I think I would have liked General D.H. Hill, CSA

D.H. Hill,  Math Professor and Sardonic Genius (from Wikipedia)

I have not read much, if anything specific, about Confederate General Daniel Harvey Hill (also known as D.H. Hill to de-conflict him with his relative Ambrose Powell (A.P.) Hill).  Having opportunity to review the events of his life and his commentary of involvement in the American Civil War, I am now intrigued enough to seek out his biography.

D.H. Hill grew up in South Carolina, attended the U.S. Military Academy graduating in 1842 among a raft of future Civil War generals.  His Mexican War service was impressive, being twice brevetted (to the rank of Major) for actions on the field of battle.   After the Mexican War, Major Hill resigned his commission and became a professor of Mathematics for the college that would become Washington and Lee university (eventually).  It’s during this period of his life that we get an idea of the personality of D.H. Hill– a character trait that would get him in hot water with his future Confederate bosses.   D.H. Hill had a sense of humor a gentle person might characterize as “sardonic”.  In modern terms, he comes off as a bit of a smart ass.   An inveterate proponent of Southern Culture, he held the Northern states in great disdain.  His text book on Algebra, Elements of Algebra,  widely read in the South before the war, is incredibly jingoistic by modern standards.  He certainly wasn’t ashamed at the notion of geographical bias.

Note the difference between NORTHERN examples and SOUTHERN examples in the following problems, taken directly from the text book:

Seriously, you have to admire a fellow who can effortlessly insert the term “bedlamites” into an Algebra problem.  That takes a deft hand.

When the American Civil War started, it was a given that Hill would return to the colors, this time fighting for his beloved South against the so-called Yankee aggressors.   Hill performed very well at the outset of the war, fighting at the outset as a Colonel of volunteers and later as a Major General during the Peninsular Battles.   It’s clear that Hill was a quarrelsome and difficult subordinate, when you read between the lines.  General Lee was never one to air his grievances about a subordinate,  but certain facts speak for themselves. Hill was a gifted, passionate and aggressive commander who contributed to Southern success in the Seven Days’ Battles and Antietam campaigns– particularly at South Mountain, where Hill’s division was isolated, fighting off repeated attacks by stronger Union forces and giving Lee time he needed to reorganize and meet the Union assault.   Despite his qualities as a military leader, one gets the opinion that he wasn’t easy to get along with.  Hill did not achieve corps command in the Army of Northern Virginia, and after the Battle of Fredericksburg (where apparently he was in dispute with Lee), he was sent to backwater theaters of the War.  First out West, where he quarreled with Bragg (and earned the enmity of Jefferson Davis), and then to the Carolina command.  Hill’s promotion to higher command was effectively blocked by Davis, and he ended the war fighting to the end, as a divisional commander at the Battle of Bentonville, the last great battle of the war.

Hill was a successful educator and magazine editor after the war, and died in 1889.  I will have to dig in to his life for the details, but the adjectives that keep popping up when reading histories are acerbic, sardonic, and bitter.   Even sneering.  One gets the impression of the classic guy who thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and won’t be diplomatic about his opinion.  I can see how he must have been an extraordinarily difficult subordinate to manage (for both Lee and Bragg) and I can guess that he must have been an awkward resources to use, even for President Davis.  For all of that, there’s something about Daniel Harvey Hill that seems so modern when you compare his period writings and statements to the more reserved commentary from his fellow officers.  He comes off as the Ambrose Bierce of the Confederate Army.  It’s a senseless exercise to imagine myself in those times, but I think I might have liked D.H. Hill.  He might have been a jerk at times, but he certainly was an individual who didn’t toe the party line.


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