluffs under Confederate fire, and many died as they fell to the rocks below. Others picked their way past the old cement mill, ran across the slippery dam, or waded across at the ford. Of the 700 men in the 118th who crossed the river that morning, only 431 came back across.

The battle proved to Union commander George B. McCellan that pursing Lee after Antietam (Sharpsburg) would only cause more problems for him because Lee's army still had some fight in it. He hestiated and this delay eventually would cause President Abraham Lincoln to remove him as the commander of the Army of the Potomac on November 7. The Battle of Shepherdstown ended the Maryland Campaign, Lee's first invasion of the North.