Ambrose Powell Hill, Jr. (November 9, 1825 — April 2, 1865) was a Confederate army general who was killed in the American Civil War.
A native Virginian, Hill was a career United States Army officer who had fought in the Mexican–American War and Seminole Wars prior to joining the Confederacy.
After the start of the American Civil War, he gained early fame as the commander of the “Light Division” in the Seven Days Battles and became one of Stonewall Jackson’s ablest subordinates, distinguishing himself in the 1862 battles of Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.
Following Jackson’s death in May 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hill was promoted to lieutenant general and commanded the Third Corps of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which he led in the Gettysburg Campaign and the fall campaigns of 1863.
His command of the corps in 1864–65 was interrupted on multiple occasions by illness, from which he did not return until just before the end of the war, when he was killed during the Union Army’s offensive at the Third Battle of Petersburg.
Hill is usually referred to as A. P. Hill, to differentiate him from another prominent (unrelated) Confederate general, D. H. Hill.
Hill, known to his family as Powell (and to his soldiers as Little Powell), was born in Culpeper, Virginia, the seventh and final child of Thomas and Fannie Russell Baptist Hill. Powell was named for his uncle, Ambrose Powell Hill (1785–1858), who served in both houses of the Virginia legislature, and Capt. Ambrose Powell, an Indian fighter, explorer, sheriff, legislator, and close friend of President James Madison.
Hill was nominated to enter the United States Military Academy in 1842, in a class that started with 85 cadets. He made friends easily, including such prominent future generals as Darius N. Couch, George E. Pickett, Jesse L. Reno, George Stoneman, Truman Seymour, Cadmus M. Wilcox, and George B. McClellan.
His future commander, Thomas J. Jackson, was in the same class but the two did not get along. Hill had a higher social status in Virginia and valued having a good time in his off-hours, whereas Jackson scorned levity and practiced his religion more fervently than Hill could tolerate.
In 1844, Hill returned from a furlough with a case of gonorrhea, medical complications from which caused him to miss so many classes that he was required to repeat his third year. Reassigned to the class of 1847, he made new friendships in particular with Henry Heth and Ambrose E. Burnside.
He graduated in 1847, ranking 15th of 38. He was appointed to the 1st U.S. Artillery as a brevet second lieutenant. He served in a cavalry company during the final months of the Mexican-American War, but fought in no major battles.
After some garrison assignments along the Atlantic seaboard, he served in the Seminole Wars, again arriving near the end of the war and fighting various minor skirmishes. He was promoted to first lieutenant in September 1851.
From 1855 to 1860, Hill was employed on the United States’ coastal survey. He was once engaged to Ellen B. Marcy, the future wife of Hill’s West Point roommate George B. McClellan, before her parents pressured her to break off the engagement. Although he felt no ill will about the affair afterward, during the war a rumor spread that Hill always fought harder if he knew McClellan was present with the opposing army, because of Ellen’s rejection.
On July 18, 1859, he married Kitty (“Dolly”) Morgan McClung, a young widow, thus becoming the brother-in-law of future Confederate cavalry generals John Hunt Morgan (Hill’s best man at the wedding) and Basil W. Duke.
On March 1, 1861, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Hill resigned his U.S. Army commission. After Virginia seceded, he was appointed colonel of the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment.
The 13th Virginia was one of the regiments in Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army that were transported by railroad as reinforcements to the First Battle of Bull Run, but Hill and his men were sent to guard the Confederate right flank near Manassas and saw no action during the battle.
Hill was promoted to brigadier general on February 26, 1862, and command of a brigade in the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac.
n the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Hill performed well as a brigade commander at the Battle of Williamsburg, where his brigade blunted a Union attack, and was promoted to major general and division command on May 26.
Hill’s division initially formed part of James Longstreet’s command, but after an argument between Hill and Longstreet, which nearly resulted in a duel, Hill was transferred to Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps.
His division did not participate in the Battle of Seven Pines (May 31 – June 1), the battle in which Joseph E. Johnston was wounded and replaced in command of the Army of Northern Virginia by Robert E. Lee. June 1 was the first day that Hill began using a nickname for his division: the Light Division. This contradictory name for the largest division in all of the Confederate armies may have been selected because Hill wished his men to have a reputation for speed and agility. One of Hill’s soldiers wrote after the war, “The name was applicable, for we often marched without coats, blankets, knapsacks, or any other burdens except our arms and haversacks, which were never heavy and sometimes empty.”
