Last updated June 14th, 2007 by Jenny
A.P. Hill as he probably appeared going into Maryland

Lee's decision to turn north was not without problems. His men, used up by months of near constant campaign, were reaching the point of exhaustion. The Army was footsore, hungry, and sick, and straggling became a serious problem. The constant campaiging had also frayed the nerves of the already high strung Confederate command. Shank Evans arrested another crack division commander, John Bell Hood, over a minor dispute involving captured ambulances. (Only through Hood's Texans special request ("Give us Hood!") and R.E. Lee's own direct intervention was Hood released from arrest.)

Not surprisingly, Hill and Jackson were quickly antagonizing each other again.

On September 3d, Jackson and Hill continued to show they could not get along while marching. The march for the day was to begin at 4:00 am. Hill's men apparently were not prompt enough for Jackson's liking, and he gave Hill a mild reprimand that Hill took "rather sullenly, his face flushing up." Hill determined then to set a quicker pace, perhaps to keep Jackson from complaining more or perhaps just out of a sort of childish spite. The result of the quicker pace was the Light Division began to get very strung out on the road. Hill also ignored Jackson's customary ten minute rest stops and kept his men marching.

When Jackson discovered the Light Division marching without close ranks and strung out along the road, he was angry. Livid, Jackson ordered General Edward Thomas, commanding the closest brigade of the Light Division, to stop. Hill kept right on going with the rest of the column. When he turned to see the break in the lines, he was enraged. Galloping back, he demanded of Thomas: "Why did you halt your command without orders?"

"I halted because General Jackson told me to do so."

Hill stomped over to Jackson. He presented Jackson with his sword, and sneered at him. "If you take command of my troops in my presence, take my sword also."

"Put up your sword and consider yourself in arrest," Jackson retorted.

Some claim that at this point Hill told Jackson at this point that he was not fit to be a general. Whether true or not, it was clear to everyone around that Hill was very angry. A North Carolina lieutenant remembered Hill from then on "marched on foot with the rear guard all the day through Maryland, an old white hat slouched over his eyes, his coat off and wearing an old flannel shirt, looking mad as a bull."

Was A.P. Hill a "Hot Head?"

Was A.P. Hill a hothead? Was he overly tempermental and disruptive? Being a hothead is something that Hill commonly gets referred to because of his infamous feuds with both James Longstreet and Jackson. But is it true? Was Hill really a hothead?

To some extent, A.P. Hill could probably be properly termed a "hothead." He could tend to be overly sensitive to perceived slights to his honor that came from his superior officers. He engaged in two very infamous feuds-- one with James Longstreet and one with Jackson. In Hill's defense, however, both Longstreet and Jackson had track records for causing problems themselves. An officer with Jackson recalled that he believed he was the only officer not then under arrest for some infraction or another.

William Loring, Dick Garnett, Maxcy Gregg, and others all had serious difficulties with Jackson and were certainly all not hot-headed. As for Longstreet, he got himself ensnarled in an ugly feud with even the extremely easy going Lafayette McLaws after his disastrous Tennessee campaign. Hill, however, never fought with his subordinates and never had problems with Lee. In fact, people liked to serve under A.P. Hill and he was well-known as a beloved commander. His command was never rent with the silly feuds that Jackson's and Longstreet's were infamous for.

Those who think A.P. Hill was a handful need to take a look at D.H. Hill (they are not related). I can't recall where, might've been Chickamauga, but someone on Bragg's staff called D.H. Hill the most pig-headed man he'd ever met ... and considering this was a man on the staff of BRAGG and had access to a whole lot of egotistical men in the AOT, that's saying A LOT. Hill is the one who came up with "Whoever saw a dead cavalryman." Other good D.H. Hill lines include the endorsement for a Georgia soldier's furlough: "Approved because if the soldiers are not allowed to go home occasionally, the next generation will be the offspring of skulkers and cowards." W.H.T. Walker took that joke as a slur on the virtue of the women of his state ... Now you can see why Bragg also had gray hair.

Hill carried on two infamous feuds: the first with James Longstreet led, allegedly, to Hill challenging James Longstreet to a duel all stemming from a newspaper article written by John Daniel of the Richmond Examiner after the battles of the Seven Days. Hill also feuded with Stonewall Jackson over several issues, leading to several very acrimonious letters being sent back and forth across Lee's desk. Paradoxically, or perhaps in a case of "I will treat others as I wish to be treated," Hill fostered extremely good relationships with his subordinates and became good friends with several of them. One courier noted that "Of all the generals, only A.P. Hill never failed, even during the heat of battle to have a kindly word and perhaps a little joke for the couriers."

For several days, an enraged Hill marched at the back of his division while Lawrence Branch, the senior commander amongst the other brigadiers, filled in as division head. Gregg and Jackson butted heads as well. Soon after Second Manassas, Gregg had allowed his men -- who had been much bloodied in the prior battle -- an unauthorized rest. When Jackson took offense to the unauthorized stop, Gregg defended his gallant men on grounds that they should be allowed to attend to certain luxuries (like filling their canteens). Gregg was very angry over this incident, probably because he thought Jackson was unfair to his troops.

Finally, on the 10th, Hill supposedly summoned Henry Kyd Douglas of Jackson's staff. "It is evident a battle is at hand. I do not wish anyone else to command my division in an engagement." Hill went on to tell Douglas that all he wanted to do was command his men; then he would return to arrest after the imminent battle ended. Douglas went to Jackson with the request. Perhaps Jackson was looking for a way to save face and still have Hill -- who had proven to be a crack commander -- command his Division, for he readily assented. When word came, a soldier noted that Hill "donning his coat and sword he mounted his horse and dashed to the front of his troops, and looking like a young eagle in search of his prey, took command of his division to the delight of all his men." However it happened, Hill was restored to command of his division -- at least for now.

Once in Maryland, Lee had again split his force into two parts. After dividing it further, Jackson (along with A.P. Hill's division) was sent to capture the tempting arsenal and Union force at Harper's Ferry (in current day West Virginia).

At Harper's Ferry, the out-classed and out-manned Federal commander, Dixon Miles, was mortally wounded. Hill and Miles had been friends in the "Old Army" and Miles sent messages to his wife and asked that his wife be given his word through A.P. Hill. Lee's aide Charles Venable noted that "the duties to General Hill, who was every inch a Christian, were held sacred." Harper's Ferry resulted in a massive surrender of both men and material that brought much needed supplies into the Army of Northern Virginia.

A.P. Hill was left behind to deal with the parole of the Federal garrison and other administrative details. In October, McClellan would write Lee to return 27 wagons and teams "furnished by General A. P. Hill at Harper's Ferry in September last for the transportation of private baggage belonging to certain paroled officers of the U.S. Army passing to within our lines. In so doing I desire to express my appreciation of the courtesy thus extended to these officers and to request that you will convey the same to General Hill with my thanks for his action in the matter."

As Jackson and his crew were finishing up at Harper's Ferry, disaster almost struck Lee's Army when, in one of the war's strangest turns of events, two members of the 27th Indiana stumbled upon Lee's battle orders -- wrapped around two cigars in a field outside Frederick! The Orders -- Special Orders Number 191 -- probably belonged to General D.H. Hill of North Carolina. The Orders -- which were given to McClellan -- explained how Lee's Army was split and where each of its units was. It was a huge gift to the Union forces.

Despite having Lee's battle plans in his hands, McClellan still did not move swiftly enough to catch the Gary Fox and his army. Lee, however, was surprised at the alacrity of McClellan's movements. He ended up setting up a defensive line along the Antietam creek (a sluggish tributary of the Potomac) near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, and called for Jackson to rejoin him. Jackson did -- except for Hill's Division which remained behind at Harper's Ferry approximately 17 miles away.

In the meantime, McClellan brought the Army of the Potomac up and massed it for an attack. At dawn on September 17, 1862, McClellan attacked.

The battle of Sharpsburg was fought in three major stages and Hill completely missed the first two: Stonewall Jackson's men wrested for control of the Miller Cornfield and the Dunker Church in the morning, and then later in the day, the Union troops nearly over ran the Confederates holding onto a sunken road in the field's center known as "The Bloody Lane." The third stage was fought near a stone bridge that spanned the Antietam creek by General Ambrose Burnside, one of Hill's old West Point classmates.

Word had gone out early that Hill was needed, and he had Division on the road marching hard and with speed towards the battle. The day was hot and the dust hung in a very thick and choking veil. But speed was important as Lee's army was badly outnumbered and fighting for it's very life. As the day wore on, matters became more and more desperate for the badly outnumbered and thinly stretched Lee who was forced to shift his bloodied units to each new point of crisis.

As it would turn out, only Hill and McClellan's cautiousness would save Lee from disaster. As Burnside, who had finally fought his way across the "Lower Bridge" that now bears his name, readied for his attack and to deliver the final coup de grace on the right, Lee looked through his glasses. He saw the dust of a rapidly approaching column from the southwest. "Who's troops are those?" he asked anxiously. An aide looked through his glass and said, "they are flying the Virginia flags." Lee exclaimed "It is A.P. Hill is from Harper's Ferry!"

A.P. Hill had "come up" -- just in the nick of time The legend was born. Riding ahead of his division, Hill was met by an embrace from Robert E. Lee -- probably the only time that happened on a field of battle!

The National Park Service web site states what happened next:

    At 3:40 p.m. Gen. A. P. Hill's division, left behind by Jackson at Harpers Ferry to salvage the captured Federal property, arrived on the field after a march of 17 miles in eight hours. Immediately Hill's 3,000 troops entered the fight, attacking the Federals' unprotected left flank. Burnside's troops were driven back to the heights near the bridge they had taken earlier. The attack across the Burnside Bridge and Hill's counterattack in the fields south of Antietam resulted in 3,470 casualties--with twice as many Union casualties (2,350) as Confederate (1,120).

A soldier remembered how Hill showed his intolerance for cowardice at the battle:

    At Sharpsburg he (Hill) arrived late in the engagement because of a forced march from Harper's Ferry, crossing at Boteler's ford, near Shepherdstown. While hurrying to take position on the line he encountered a second lieutenant of some command crouching behind a tree.His indignation was so wrought up that he took the lieutenant's sword and broke it over him.

His intolerance for cowardice was mainly towards officers, however. To a trembling soldier who told him "I can not stand it, General" Hill told him to simply go to the rear so he would not cause other good men would not run.

Henry Kyd Douglas, Stonewall's aide who had helped get Hill released from arrest, recalled in Battles and Leaders that:

But then, just then, A.P. Hill, picturesque in his red battleshirt, with 3 of his brigades, 2500 men, who had marched 17 miles from Harpers Ferry and had waded the Potomac, appeared upon the scene. Tired and footsore, the men forgot their woes in that supreme moment, and with no breathing time braced themselves to meet the coming shock. They met it and stayed it. The blue line staggered and hesitated, and hesitating, was lost. At the critical moment A.P. Hill was always at his strongest. ... Again A.P. Hill, as at Manassas, Harper's Ferry, and elsewhere had struck with the right hand of Mars. No wonder both Lee and Jackson, when, in the delirium of their last moments on earth, they stood again to battle saw the form of A.P. Hill leading his columns on; but it is a wonder and a shame that the grave of this valiant Virginian has not a stone to mark it and keep it from oblivion.

The Army of Northern Virginia had escaped disaster because of Hill and his Division's speed and hard-hitting fighting.

Hill's attack attack was a rousing success. Sharpsburg would be his apex -- Hill would be remembered in all tide of time because of what happened there. William W. Allan wrote:

    It was at this critical moment that A. P. Hill, who had marched seventeen miles from Harper's Ferry that morning, and had waded the Potomac, reached the field upon the flank of Burnside's victorious column. With a skill, vigor and promptness, which cannot be too highly praised, A. P. Hill formed his men in line, and threw them upon Burnside's flank. Toombs, and the other brigades of D. R, Jones's division, gave such aid as they were able. The Confederate artillery was used with the greatest courage and determination to check the enemy, but it was mainly A. P. Hill's attack which decided the day at this point, and drove Burnside in confusion and dismay back to the bridge. There is no part of General James Longstreet's article more unworthy than the single line in which he obscurely refers to the splendid achievement of a dead comrade, whose battles, like Ney's, were all for his country, and none against it, and who crowned a brilliant career by shedding his life's blood to avert the crowning disaster. A.P. Hill's march was a splendid one. He left Harper's Ferry sixteen hours after McLaws, but reached the battle-field only five hours behind him. McLaws had, however, the night to contend with. The vigor of Hill's attack, with hungry and march worn men, is shown by the fact that he completely overthrew forces twice as numerous as his own. Though his force of from two thousand to three thousand five hundred men was too small to permit of an extended aggressive, his arrival was not less opportune to Lee than was that of Blucher to Wellington at Waterloo, nor was his action when on the field in any way inferior to that of the Prussian field-marshal.

The Battle of Sharpsburg

A description of the battle:

On September 16, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan confronted Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, Maryland. At dawn September 17, Hooker’s corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee’s left flank that began the single bloodiest day in American military history. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller’s cornfield and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Federal advantage was not followed up. Late in the day, Burnside’s corps finally got into action, crossing the stone bridge over Antietam Creek and rolling up the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A.P. Hill’s division arrived from Harpers Ferry and counterattacked, driving back Burnside and saving the day. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout the 18th, while removing his wounded south of the river. McClellan did not renew the assaults. After dark, Lee ordered the battered Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley.

On site, there is a Sharpsburg battle tour, battle reports for the Light Division, and an account written by J.B. Moore, from the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Lee had escaped disaster, mainly because of the quick marching of General A.P. Hill and his well named "Light Division". For the battle, casualties in the Light Division were relatively small for all that they accomplished. 64 were killed, 283 wounded, and 70 were listed as missing. But there were some notable casualties amongst the 64 killed. Amongst these were Colonel Dixon Barnes and General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch.

Courtly, white haired Colonel Dixon Barnes had been put under arrest by Jackson earlier in the campaign. Barnes men were famished and had raided an orchard for apples. Frank Paxton of Jackson's staff saw them doing this and had Barnes arrested and marched in the rear of his regiment. Gregg did not appreciate this interference with his command and was agitated by it. Gregg felt he could not release him from the arrest, however. Barnes went to Hill and volunteered to serve as a private in the ranks rather than miss the fight. Pale and stern faced, Hill said "General Gregg, I order you to give Colonel Barnes his sword and put him in command of his Regiment." Barnes was thus placed back in command of the 12th South Carolina. Someone noted that Hill was wrong to do restore Barnes to command over Jackson's head, but "the case would stir the heart of a rock." Dixon Barnes was mortally wounded at the head of his regiment at Sharpsburg and died two day's later, a hero.

The death of North Carolinian General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch was also a severe blow to the entire Light Division. He was the senior brigadier of the Light Division, and had been with it from the beginning, and he now was killed while conferring with a group of officers by a bullet through the head. Hill lamented the death of Branch, "I could have entrusted the command of the Division with all confidence" to him he wrote. Of Branch it was written, "He died as a soldier would wish to die, facing the enemy, in the discharge of his duty."

Perhaps Hill felt some satisfaction when he learned the troops he had opposed belonged to his old classmate Ambrose Burnside. Allegedly, after the battle, a major under his command asked Hill if he knew the Burnside who his troops had so roughly handled. Hill cried, "Ought to! He owes me eight thousand dollars!" Hill had loaned the money to Burnside but obviously could not collect on the debt now.

Home >> Narrative >> Sharpsburg | Related: Fredericksburg