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D. H. Hill was born about the year 1820, in York District, South Carolina, at a place called Hill's Iron Works, owned by Hill & Hayne—the latter of whom was brother of the revolutionary hero of Charleston fame. The British troops burned these works in a spirit of revenge, especially on account of the active participation in the Revolutionary war of the grandfather of the subject of our sketch, who was then a rebel colonel, and, besides other titles to fame, obtained the credit of having planned the famous battle of King's Mountain. D. H. Hill was the youngest of six sons. All of them obtained distinction in different careers, and furnish an uncommon example of social and professional success in an entire family. Graduating at West Point with honour, in 1842, D. H. Hill entered the United States Army, and remained in it until after the close of the Mexican War. He was brevetted captain for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. He afterwards obtained another brevet, that of major, at the storming of Chapultepec; and here it is recorded of him that he was the second man on the American side that mounted the ramparts. In 1849 he resigned his position in the army to accept a professorship in Washington College, Virginia, where he filled for six years the chair of Mathematics and Military Tactics, a place honoured by the special endowment of George Washington, and called the “Cincinnati Chair.” His failing health compelled a change of climate, and he accepted a professorship in Davidson College, North Carolina, where he continued several years. He left this position to become the President of the North Carolina Military Institute, located at Charlotte; and from this flourishing school was culled much of the generous youth that perished in the war.
The associations of Professor Hill at Washington College, Virginia, was the occasion of his advice being sought by the visitors of the adjoining Military Institute in filling the vacancy of one of the chairs of that school; and he strongly recommended “ Stonewall” Jackson, and probably his influence secured his appointment over the claims of several more pretentious and persistent candidates. The relations of these two men were very affectionate and honourable. Their attachment commenced at West Point; they served together in Mexico in many and varied scenes of danger; they were brothers in feeling and affection long
before they married sisters, and contracted in reality a fraternal tie. They both married daughters of Rev. Dr. Morrison, son of a Revolutionary patriot, and himself one of the most gifted, accomplished, and talented men North Carolina ever produced.
Before winning historic renown in the recent war, D. H. Hill had some adventures as a literary author, and gave evidence that he had not devoted all his time and talents to military science. He was the author of two theological works—“The Sermon on the Mount,” and “The Crucifixion.” These works were published, six or seven years ago, by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, and were well received in the Christian literary world. The character of the man was, however, better displayed, and his strong eccentricities cropped out in an attempt at some elementary educational works, “ a Southern Series." In his design of instruction for the youth of Davidson College, an element of
Yankee-phobia was curiously incorporated, and lessons of “Southern spirit” taught with a remarkable ingenuity. One would think it rather difficult to give mathematical instruction such a form as to imbue pupils with contempt and hatred for the North. But Hill attempted the work, and produced some curiosities of arithmetic not to be found in the ordinary text-books. He framed problems beginning in the following style:
“A Yankee mixes a certain quantity of wooden nutmegs, which cost him one-fourth cent apiece, with a quantity of real nutmegs, worth four cents apiece," etc.
“A Northern railroad is assessed $120,000 damages for contusions and broken limbs caused by a collision of cars."
“The years in which the Governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut send treasonable messages to their respective legislatures, is expressed by four digits." .
“The field of battle of Buena Vista is six and a half miles from Saltillo. Two Indiana volunteers ran away from the field of battle at the same time. &c. &c.
Hill commenced his career in the war as Colonel of the First North Carolina Regiment, and fought his first action at Big Bethel, which was magnified into a great affair by the newspapers, taken as a test of “relative manhood," and treated as a considerable victory, until larger actions of the war displaced it in public attention, and put it almost out of the memory of inen.
The action, indeed, was of no significance. It is amusing, in the light of subsequent events, to read the grandiose official report of this action, in which, on the side of the Confederates, “one man and a mule were killed,” and the two forces were never in contact, and to note the expressions of repulsing “desperate assaults,” and pursuing “ till the retreat became a rout," &c., when the fact was the Confederates, after the action, retired from the ground, and were satisfied to have checked Butler's column by their batteries. But the extravagant laudation of this affair took place when the whole country was in the fever of high expectations, and inclined to catch at any passing event as the true commencement of the great procession of hostilities; and the Confederate commander at Bethel undoubtedly felt the influence of the excitement, and may be pardoned somewhat for writing under its inspiration.
In the battles around Richmond, Hill, now promoted a Major-General, made a bloodier record, and lost 3,955 men. In these battles he was temporarily joined with Stonewall Jackson, and suffered greatly at Malvern Hill, where he attacked prematurely, and without the supports he had expected. In his quaint, and sometimes strong language, he wrote in his official report: “The Yankees retreated in the night, leaving their dead unburied, their wounded on the ground, three pieces of artillery abandoned, and thousands of superiour rifles thrown away. The wheat-fields at Shirley were all trampled down by the frightened herd. Numerous wagons and ambulances were found stuck in the mud, typical of Yankee progress in the war.” The seven days' battles he declared had "resulted in lifting the Young Napoleon from his intrenchments around the city, and setting him down on the banks of the James River, twenty-five miles further off.”
The most memorable service of Gen. Hill, to which we have already referred, occurred in the Maryland campaign, and is written in ineffaceable characters of glory. He had been left at Petersburg when Gen. Lee moved into Northern Virginia, and joined the main army at Chantilly, a few days after the battles of second Manassas, when he was given command of McLaws' division and three brigades of his own division. In the movement into Maryland, when Jackson was diverted to the capture of Harper's Ferry,
Hill was ordered to guard the pass in the Blue Ridge, near Booneboro. On the 14th September, 1862, it was discovered that McClellan was attempting this pass with the bulk of his army, and Gen. Lee at once directed the larger portion of Longstreet's force to proceed to the scene of action. But before this reinforcement arrived, D. H. Hill had to bear the brunt of the enemy's attack, and for five hours he held his ground and clung to the critical position against odds which had not yet occurred in the war. It was perhaps well for him that McClellan and his subordinates were unaware of the small force which presented so bold a front. Franklin pressed forward on the left, Reno in the centre, and Hooker on the right; whilst the two corps under Sumner's command were moved up in support. The main brunt of the action fell on Franklin and Reno, but the battle was fought in a great measure with artillery, and took place under the eyes of Gens. McClellan and Burnside, who were in rear of the centre column. About three o'clock in the afternoon Longstreet reached the ground and threw his jaded troops into the action. It continued until nightfall, neither side obtaining any advantage. But Hill had accomplished all that was required the delay of McClellan's army until Harper's Ferry could not be relieved. The position had been held until Jackson had completed the capture of this place; and as the Federals prepared to renew the attack on the following morning, they were disconcerted by the cessation of firing in that direction, proclaiming, as they well knew, the surrender of the place.
The battle of South Mountain, as far as the division of D. H. Hill is concerned, must be regarded as one of the most remarkable and creditable of the war. The division had marched all the way from Richmond, and the straggling had been enormous, in consequence of heavy marches, deficient commissariat, want of shoes, and inefficient officers. Owing to these causes, the division numbered less than five thousand men on the morning of the 14th September, and had five roads to guard, extending over a space of as many miles. This small force successfully resisted, without support, for five or six hours, the whole of McClellan's army, and when its supports were beaten, still held the roads, so that retreat was effected without the loss of a gun, a wagon, or an ambulance. During the night Hill retired towards Sharpsburg,
where Gen. Lee was collecting his forces and putting them in line for a decisive battle.*
Of the battle of Sharpsburg, Gen. D. H. Hill has made a caustic criticism. He says: “It was a success, so far as the failure of the Yankees to carry the position they assailed. It would, however, have been a glorious victory for us, but for three causes. 1. The separation of our forces. Had McLaws and R. H. Anderson been there earlier in the morning the battle would not have lasted two hours, and would have been signally disastrous to the Yankees. 2. The bad handling of our artillery. This could not cope with the superior weight, calibre, range, and number of the Yankee guns. Hence it ought only to have been used against masses of infantry. On the contrary, our guns were made to reply to the Yankee guns, and were smashed up or withdrawn before they could be effectually turned against massive columns of attack. An artillery duel between the Washington artillery and the Yankee batteries across the Antietam, on the 16th, was the most melancholy farce in the war. 3. The enormous straggling. The battle was fought with less than thirty thousand men. Had all our stragglers been up, McClellan's army would have been crushed or annihilated. Doubtless the want of shoes, want of food and physical exhaustion had kept many brave men from being with the army. But thousands of thieving poltroons had kept away from sheer cowardice. The straggler is generally a thief and always a coward, lost to all sense of shame; he can only be kept in the ranks by a strict and sanguinary discipline.”
To the behaviour of one of his North Carolina regiments—the Fourth-Gen. Hill paid an extraordinary tribute. He said: “This gallant regiment, which has never been surpassed by any troops
* And yet in this action, so shameful to McClellan, that commander had the hardihood to claim a victory, and to dispatch to Washington the following absurd stuff:
HEAD-QUARTERS OF THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Sept. 15, 1862, 8 A.M. To Henry W. Halleck, Commander-in-Chief:
Í have just learned from General Hooker, in the advance, who states that the information is perfectly reliable, that the enemy is making for the river in a perfect panic; and General Lee stated last night, publicly, that he must admit they had been shockingly whipped. I am hurrying everything forward to press their retreat to the utmost.
GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN.