previous next

Marriage and life as teacher.

When the war with Mexico ended Major Hill resigned his place in the army to accept the professorship of mathematics in Washington College, at Lexington, Va. Before assuming the duties of that place he was happily married, November 2, 1852, to Isabella, oldest daughter of Rev. Dr. R. H. Morrison, and grand-daughter of General Joseph Graham, who was a distinguished soldier of the Revolution, and the father of Governor William A. Graham. Six years later he was invited to take the same professorship at Davidson College, where for five years he was looked upon as the leading spirit amongst a corps of able and learned professors. [116]

D. H. Hill was not a politician in the sense of aspiring to office or attempting to mould public opinion; but when he saw that the leaders of the North had determined that no Southerner should be allowed to take his slaves to the territory wrested from Mexico by the blood and treasure of the South as well as the North, he believed that the irrepressible conflict which Seward declared at a later day was being waged had then begun, and would be settled only upon the bloody field of battle and after a prolonged, sanguinary and doubtful struggle.

Fully persuaded that the inevitable conflict was near at hand, and that it was his solemn duty to prepare the rising generation of his adopted State to meet it, he, in 1859, gave up his pleasant home and his congenial duties at Davidson College for those of commandant and manager of the Military Institute at Charlotte.

He harbored no unkind thought of the noble men and women of the North who held opinions different from his own. He respected even the honest fanatic, who fairly and openly contended for his convictions; but he hated cant and hypocrisy, despised duplicity and dishonesty, and leveled at them his most effective weapons-ridicule and sarcasm. For that portion of our Northern brethren who came to the South to drive hard bargains with our people and cheat them by false pretences, he felt and expressed the most sovereign contempt. For the men of the North who coveted the wealth of the Southern planter, and the women who envied their Southern sisters because of the ease and leisure incident to the ownership of slaves, he made no attempt to conceal his hatred and disgust.

Major Hill brought with him to Raleigh his three professors, Lee, Lane and McKinney, two of whom fell later at the head of North Carolina regiments, and one of whom was the successor of the noble Branch as the commander of one of our best and bravest brigades. He also brought with him almost the whole corps of cadets, whose services proved invaluable as drill-masters of the ten thousand volunteers then in the camp of instruction of which Hill took charge. For his services in the camp of instruction, General Hill was allowed to select twelve companies to compose the first regiment of volunteers. The officers of these companies were all leading and influential citizens, and the rank and file were among the first young men in the State in intelligence, wealth and social position. The service of six months proved a training-school for that splendid body of [117] volunteers, that ultimately placed them at the head of companies, regiments, brigades and divisions. Among its originial officers were Major-General Hoke, Brigadier-Generals Lane and Lewis, Colonels Avery, Bridgers, Hardy, W. W. McDowell, J. C. S. McDowell, Starr, Pemberton, Fuller, and a score of others, while a number from the rank and file fell at the head of both companies and regiments at later stages of the struggle.

In the outset of this discussion of the career of D. H. Hill as a Confederate soldier, I lay down and propose to maintain the proposition that from the time when he fought the first fight of the war with North Carolina soldiers on Virginia soil till the day he led the last attacking column of Confederates east of the Mississippi and checked Sherman's advance at Bentonsville, whatever may have been the general result of any engagement, the command of General D. H. Hill was never found when the firing ceased at night in the rear of the position it occupied when the signal of attack sounded in the morning. Apparently reckless in the exposure of his own person, no officer in our armies was more anxious about the health, happiness and safety of his soldiers. His theory was that spades were instruments of defensive, bayonets of offensive warfare, and whether the emergency demanded the use of the one or the other, it was to be done with ‘might and main.’ When his cadets had asked him whether they should join South Carolina regiments before their own State seceded, he had prophesied that the war would soon begin and would continue long enough to give every Southerner an opportunity to display his manhood. He rested his hope of success upon the belief that every son of the South would rush to the rescue; that our armies would be supplied by the labor of our slaves, and that we would thus be enabled to throw a force into the field sufficient to meet every Northern man who would tender his services to the Federal Government. Two important elements were wanting as a basis of his calculations—the Southern loyalist and the foreign substitute. When, therefore, General D. H. Hill reported to Colonel J. B. Mc-Gruder, then in charge of the Peninsula, and was assigned to the command of the defences of Yorktown, he realized, in a measure at least, the magnitude of the coming contest.

It has been said that a man who is himself born to command is quick to perceive in others the qualities that fit them for leadership. Colonel Hill seemed almost intuitively to descry in the ranks the [118] coolness, courage, judgment and power of prompt decision which others recognized in his favorites after they had led brigades and divisions to victory. On assuming command at Yorktown he soon discovered that the cavalry, which he looked upon as the ‘eye and the ear of the army,’ was inefficient, because the force was composed of a number of detached companies without a trained or efficient commander. In this emergency an officer of the old army, who had been commissioned lieutenant in the regular army of the Confederate States, reported for duty. Marking him as a man of promise, Colonel Hill at once caused an order to be issued placing ‘Major John B. Hood’ in command of all the cavalry, and waited for the War Department to ratify the promotion and thus protect him in practicing a pardonable ruse on the volunteers. That officer ultimately succeeded Lieutenant-General D. H. Hill as the commander of a corps, and was still later placed in charge of the army of Tennessee. The Providence that has provided homes for his orphan children will in its own good time bring to light all the facts, and then John B. Hood will stand vindicated before the world as one of the best and bravest of all our leaders. It was this same gift that enabled General Hill to select from the lieutenants of his regiment Robert F. Hoke to be made major of his regiment over ten competent captains. It was this intuitive perception of persistent pluck, dash and coolness that prompted him to love and honor George B. Anderson, William R. Cox, Bryan Grimes, Stephen D. Ramseur and Robert D. Johnston, and led him later to urge the advancement of Gordon, Colquitt and Doles, of Georgia. In June, 1861 (a few days after the fight at Bethel), in a letter to his wife he said of Stonewall Jackson, then a colonel in command of a brigade, ‘I see that Jackson has had an engagement and taken many prisoners. I have predicted all along that Colonel Jackson would have a prominent place in the war.’

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
June, 1861 AD (1)
1859 AD (1)
November 2nd, 1852 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: