More Angry Generals

d h Hill 2

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.”

walker 2 001                                                                           Leonidas Polk

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!

 

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14 Responses to “More Angry Generals”

  1. Pat McCormick Says:

    There are a couple of possibilities for Hill’s poor performance, as I see it. One is simply “Peter Principle.” He had handled multiple divisions in a defensive setting (South Mountain, and maybe on the coast?) but had never led more than his own division in an offensive environment, IIRC.

    The other is the baseball analogy I previously mentioned to Dave: After joining the 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates (one of the worst teams in history), Sid Gordon said that, “The problem with this team is that after a couple of weeks here you start playing like them.” Maybe D.H. Hill sunk to the level of his compatriots…

  2. Ted Savas Says:

    Fascinating. I would sure be interested in a good objective military appraisal of his CW career. Hill deserves a good bio in that vein.

  3. Don H. Says:

    D.H. Hill certainly had a very bad 10 days or so in North Georgia. Many other confederate generals also struggled. It is interesting to consider if his performance with the A.N.V. was less spectacular than both Ewell and A.P. Hill’s. Maybe they were Lee’s best possibilities, but their performance while leading a corps seem mixed at best.

    Don H.

    • Dave Powell Says:

      Ewell certainly started out better. 2nd Winchester and the first day at Gettysburg – flaws and all – are both much better performances than turned in by Hill.

  4. Don H. Says:

    Dave

    Do you have a tentative release date for your 3rd volume?

    Don H.

  5. Chris Evans Says:

    I always found Liddell about the exchanges at Chickamauga fascinating. I think the Army of Tennessee had very angry generals more so than the Army of Northern Virginia. I’m reminded that Hood the morning after Spring Hill was ‘Wrathy as a rattlesnake’. He really fit in perfectly with the anger so prevalent in the Army of Tennessee.

    That’s why things like Spring Hill should never be surprises to students of the Army of Tennessee. They never did anything smoothly! I think that’s why I find the AOT so interesting to study from Shiloh to Bentonville (or Mobile for some) is that the army was so tragic and unlucky.

    I have created in some of my creative writings a rather level headed (fictional) Army of Tennessee General. I guess I should have him get into some shouting matches to keep it authentic.

    Chris

  6. Dave Powell Says:

    Chris, A.P. Stewart seems to have been a rare exception. Take him as your inspiration.:)

    • Chris Evans Says:

      Thanks Dave. That’s a good idea. He was in the thick of everything. Writing Civil War combat is a challenge especially from the perspective of a division, corps commander. I’ve been trying to get that down pat.

      I love the image I paint of him with his staff officers flying behind him. Of course he’s utterly fearless though I guess a coward would be fun but not last long.

      I have really been trying to do justice to the slugfest that was Civil War combat (and of course all the little things of day by day).

      Chris

  7. Russell Rider Says:

    Dave-I thought Hill’s Math book was written after the Mexican War…

    • Dave Powell Says:

      I believe it was. Someone else pointed that out as well. I always assumed it was a post-ACW effort. Guess Hill started out a bitter old man.:)

  8. jeffrey ross Says:

    YOUR BOOKS ARE EXCEPTIONAL, AFTER FINISHING THE FIRST TWO VOLUMES ON CHICKAMAGUA WITH HELP FROM YOUR ATLAS I’M PURCHASING “FAILURE IN THE SADDLE” RATHER THEN PAYING MY CABLE BILL. I FORESEE A
    VERY ANGRY WIFE 🙂

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