Hill launched multiple attacks throughout the Seven Days Battles, including at Mechanicsville, Gaines’s Mill, and Glendale; his division was held in reserve at Malvern Hill.
Following the campaign, Hill became involved in a dispute with James Longstreet over a series of newspaper articles that appeared in the Richmond Examiner; relations between them deteriorated to the point that Hill was placed under arrest and Hill challenged Longstreet to a duel.
In July Lee decided to send Hill and his division to reinforce Jackson, who was at Gordonsville, Virginia, to keep watch on the Army of Virginia.
At the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 8, Hill launched a counterattack that stabilized the Confederate left flank, preventing it from being routed.
Three weeks later at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas), Hill was placed on the Confederate left along the unfinished railroad cut and held it against repeated Union attacks. During the campaign, Hill became involved in several minor disputes with Jackson concerning Jackson’s marching orders to Hill.
Hill’s performance at Antietam was particularly noteworthy. While Lee’s army was enduring strong attacks by the Army of the Potomac outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, Hill’s Light Division had been left behind to process Union prisoners at Harpers Ferry.
Responding to an urgent call for assistance from Lee, Hill marched his men at a grueling pace and reached the battlefield just in time to counterattack a strong forward movement by the corps of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, which threatened to destroy Lee’s right flank. Hill’s arrival neutralized the threat, bringing an end to the battle with Lee’s army battered but undefeated.
Hours after the battle, Hill told an inquisitive major that Burnside owned him $8,000. During the retreat back to Virginia, he had his division push back a few regiments from the Union V Corps.
At the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, Hill was positioned near the Confederate right along a ridge; because of some swampy ground along his front, there was a 600-yard gap in Hill’s front line, and the nearest brigade behind it was nearly a quarter mile away; the dense vegetation prevented the brigade commander from seeing any Union troops advancing on his position.
During the battle, Maj. Gen. George Meade’s division routed two of Hill’s brigades and part of a third. Hill required the assistance from Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s division to repulse the Union attack.
Hill’s division suffered over 2,000 casualties during the battle, which was nearly two-thirds of the casualties in Jackson’s corps; two of his brigade commanders were wounded, one (Maxcy Gregg) mortally.
After the battle one of his brigade commanders, Brig. Gen. James J. Archer, criticized him about the gap left in the division’s front line, saying that Hill had been warned about it before the battle but had done nothing to correct it. Hill was also absent from his division, and there is no record of where he was during the battle; this led to a rumor spread through the lines that he had been captured during the initial Union assault.
Hill and Jackson argued several times during the Northern Virginia Campaign and the 1862 Maryland Campaign. During the invasion of Maryland, Jackson had Hill arrested and after the campaign charged him with eight counts of dereliction of duty.
During the lull in campaigning following the Battle of Fredericksburg, Hill repeatedly requested that Lee set up a court of inquiry, but the commanding general did not wish to lose the effective teamwork of his two experienced lieutenants and so refused to approve Hill’s request. Their feud was put aside whenever a battle was being fought and then resumed afterward, a practice that lasted until the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.
There, Jackson was accidentally wounded by the 18th North Carolina Infantry of Hill’s division. Hill briefly took command of the Second Corps and was wounded himself in the calves of his legs. While in the infirmary, he requested that the cavalry commander, J. E. B. Stuart, take his place in command.
Hill had said he had no desire to live to see the collapse of the Confederacy, and on April 2, 1865 (during the Union breakthrough in the Third Battle of Petersburg, just seven days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House), he was shot dead by a Union soldier, Corporal John W. Mauck of the 138th Pennsylvania, as he rode to the front of the Petersburg lines, accompanied by one staff officer.
The .58 caliber bullet sliced off Hill’s left thumb before piercing through his heart and exiting the back. His body was recovered by the Confederates shortly afterward. His family had hoped to take Hill to Richmond for burial, but the city’s capture by Union forces caused him to be buried in Chesterfield County. In February 1867, his remains were reinterred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
During the late 1880s, several former comrades raised funds for a monument to Hill in Richmond. Hill’s remains were transferred to the base of the monument when it was dedicated on May 30, 1892.
When Lee heard of Hill’s death, he tearfully uttered, “He is now at rest, and we who are left are the ones to suffer.