Friday, April 13, 2018

Finding A. P Hill

   A few days ago, a friend and I visited the site of AP Hill's death in Petersburg, Virginia. It had been several years since my last visit. The locals in the area do a great job keeping the area clean. If you have never visited, it is located near Pamplin Historical Park, in the back of a small subdivision, off A. P Hill Drive.

   There are conflicting accounts of just who found Hill's body, but, I guess I am getting ahead of my story. Early on the morning of April 2, Hill was at Lee's headquarters in Petersburg when the Federal breakthrough occurred. Hill rushed from Petersburg south, attempting to find and rally his men and possibly seal the breach. He had two couriers with him: William H. Jenkins, 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, and Sgt. George W. Tucker, 12th Virginia Cavalry. The latter was Hill's chief courier. The three had captured two Federal infantrymen, whom Hill sent to Lee under Jenkins. Hill and Tucker rode on. A mile or so later, they came upon more Federal soldiers. Two ducked behind a tree and aimed their rifles at Hill and Tucker, both of whom had their pistols drawn. Tucker rode a little ahead and demanded the two surrender. Hill advanced beside Tucker, echoing the demand to surrender. The two Federal soldiers, members of the 138th Pennsylvania, fired. Hill was killed, and Tucker, as ordered, rode back to Lee's headquarters. (This summery came from James I. Robertson, Jr.'s General A. P. Hill: The story of a Confederate Warrior.)

   George W. Tucker survived the war, and in 1899, wrote a detailed account of the affair that appeared in the Southern Historical Society Papers. Tucker writes that the "Fifth Alabama Battalion, skirmishing, found the General's body, which was still slightly warm, with nothing about it disturbed." Tucker's claim was repeated by Robertson in his biography of Hill, adding that the 5th Alabama Battalion was acting as headquarters' guard. According to Crute's Units of the Confederate States Army, the 5th Alabama Infantry Battalion was assigned to Hill as his provost guard sometime after Gettysburg.

    One of the Federals, Cpl. John W. Mauk wrote in 1899 that "Shortly afterwards I told Comrade Wolford that I would go and see what the officer had with him. I went a short distance, and saw what I took to be a skirmish line advancing. I went back and got part of the men on the hill, perhaps ten or fifteen, and deployed them as skirmishers for self-defense. The advancing line came within hailing distance. I ordered them to halt, which they did. Then I said: 'Throw up your arms, advance, and give an account of yourselves.' On being questioned, they said they had captured some rebel prisoners and were taking them to the rear. Six or eight were carrying guns, and were dressed in our uniform. About as many were without guns, and wore rebel uniforms. I took their word, and let them go. Turning round they asked me if a man had been killed near there. I told them an officer in the swamp. They went off in that direction. I had no suspicions at the time, but afterwards thought this was a Confederate ruse to get the body of the man I had just killed." (Southern Historical Society Papers Vol. 27 34-35)

A. Wilson Greene speculates in The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion, (Second Addition), on the matter, writing "The stratagem of pretending to be a Federal detachment escorting captured Confederates seems a plausible way to navigate a country swarming with the enemy. The question as to how the Alabamians obtained Union uniforms must remain open." (264)

   But wait, there's more. An article appeared in The Southern Home, on May 5, 1870, years before a mention of the 5th Alabama Battalion, giving us a different account.
      "Gen. A. P. Hill - We have recently learned some particulars of the death of this distinguished officer from Mr. James Cody of Lincoln county, a gallant soldier of the 11th N. C. Regiment, who lost an eye in the service of his country. Mr. Cody says that a citizen named Kennedy reported to the Confederates that Gen. Hill had been killed, and a small party, consisting of himself, Lt. Col. Ursin [Eris Erson] of the 52nd [NC] Maj. Collins, Capt. J. M. Young, Capt. Daniel Hanes, and a Sergeant of Lane's Brigade, found the General near a branch lying on his back, his right arm grasping his revolver in the branch. The pistol had been discharged twice. The Confederate party captured the seven Yankees concealed in a little thicket, who had shot the General. They placed his body on a horse and removed it back to our lines. Mr. Cody thinks that General Hill was reconnoitering alone when fired upon, or, if attended, he was deserted when the fire opened."

   The challenge is this: where was the 5th Alabama Battalion posted when Hill was killed? Did they actually have time to learn of Hill's death and procure Federal uniforms and go in search of the General? All writers seem to agree that Hill's body was brought in a short time after his death. We know where Lane's brigade and the 11th and 52nd North Carolina of MacRae's brigade were originally posted: not far from where Hill's body was recovered. Capt. J. M. Young is probably James M. Young, Company K, 11th North Carolina. I don't easily see Major Collins, or Capt. Daniel Hanes, and there were many sergeants in Lane's brigade. James Cody also served in the 11th North Carolina. I wonder who the citizen named Kennedy was?

   Maybe there is more to the story of the recovery of Hill's body that we previously thought. In writing General Lee's Immortals, I stuck to the original script, stating that the General's body was recovered by the 5th Alabama Battalion. But I did make mention of that sergeant from Lane's brigade in a footnote.

1 comment:

Edward Alexander said...

Fantastic find Mike! I have identified about a half dozen accounts from Confederates claiming to have recovered Hill's body. Most seem to contain elements of truth but of course none of them line up with each other. Mauk and Wolford were of course not taken prisoner but one private does appear as captured that day in the 138th Pennsylvania records.

There's a good memoir from the 5th Alabama Battalion here - - but it was written in 1919.