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Death of General A. P. Hill.

By G. W. Tucker, formerly General A. P. Hill's Sergeant of Couriers.
[The Confederacy had no more gallant soldier, no more devoted patriot, no more self-sacrificing servant than the accomplished gentleman who yielded up his noble life on that last sad day at Petersburg,

We are glad to be able to lay before our readers and put on record [565] the story of his death, as told in the interesting narrative of Sergeant Tucker. It will be seen that General Hill, with a sick furlough in his pocket, returned to duty as soon as he learned that his grand old corps, which he had led so ably and successfully during the last campaign, was about to meet the enemy again, and that, after his lines were broken by Grant's overwhelming numbers, he lost his life in an attempt to reach and take personal command of the part of his corps which was cut off from the main army.

He fell, where his gallant spirit was ever found, in the path of duty, and left behind a record luminous with heroic deeds for the land and cause he loved so well.]

The tragic death of Ambrose Powell Hill ended pre-eminent services to the cause he had espoused with singleness of heart and maintained with unexcelled constancy of purpose and courage. He needs no eulogy from any. Those attached to his person, or often in contact, have simply to say, ‘We loved him.’ It is for his surviving comrades of the Third corps, and especially those of the old ‘A. P. Hill's Light Division,’ that the details of their General's last ride of duty are more particularly given.

During the entire winter of 1864-1865 General Hill was an invalid and was absent in Richmond on a sick-leave from about March 20th, returning to his command upon being advised of the operations on the right beyond Hatcher's Run. April 1, accompanied by his staff and couriers, he spent in the saddle from early morning until about 9 P. M., returning at night along the works held by his corps as far as those in front of Fort Gregg, where the General halted a considerable time. He passed only a few words with his staff party or those very, very few in the trenches there. He seemed lost in contemplation of the immediate position, at which the Confederate line had become so terribly stretched that it broke that very night, letting in a deluge of the enemy, who, only partly checked by the wonderful defense of Fort Gregg, next morning flooded the country. We then returned to corps headquarters, which were at Indiana, on an extension of Washington street, Petersburg, and immediately adjoining ‘The Model Farm,’ on the east. General Hill retired to Venable's cottage, just across the road and within fifty yards of his camp, having had there, during the winter, his wife and two young children.

About midnight the cannonading in front of Petersburg, which had begun at nightfall, became very heavy, increasing as the hours went [566] by. Colonel Palmer, Chief of Staff, woke Major Starke, Acting Adjutant General, and requested him to find out the cause and effect of the prolonged firing. This was between 2 and 3 o'clock on the morning of April 2. Major Starke returned before daylight and reported ‘that the enemy had part of our line near the Rives' salient, and that matters looked critical on the lines in front of the city.’ This he communicated to General Hill at Venable's.

Before sunrise General Hill came over and asked Colonel Palmer if he had any report from Generals Wilcox and Heth, whose divisions on the right extended from the front of Fort Gregg to and beyond Burgess's Mill, on Hatcher's Run. The Colonel told him that he had heard nothing from them, and had nothing further to report beyond Major Starke's statement.

The General then passed on to his tent, and a few minutes later the Colonel, noticing his colored servant, Charles, leading the General's saddled horse to his tent, ran to him just as he was mounting and asked permission to accompany him. He told the Colonel no, and desired him to wake up the staff, get everything in readiness and have the headquarters' wagons hitched up. He added that he was going to General Lee's, and would take Sergeant Tucker and two couriers, and that as soon as he could have an interview with General Lee, he would return.

General Hill then rode to the couriers' quarters and found me in the act of grooming my horse. [I did not then have the slightest intimation of what had taken place since our return from the lines the night before.] He directed me to follow him with two couriers immediately to General Lee's headquarters. He then rode off rapidly. It was our custom, in critical times, to have, during the night, two of the couriers' horses always saddled. I called to Kirkpatrick and Jenkins, the couriers next in turn, to follow the General as quickly as possible. I saddled up at once and followed them. Kirkpatrick and Jenkins arrived at General Lee's together, only a few minutes after General Hill, who at once directed Kirkpatrick to ride rapidly back to our quarters (I met him on the road, going at full speed) and tell Colonel Palmer to follow him to the right, and the others of the staff, and couriers, must rally the men on the right. This was the first information received at corps headquarters that our right had given way. General Hill then rode, attended only by Jenkins, to the front gate of General Lee's headquarters (Turnbull House, on the Cox road, nearly one and a half miles westerly from General Hill's), where I met them. [567]

We went directly across the road into the opposite field, and riding due south a short distance the General drew rein, and for a few moments used his field-glass, which, in my still profound ignonorance of what had happened, struck me as exceedingly queer. We then rode on in the same direction down a declivity toward a small branch running eastward to Old Town Creek, and a quarter of a mile from General Lee's. We had gone little more than half this distance, when we suddenly came upon two of the enemy's armed infantrymen. Jenkins and myself, who, up to this time, rode immediately behind the General, were instantly upon them, when, at the demand, ‘surrender,’ they laid down their guns. Turning to the General, I asked what should be done with the prisoners? He said: ‘Jenkins, take them to General Lee.’ Jenkins started back with his men, and we rode on.

Though not invited, I was at the General's side, and my attention having now been aroused and looking carefully ahead and around I saw a lot of people in and about the old log hut winter quarters of General Mahone's division, situated to the right of Whitworth House and on top of the hill beyond the branch we were approaching. Now as I knew that those quarters had been vacant since about March 15th by the transfer of Mahone to north of the Appomattox, and feeling that it was the enemy's troops in possession, with nothing looking like a Confederate anywhere, I remarked, pointing to the old camp: ‘General, what troops are those?’ He quickly replied: ‘The enemy's.’ Proceeding still further and General Hill making no further remark, I became so impressed with the great risk he was running that I made bold to say: ‘Please excuse me, General, but where are you going?’ He answered: ‘Sergeant, I must go to the right as quickly as possible.’ Then, pointing south-west, he said: ‘We will go up this side of the branch to the woods, which will cover us until reaching the field in rear of General Heth's quarters, I hope to find the road clear at General Heth's.’

From that time on I kept slightly ahead of the General. I had kept a Colt's army pistol drawn since the affair of the Federal stragglers. We then made the branch, becoming obscured from the enemy, and crossing the Bowdtoin (not ‘Boydtown,’ as some writers have called it) plank road, soon made the woods, which were kept for about a mile, in which distance we did not see a single person, and emerged into the field opposite General Heth's, at a point two miles due southwest from General Lee's headquarters, at the Turnbull House, and at right angles with the Bowdtoin plank road, [568] at the ‘Harman’ House, which was distant half a mile. When going through the woods, the only words between General Hill and myself, except a few relating to the route, were by himself. He called my attention and said: ‘Sergeant, should anything happen to me you must go back to General Lee and report it.’

We came into the field near its corner, at the foot of a small declivity, rising which I could plainly see that the road was full of troops of some kind. The General, raising his field-glass, said: ‘They are there.’ I understood perfectly that he meant the enemy, and asked: ‘Which way now, General?’ He pointed to that side of the woods parallel to the Bowdtoin plank road, about one hundred yards down hill from where our horses stood, saying: ‘We must keep on to the right.’ I spurred ahead, and we had made two-thirds of the distance, and, coming to a walk, looked intently into the woods, at the immediate edge of which were several large trees. I saw what appeared to be six or eight Federals, two of whom, being some distance in advance of the rest, who halted some forty or fifty yards from the field, ran quickly forward to the cover of one of the large trees, and, one above the other on the same side, leveled their guns.

I looked around to General Hill. He said: ‘We must take them,’ at the same time drawing, for the first time that day, his Colt's navy pistol. I said: ‘Stay there, I'll take them.’ By this time we were within twenty yards of the two behind the tree and getting closer every moment. I shouted: ‘If you fire, you'll be swept to hell! Our men are here — surrender!’ When General Hill was at my side calling ‘surrender,’ now within ten yards of the men covering us with their muskets (the upper one the General, the lower one myself), the lower soldier let the stock of his gun down from his shoulder, but recovered quickly as his comrade spoke to him (I only saw his lips move) and both fired. Throwing out my right hand (he was on that side) toward the General, I caught the bridle of his horse, and, wheeling to the left, turned in the saddle and saw my General on the ground, with his limbs extended, motionless.

Instantly retracing the ground, leading his horse, which gave me no trouble, I entered the woods again where we had left them, and realizing the importance, and of all things most desirous of obeying my General's last order ‘to report to General Lee,’ I changed to his horse, a very superior one and quite fresh, and letting mine free kept on as fast as the nature of the ground would permit. But after [569] sighting and avoiding several parties of Federal stragglers and skirmishers, I felt that it would be best to take to the open country and run for it. After some distance of this I made for the Mahone division log-hut winter quarters, which were still full of the enemy, upon the principle of greater safety in running through its narrow streets than taking their leisurely fire in the open. Emerging thence down hill to the branch, along the north side of which General Hill had so shortly ridden in his most earnest endeavor to reach our separated and shattered right, and in a straight line for General Lee's headquarters, I came in sight of a mounted party of our own people, who, when the branch was crossed and the hill risen, proved to be Lieutenant-General Longstreet and staff, just arrived from north of the Appomattox. Meanwhile, meeting Colonels Palmer and Wingate and others of General Hill's staff and couriers, and halting a moment to answer the kindly expressed inquiries of General Longstreet, we rode on and found General Lee mounted at the Cox road in front of army headquarters. I reported to him General Hill's last order to me. General Lee then asked for details, receiving which and expressing his sorrow he directed me to accompany Colonel Palmer to Mrs. Hill. General Lee said: ‘Colonel, break the news to her as gently as possible.’

The Fifth Alabama battalion, provost guard to General Hill's corps, skirmishing, found the General's body, which was still slightly warm, with nothing about it disturbed. The Federal party were doubtless alarmed at what had been done and must have instantly fled. The writer did not again see General Hill's body, which was brought to Venable's by a route still further to our rear, having, with the staff and couriers of the Third corps, been ordered to General Longstreet, who soon became very actively engaged. I learned that the ball struck the General's pistol hand and then penetrated his body just over the heart. Captain Frank Hill, aidede-camp (and nephew) to the General, in charge, and Courier Jenkins were of the party detailed to escort the body, with Mrs. Hill and her children, to ‘a Mr. Hill's,’ near the banks of James river, in Chesterfield county, where the General's body was temporarily buried and afterwards removed to Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

Thus closed the career of Lieutenant-General A. P. Hill, of whom Swinton, in his excellent book, ‘Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac,’ says: ‘Who, in all the operations that from first to last filled up the four years defense of the Confederate capital, had borne a most distinguished part.’

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