A. P. Hill

From New World Encyclopedia

Ambrose Powell Hill
November 9, 1825 – April 2, 1865
Ap hill.jpg
Ambrose Powell Hill
Nickname "Little Powell"
Place of birth Culpepper, Virginia
Place of death Petersburg, Virginia
Allegiance U.S. Army
Years of service 1847-1861 (USA)
1861-1865 (CSA)
Rank Lieutenant General
Battles/wars Mexican-American War
Seminole Wars
American Civil War

Ambrose Powell Hill (November 9, 1825 – April 2, 1865), was a Confederate general in the American Civil War. He gained early fame as the commander of "Hill's Light Division," becoming one of Stonewall Jackson's ablest subordinates. He later commanded a corps under Robert E. Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia before his death in battle just one week prior to the end of the war. Hill was respected as a general on both sides of the conflict. While heir defeat did much to demoralize the Southern states, the fact that such men as Hill has fought with courage, skill and distinction, enabled some to reflect that although defeated, they had fought for what they believed with as much determination, and conviction, as was humanly possible. The great challenge the nation faced after the end of the Civil War was to unite and to heal the wounds of war. Hill's legacy may have played a modest role in this healing process.

Early life

A.P. Hill, known to his soldiers as Little Powell, was born in Culpepper, Virginia, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1847, ranking 15th in a class of 38 graduates. He was appointed to the 1st U.S. Artillery as a second lieutenant. He served in the Mexican-American War and Seminole Wars and was promoted to first lieutenant in September 1851. From 1855 to 1860, Hill was employed on the United States' coast survey. He fell in love with Mary Ellen Marcy, but was denied her hand by her father. She would go on to marry Union General George B. McClellan. In 1859, Hill married Kitty Morgan McClung, a young widow, thus becoming the brother-in-law of future Confederate cavalry generals John Hunt Morgan and Basil W. Duke. Hill was devoted to his family, and his wife regularly traveled with him in the field throughout the rest of the war.[1]

Civil War

In March 1861, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Powell resigned his U.S. Army commission. When Virginia seceded, he was appointed colonel of the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment and distinguished himself on the field of First Bull Run. He was promoted to brigadier general and command of a brigade in the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac the following February.[1]

In the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, he gained further promotion following his performance at the Battle of Williamsburg, where he pushed back General Joseph Hooker's advance and provided for General James Longstreet to pull his forces in towards the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. As a major general, Hill was one of the most prominent and successful division commanders of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Hill's Light Division (which was actually one of the largest in the army and earned its name from its reputation for marching quickly) distinguished itself in the Seven Days Battles, in which it successfully aided Lee's army in removing General McClellan's forces from the Peninsula. At the Cedar Mountain, the Second Bull Run, and the Antietam Hill demonstrated his daring and successful battle tactics and greatly aided the Confederate Army. At the Fredericksburg Hill came up missing at one point and was thought dead only to turn up many hours later alive and well. His division formed part of Stonewall Jackson's corps; after Jackson was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville in May 1863, Hill briefly took command of the corps and was wounded himself.[1]

After Jackson's death, Hill was promoted to lieutenant general and placed in command of the newly created Third Corps of Lee's army, which he led in the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863, the autumn campaign of the same year, the Overland Campaign, and the Petersburg siege of 1864–1865. Hill was not the same commander he had been before, proving less able to lead a large force than a smaller one. He once said he had no desire to live to see the collapse of the Confederacy, and on April 2, 1865 (just seven days before Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House), at 2:30 pm, he was killed by a Union soldier, Corporal John W. Mauck of the 138th Pennsylvania,[2] as he rode to the front of the Petersburg lines, accompanied only by a lone staff officer. He is buried in the A.P. Hill Monument, Hermitage Road and Laburnum Avenue, Richmond, Virginia.[1]


Hill did not escape controversy during the war. He had a frail physique and suffered from frequent illnesses that reduced his effectiveness at Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. Some historians believe he suffered from complications of venereal disease, possibly gonorrhea, contracted as a West Point cadet. Academy hospital records show that he was admitted for treatment on September 9, 1844, "with Gonorrhea contracted on furlough."[3] He is also said to have suffered from jaundice.[1] Historian Larry Tagg described Hill as "always emotional … so high-strung before battle that he had an increasing tendency to become unwell when the fighting was about to commence." This tendency was to some extent balanced by the implied swagger and combative attitude that he displayed. He often donned a red wool hunting shirt, which he called his "battle shirt," when a battle was about to commence, and the men under his command would pass the word, "Little Powell's got on his battle shirt!" and begin to check their weapons.[4]

Hill was affectionate with the rank-and-file soldiers and one officer called him "the most lovable of all Lee's generals." Although it was said that "his manner [was] so courteous as almost to lack decision," his actions were often impetuous and did not lack decision, but sometimes judgment.[4] At Gettysburg, his actions precipitating the battle on July 1, 1863, before Lee's full army was concentrated, have been widely criticized.

Nevertheless, Hill was one of the war's most highly regarded generals on either side. When Hill was a major general, Robert E. Lee wrote that he was the best at that grade in the Army. He had a reputation for arriving on battlefields (such as Antietam, Cedar Mountain, and Second Bull Run) just in time to prove decisive and achieve victory. Hill's quick action cost him his major defeats, but he proved successful due to his penchant for responding promptly in many decisive battle during the war. Stonewall Jackson on his deathbed deliriously called for A.P. Hill to "prepare for action"; some histories have recorded that Lee also called for Hill in his final moments ("Tell Hill he must come up."), although current medical opinions believe that Lee was unable to speak during his last illness. In any event, Lee and Jackson admired Hill's reliability and ability to act swiftly, which had effectively worked to deliver both of their army's from the jaw of defeat in the early days of Hill's career.[1]

In memoriam

Fort A.P. Hill, named after Hill, is located in Virginia, about halfway between Washington, D.C., and Richmond. During World War II, the U.S. Navy named a Liberty Ship the SS A. P. Hill in his honor.

In popular media

Hill was depicted in both of Ronald F. Maxwell's Civil War films, Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003), although played by different actors. In the former, he was portrayed by historian and Civil War reenactor Patrick Falci; in the latter, by character actor William Sanderson.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Mark A. Weitz, "Ambrose Powell Hill" in Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History eds. David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), 972-973.
  2. James I. Robertson, Jr., Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend (New York, MacMillan Publishing, 1997), 318.
  3. James I. Robertson, Jr., General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior (New York: Vintage Publishing, 1992), 11.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Larry Tagg, The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America's Greatest Battle (El Dorado Hills: Savas Publishing, 1998), 301.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0804736413
  • Freeman, Douglas S.] R. E. Lee, A Biography, Vol.1-4. New York: Scribners, 1934. R. E Lee, A biography. Retrieved September 5, 2007.
  • Robertson, James I., Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior. New York: Vintage Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0679738886
  • Robertson, James I., Jr. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1997. ISBN 0028646851
  • Tagg, Larry. The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America's Greatest Battle. El Dorado Hills: Savas Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1882810309
  • Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. ISBN 0807108235
  • Weitz, Mark A. "Ambrose Powell Hill." In Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, 972-973. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. ISBN 039304758X
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

External links

All links retrieved June 13, 2023.


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