A.P. Hill: Early Life and Military Service
Ambrose Powell Hill was born on November 9, 1825, in Culpeper, Virginia. His father was a prominent politician and merchant whose connections helped Hill secure an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842. Hill was forced to repeat his third year at West Point due to an extended illness, and ranked 15th in a class of 38 upon graduation in 1847.
Hill was commissioned to the 1st U.S. Artillery and was sent to Mexico during the closing stages of the Mexican-American War (1846-48). He then served as a quartermaster on garrison duty in the Deep South and was involved in operations against the Seminoles in Florida. In 1855 Hill received a transfer to the U.S. Coastal Survey, and worked along the eastern seaboard while stationed in Washington, D.C. In 1859 Hill married a widow named Kitty Morgan McClung, the sister of future Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. The couple would later have two daughters.
A.P. Hill: Civil War Service
Hill resigned from the military in March 1861 and joined the Confederacy. He entered the Civil War as a colonel in command of the 13th Virginia Infantry. Hill’s regiment was held in support during the early Confederate victory at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in July 1861, and he was later promoted to brigadier general in February 1862. Hill next served during the Peninsula Campaign, in which Union General George McClellan—Hill’s former West Point roommate—attempted to land his army on the Virginia coast and move on Richmond. Hill performed well in the early stages of the invasion, and was noted for his aggressive performance at the Battle of Williamsburg in May 1862. He earned his second major promotion in three months—to the rank of major general—shortly thereafter.
Even though it was one of largest divisions in the Confederate Army, Hill christened his new command the Light Division—likely due to the breakneck pace at which he moved his troops. Hill’s reputation as a fearless commander continued to grow during the Seven Days Battles in June 1862; he was noted for riding near the front of his lines during the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek. During this time Hill also engaged in public arguments with his commander, General James Longstreet, over a series of newspaper articles that inflated Hill’s role in the Battle of Glendale. The feud reached a boiling point when Longstreet placed Hill under arrest for insubordination. With the possibility of a duel looming, in July 1862 Robert E. Lee transferred Hill and his Light Division to General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Army of the Shenandoah.
Hill quickly proved valuable in his new command, participating in a successful counterattack during the Battle of Cedar Mountain in August 1862. He later played a key defensive role in the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas), in which his troops thwarted repeated Union attacks. Despite these strong early results, Hill clashed with Jackson over marching orders during the Maryland Campaign and was placed under arrest for neglect of duty. He was soon reinstated, however, and performed admirably during the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. Hill’s fleet-footed Light Division proved invaluable during the bloody engagement, undertaking a force march from Harpers Ferry to the battlefield at a blistering pace. Arriving at a crucial time in the engagement, Hill was able to reinforce Lee’s army and repel the forces of General Ambrose Burnside.
Hill next served during the overwhelming Confederate victory at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. His actions during the battle proved controversial, as his was the only Confederate line breached by a Union charge, requiring an emergency counterattack from forces under the command of General Jubal Early. At the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Hill briefly took command of Jackson’s Second Corps after Jackson was mortally wounded. Hill was then forced to turn command over to General J.E.B. Stuart after being wounded in his calves by a musket shot.
A.P. Hill: Commander of the Third Corps
Hill was promoted to lieutenant general in May 1863 and placed in command of the newly organized Third Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. He first commanded this new outfit during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. His force was prominent on the battle’s first day, though Hill was criticized for instigating the battle despite an order from Lee that urged his commanders not to engage until the army was concentrated. Divisions from Hill’s corps later played a part in the futile offensive known as “Pickett’s Charge” on the battle’s third day, though General James Longstreet led the attack.
Hill would later suffer one of his worst defeats as a field commander in October 1863 at the Battle of Bristoe Station. Always an aggressive tactician, Hill ordered a Confederate charge and was ambushed by a Union force that had positioned itself behind a railroad embankment. The battle ended as a decisive Union victory, and Hill’s unit suffered over 1,300 casualties. Hill next served during the Battle of Mine Run in November and December 1864, and then at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. He was struck by illness at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House later that month, and was forced to temporarily turn command of the Third Corps over to General Jubal Early.
A.P. Hill: Death at Petersburg
While Hill would return to his command for the Battles of North Anna and Cold Harbor, poor health plagued him throughout the second half of 1864 and early 1865. He spent most of the later months of the war on the siege lines outside of Petersburg, where his unit was engaged in defending the city. Hill’s health continued to worsen, and he was forced to spend part of March 1865 on sick leave. He returned to the field in April, just before the siege-ending assault by Union forces at the Third Battle of Petersburg. During the fighting, Hill was mortally wounded by a Union soldier as he and a member of his staff were riding near the front lines. He died at the age of 39, only a week before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.