Nathan Towne has posted two very interesting comments concerning my less than complimentary comments concerning Daniel Harvey Hill. Instead of replying in the comments section there, I thought I would offer up my position a little more clearly in a separate post.
I find Hill to be very problematic during his time with the AOT. I understand and am familiar with his work back in Virginia, and think, frankly, that under a man like Lee he might well have become a solid corps commander. I think he would have ultimately done much better than AP Hill managed, for example.
But the combination of unfamiliar circumstances and personality clashes that came about with his transfer to the already dysfunctional Army of Tennessee, however, meant that Hill was one of the worst possible candidates for that army. The AOT needed positive leadership, not pessimism.
Nor do I fault Hill overly much for the spectacular failure of the whole command apparatus on the night of September 19-20, either. I would concur that Polk is more at fault than Hill, though Hill is not entirely blameless. Hill’s failings in corps command are much larger than just the one incident, however.
In the first week of September, Hill wanted to cross the Tennessee River at Chattanooga and attack “Crittenden’s Corps” while Rosecrans was moving to the south. Hill not only mis-read the situation completely, mistaking two infantry brigades for a corps, but he advocated putting at least half of Bragg’s army on the wrong side of the river so that the AOT would have to fight with its back to the Tennessee, instead of the other way round. This is, IMO, a basic strategic blunder. While the obvious solution was to turn on one of Rosecrans’ isolated columns, crossing to the north bank of the Tennessee to do so was a very flawed idea of how to execute that basic strategy.
Hill’s performance at La Fayette in the second week of September is also quite poor. Not only was he unready to join in Bragg’s intended attack on Negley when ordered to; it seems clear that he invented excuses about why he could not do so. In fact, he didn’t want to attack Negley, and so invented reasons (blocked passes, Cleburne being sick) to not do so. Instead, Hill was overly fixated on McCook’s threat from the south.
This fixation continued up to at least the 13th. Hill’s panicky messages to Bragg while the AOT commander was trying to get Polk to attack at Lee & Gordon’s Mills completely mis-read what the Union XX Corps was doing at Alpine. In fact, Hill painted such an alarming picture of the threat that Bragg ordered the entire army back to La Fayette on the 14th, a move that delayed what ultimately became the battle of Chickamauga by three days and allowed McCook the time needed to re-join the Federal main body.
Hill struck a similar note on September 17th, when he reported a major Federal crossing at Owen’s Ford, aimed at Bragg’s supply line to La Fayette. This crossing was completely imaginary. It is a good thing that Bragg ignored it. If He had reacted, he would have again been marching south instead of north, exactly the wrong direction to cut Rosecrans off from Chattanooga, and dangerously weakening his main blow intended for the 18th.
I will say only this about Hill’s inability to find anyone’s HQ on the night of the 19th; I am bemused why he could not simply go back to Bragg that night, instead of riding around aimlessly. He knew where Bragg’s HQ was – after all, he’d been there at noon, when he reported in and got orders to shift Cleburne northward. No matter what Polk’s failings were that night, a trip to Bragg would have at least clarified what was supposed to happen on the morning of the 20th.
As to that attack on the 20th, I find fault both with Hill’s decision to array all six brigades in a single line instead of at least forming both divisions in a two-up-one-back deployment; or better yet, each division in columns of brigade. Each battle line was far too long to effectively control as deployed, and Hill made absolutely no provision for reserves. Hill later claimed that this was Bragg’s fault, but there is good evidence that Hill had considerable latitude in deciding how to deploy Breckinridge and Cleburne.
Hill compounded his formational problems by refusing to allow Walker to deploy effectively, and indulging in a completely bizarre argument on the morning of the 20th, effectively refusing all but one of Walker’s brigades when they were presented to him as supports for his attack that morning. Hill might be the only ACW general I know of who was incensed because he was given too many reinforcements.
Many of Adams’s and Stovall’s men paid for that bit of hubris with their lives. That sort of pique is unforgivable in a commander.
So yes, I am pretty hard on D.H. Hill.
I will also say that Dr. Glenn Robertson is if anything, harder on Hill. My first exposure to some of these ideas came from Dr. Robertson while auditing one of his CGSC courses back in 2004. It was Glenn who had his officer-students examine and analyze that inexplicable morning conference between Walker, Hill, and Polk; which resulted in a fair amount of incredulity among those same officers.
Thank you, Nathan, for a very thought-provoking couple of posts.