Daniel Harvey Hill did not shine at Chickamauga. To many students of the Civil War, Hill is famous for three things: South Mountain, annoying Robert E. Lee, and authoring a marvelously unreconstructed mathematics textbook after the war. Some think that D. H. Hill received short shrift from Lee, and that Daniel Harvey might have made a better corps commander than either Richard Ewell or Ambrose Powell Hill (D. H.’s cousin) had D. H. been promoted instead of banished from the Army of Northern Virginia.
I am less sanguine about that. . .
From Glory or the Grave:
Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey Hill was not having one of his better days. While his men were turning George Thomas’s flank, Hill was focused on a different conflict, locked in a battle of wills with almost every other commander in the Confederate Right Wing. At the moment his primary adversary seemed to be Maj. Gen. William H. T. “Shotpouch” Walker.
What followed could have been a farce written by Gilbert and Sullivan if it were not for the soldiers’ lives being thrown away in the meanwhile. “General Hill informed me . . . that he wanted a brigade,” Walker reported. This should not have been a problem: “I told him that there was one immediately behind him.” In response, Hill “remarked that he wanted Gist’s brigade.” Walker explained that Gist’s men were at the rear of his column, just catching up, and would take the longest to go into action. No matter, Hill was adamant. Gist was present for this exchange, having just reported to Walker and been informed that he was going to command Ector and Wilson as well as his own formation. The South Carolinian was flattered, noting that Hill insisted on “Gist . . . saying he had heard of that brigade.”
Throughout this exchange Polk remained mute. Not so the irascible Walker, who was growing increasingly irate and not shy about expressing that anger. Various subordinates and staff officers watched in alarm. Walker’s other divisional commander, St John Liddell, was also present and no doubt recalled Walker’s similar diatribe against General Polk on September 13th. Walker, noted Liddell, “severely criticized and loudly found fault with the propriety of Hill’s plans . . .” Eventually, they hammered out an arrangement of sorts: Colquitt would go in to support Breckinridge’s attack, coming up on what was thought to be Breckinridge’s left rear, in place of Helm. Gist would move Ector and Wilson up to support Colquitt.
This was the Army of Tennessee at its worst. Walker wanted to concentrate his command and use it en masse¸ while Hill and Polk seemed intent on trickling troops into the fight one brigade at a time. Hill was also being mulishly obdurate. Despite being granted almost complete control of the whole attack by Polk, Hill would later complain bitterly about how the assault was conducted, almost as if he were a spectator rather than the tactical commander. In his report Hill ranted at how useless the whole fight had been, railing at “the faultiness of our plan of attack,” and waxed hyperbolic when he complained that “never in the history of war had an attack been made in a single line without reserves or a supporting force;” all the more unfortunate because it was against a fortified enemy.
Two decades later, writing for Century Magazine, Hill still described the attack as a “desperate, forlorn hope.” Here he further lamented about faulty reconnaissance, suggesting that if only time had been taken to better understand the Union position, the morning’s bloody frontal assaults need not have been conducted. Of course, it was Hill who made that reconnaissance, Hill who determined the alignment of his two divisions, Hill who failed to grasp the extent of Breckinridge’s success, Hill who could have called on Walker’s entire corps as support, and Hill who initially refused most of that corps when it was offered to him.
Few if any officers in military annals have ever complained about receiving too many reinforcements!