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How General A. P. Hill met his fate.

Comprehending the statements of sergeants George W. Tucker, C. S. Army, and John H. Mauk, U. S. Army, with some notice of their lives.

Also an account of the death of Major-General John Sedgwick, U. S. Army.

by James P. Matthews.
[Portions of the following article have already appeared in the Southern Historical Society Papers, but the additional corroborative and illustrative details included, warrant, it may be held the republication of the whole.

The narratives have been condensed from an article prepared by Mr. James P. Matthews, late of the Pension Bureau, for the Baltimore American, and published in its issue of May 30, 1892, as a preliminary to the report of the proceedings in connection with the unveiling of the statue to the memory of the heroic Hill at Richmond, Va., on the same day. The original article has been further revised and amended to make it conform to events which have occurred since and information which has been further elicited.

While investigating pension claims in the vicinity of Bedford, Pa., Mr. Matthews obtained of Sergeant Mauk the statement which is here included.

The paper has been furnished through one who saw some arduous service under General Hill, and as Captain in Dibrell's Cavalry accompanied President Davis after the surrender at Appomattox in his flight beyond Charlotte, N. C.; who has served since as Lieutenant-Colonel of Artillery in the Maryland Line, and is now First Lieutenant-Commander of Isaac R. Trimble Camp, Confederate Veterans, and the member from Maryland of the History Committee of the United Confederate Veterans. Colonel Peters, as he is popularly designated, has enthusiastically exemplified his devotion to the memory of our momentous Southern struggle. [27]

His untiring efforts have been attended with material results in the provision for the maimed and needy veterans and for kindred sacred objects. Acknowledgment is due, also, to a distinguished officer of General Hill's staff for revision of the account of the circumstances attending his death.

It has been deemed that it would be acceptable to prefix to the paper a portrait of General Hill and a synopsis of his career. These are from the ‘Souvenir’ of the unveiling of the monument to his memory, issued by the J. L. Hill Printing Company, of Richmond, Va., who have kindly loaned the plate of the strikingly faithful portrait, for its reproduction.—Editor.]

Mr. James P. Matthew's Historical narrative.

It is seldom that all the details of a battlefield incident are so well-known as in the case of the shooting of General Hill. Of the four men who accidentally met on the edge of a wooded swamp, skirting the Boydton plank road, on the morning of April 2, 1865, three were still living at the time of the dedication of the Hill monument, and two of them (one on each side), had written narratives of the occurrence which fit together wonderfully well, although neither of the writers was conscious of the other's existence. It is a somewhat remarkable circumstance that the survivors were all citizens of Pennsylvania in 1892. The Southern soldier who lived to tell the tragic story of the death of his chief and his own fortunate escape, and the two Union soldiers, who refused to surrender to him, would have been citizens of the same county, if boundary lines had remained as they were at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

To properly understand the circumstances that brought General Hill and Sergeant Tucker, his chief of couriers, into accidental collision with two Pennsylvania soldiers, it will be necessary to take a glance at the military situation as it existed on that eventful morning. The two armies, which had been fortifying against each other for nearly ten months, and had fought a dozen terrific battles for the possession of vantage points on, the various parts of the embattled line, had entered upon the final struggle. A portion of General Lee's forces held the cordon of strong forts which had been thrown around Petersburg, forming as it were a gigantic horse-shoe, with the corkers resting on the Appomatox river and covering the roads to Richmond. [28]

Grant's guns had been pounding away at the toe of the horseshoe for nine months, with no appreciable effect. The Southside Railroad runs westward from Petersburg and connects with the Richmond and Danville Road at Burkville Junction. The possession of this road was as important to Lee as the direct road to Richmond, and to protect it a line of entrenchments and forts was extended for eight or ten miles to the south and west, which, up to April 1st, had availed to keep Grant away from his main line of communication and supply.

On April 1st, Sheridan, with a powerful cavalry force, passed around this line of works, and supported by the Second and Fifth corps, assaulted the extreme Southern projection of Lee's right wing at Five Forks. All the troops that could possibly be spared from defense of Petersburg were hurried out to this exposed position, where a great battle was fought, which ended disastriously to the Confederates. Johnson's and Pickett's divisions retreated to the westward, and never returned to Petersburg. A large section of Lee's right wing had been eliminated from the military problem, and for the purposes of offense and defense had ceased to exist.

The strong line of works, however, reaching from Petersburg beyond Hatcher's Run, and the impregnable horse-shoe around the city covering the road to Richmond, still remained intact. Upon these works Grant opened a fierce cannonade, which was kept up until four o'clock on Sunday morning, when, upon a given signal, the Ninth corps, under General Parke, assaulted the works immediately in front of the city, while the Sixth corps moved upon the line of works running southward and westward to Hatcher's Run.

Outside of the main line of forts around the city was a trench bearded with chevaux-de-frise. Logs were hewn square and bored on the four sides. Sharpened sticks were driven into these holes, so that each log represented a gigantic rake with four rows of teeth, one row always being ready to impale an advancing column, no matter on which side it might be turned. The logs were chained together at the ends, so that for miles there was a continuous line of these ugly obstructions.

When the order to charge was given, the pioneers went forward first, and with their axes broke the fastenings at the ends of the logs, and then lifted the free end around, thus making gaps through which the assaulting columns poured. The Ninth corps carried the outer line of works, but halted before the strong forts within, and [29] taking shelter in the captured trenches, made no further progress during the day.

The Sixth corps assaulted simultaneously with the Ninth corps, and broke through the line of works two or three miles further out in the direction of Hatcher's Run. After the troops got inside and cleared the ground in front of them, they turned to the left, dislodged four brigades of Heth's division from their defences, and started most of Heth's division of Hill's corps in a rapid retreat in a northwesterly direction, their object being to reach Goode's bridge and cross over to the north side of the Appomattox.

The troops along that portion of the line which were assaulted by the Sixth corps were mainly of Wilcox's division and Heth's division of Hill's corps. Those stationed to the right of the breach retreated east and north to the inner line of strong forts around Petersburg. Those to the left of the breach went north and west in the direction of the Southside Railroad, as already stated, and later in the day were overtaken at Sutherland's Station, on the Southside Railroad, by Miles' division of the Second corps, and compelled to halt and fight a battle.

Lieutenant-General A. P. Hill passed the night at his headquarters in the western suburbs of Petersburg, and was disturbed by the heavy firing on the Petersburg Lines in front of the city. He was exceedingly anxious to communicate with the commander-in-chief on the subject, and at daylight rode over to General Lee's quarters at the Turnbull House, on the Cox road. From there, accompanied only by two soldiers (Sergeant Tucker and Private Jenkins), he started to the right of his lines, his troops had been swept away from their line of defense, and that there was not an armed Confederate soldier in the whole region between the breach in his lines and the Southside Railroad east of Hatcher's Run. On the west side the disorganized brigades of Heth's division were hurrying away in rapid retreat. If he had started an hour earlier and followed the same route, he would have ridden into Seymour's division of the Sixth corps. If he had started an hour later he would have struck the returnning column, reinforced by two divisions of Ord's corps, which had crossed the works west of Hatcher's Run, and turning eastward, met the Sixth corps, which faced about and came back to the point where it had entered the Confederate lines.

When General Hill came to the lost ground in front of Wilcox's line it was not occupied, except by a few soldiers of Keifer's brigade, a portion of which had not turned westward with the main body after [30] crossing the Confederate works, but had kept straight ,on in the direction of the Southside Railroad. When this detached fragment faced about and followed the remainder of the command, a few men dropped out and took possession of an old deserted camp that had been occupied by General Mahone's troops during the winter, and began to prepare a hasty breakfast. Corporal John W. Mauk and Private Daniel Wolford, of Company F, One Hundred and Thirty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry, did not halt with the rest, but kept on in the direction of the Southside Railroad. These two men were coming back from their independent exploring expedition, when General Hill and his sergeant of courier, George W. Tucker (formerly of Baltimore, now of Frederick county, Md.), came up with them. Mr. Tucker, in the November (1883) number of the Southern Historical Papers, gave a very interesting, and no doubt, perfectly truthful, account of this meeting and its fatal result.

Extract from the narrative of George W. Tucker.

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 ignorance 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 a little more than half this distance, when we suddenly came upon two of the enemy's armed infantry men. Jenkins and myself, who up to this time rode immediately behind the General, were instantly upon them, when, at the command ‘surrender,’ they laid down their arms. 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 now having 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 the 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 [31] 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 southwest, 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 Boydton 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 Boydton plank road, 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 wood 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 Boydton plank road, about one hundred yards down the 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 will take them.’ By this time we were within twenty yards of the two behind the tree, and getting closer every moment. I shouted, [32] ‘If you fire, you will be swept to hell. Our men are here—surrender!’ Then 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 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 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 the 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.

The Fifth Alabama Battalion, 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 farther to our rear. * * * I learned that the ball struck the General's pistol hand, and then penetrated his body just over the heart.

N. B.—That cruel ball first cut off the thumb of General Hill's left (bridle) hand, leaving it hanging from the gauntlet.—W. P.

The account which Corporal Mauk wrote out for Mr. Matthews confirms Tucker in all the main incidents of the tragedy, but inasmuch as Tucker rode speedily away, after the shooting, he had no personal knowledge of the manner in which General Hill's body was recovered. Are there any survivors of the squad of Confederate soldiers that came and carried it away? Mauk's story as to what occurred before the shooting is certainly true, as seen from his standpoint. Can we accept as history his account of what occurred after the shooting? Here is his story:

Statement of Corporal Mauk.

On the morning of the 2d of April, 1865, after the rebel works had been carried in the front, the main portion of the troops deployed to the left inside the enemy's works. A portion of the Second brigade, [33] Third division, Sixth army corps became separated from the main body and pushed forward to the railroad and a wagon road, running parallel with each other. Comrade Daniel Wolford and myself, of company F, 138 Pennsylvania infantry, reached this point. We came to a saw-mill, just across the railroad, close to it under a slab pile near the track, we found some crow-bars, with which we tore up two rails of the track. Previous to this however, before we were separated from the others, we saw a wagon train passing along, and advanced, firing, expecting to capture it. This accounts for our advancing in this direction.

After tearing up the track we went obliquely to the left, from the railroad, in the direction of a swamp about a half or three-quarters of a mile from the saw-mill, which we had passed to the right when firing on the train, and going in the direction of the railroad. Here we attempted to cross back on the corduroy road, which led through the swamp toward a body of our men on the hill near the former line of the rebel works. These men were stragglers who had been lost from their commands and were making coffee and eating breakfast. Just as we entered the swamp we saw two men on horseback coming from the direction of Petersburg, who had the appearance of officers. They advanced until they came to the men on the hill, they then turned and rode toward us. We had just entered the swamp when they advanced with cocked revolvers in their hands which were leveled at us. Seeing a large oak tree close to the road, we took it for protection against any movement they would be likely to make. Seemingly, by direction of his superior, one of the rebel officers remained behind. The other advanced with his revolver pointed at us, and demanded our surrender, saying: ‘Surrender, or I will shoot you. A body of troops are advancing on our left (i. e., from the direction of Petersburg), and you will have to surrender anyway!’ The officer still advanced and peremptorily demanded, ‘Surrender your arms.’ I said ‘I could not see it,’ and said to Comrade Wolford, ‘Let us shoot them.’

We immediately raised our guns and fired, I bringing my man from his saddle.

The other officer, throwing himself forward on the horse's neck, rode off in the direction from which they had come, while the horse of the other followed. We, knowing not what was on our flank and not being able to see in that direction, backed out and went farther down the swamp, and crossed to the men on the hill. [34]

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 that 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 I had killed an officer in the swamp. They went off in that direction. I had no suspicions at the time, but afterward thought this was a Confederate ruse to get the body of the man I had just killed. Comrade Wolford and myself shortly after this joined our regiment, and nothing more was thought of the affair until summoned to brigade and corps headquarters to answer questions.

After I had given a statement of the affair, General Wright asked me if I knew whom I had killed. I told him that I did not. He said: ‘You have killed General A. P. Hill, of the Confederate Army.’

All this occurred on the morning after the rebel works had been carried, on the 2d of April, 1865.

Commenting on Mauk's statement as to what occurred after Sergeant Tucker rode away, the writer of the original article, Mr. Matthews, says:

As to the stratagem by which General Hill's body was recovered and carried back to Petersburg, Mr. Tucker makes no mention of it, and from his article it might be inferred that a line of battle had been formed somewhere in the neighborhood and that a party of skirmishers had gone out in front and had found the body and carried it to the rear. It does not appear from the official reports, or the contemporary narratives, that there was a line of battle anywhere in that locality. The Sixth corps, when it came back from its expedition to Hatcher's Run, inside the Confederate works, passed out at the gap through which it entered, while Ord's two divisions went on towards Petersburg. [35]

The Sixth corps passed around to the right and formed in the rear of the Ninth corps, which, as already shown, was holding the outer circle of the Confederate works, which it had captured in the morning. Ord's men, after parting with the Sixth corps, pushed on to the inner line of strong forts, covering the west side of Petersburg and assailed them. There was fierce fighting at one of these forts, and the colored regiments, especially, suffered heavy loss in the assault. When the Sixth corps passed over the same ground on the next day, after Petersburg had been evacuated, they found the dead bodies of the colored soldiers lying in front of this fort like sheaves on the harvest field.

From the events of the day, it seems more than probable that the body of General Hill was recovered in the manner described by Mr. Mauk, before the Union troops came back from Hatcher's Run. After the advance of Ord's divisions, no Confederate skirmishers could have reached that locality, and before these troops arrived there was nobody to skirmish with, except the little squad of stragglers, led by Corporal Mauk, precisely as he has related.

Corporal, afterward Sergeant Mauk.

The Union soldier (John W. Mauk), who was the principal actor in this tragedy, died August 19, 1898, at the age of 58 years. He was a fair type of the enlisted men in the Pennsylvania regiments. The great majority of them sprang from the plain people, and were reared in humble homes. They were mostly farmer boys and common laborers, with about the same proportion of mechanics in each company as could be found in the communities from which they came. When the successive calls for troops were promulgated from Washington, the village workshops as well as the farms yielded their quota.

Mauk grew up in a little valley in Bedford county, not far from the town of Bedford. A high mountain overshadowed his home on either side. With the exception of his three years service in the Union army, his whole life was spent in the same neighborhood. He died in the village of Centreville, midway between the city of Cumberland, on the Potomac, and the town of Bedford, on the headwaters of the Juniata. When a boy, he picked up the rudimentary education which most lads, in his condition of life, obtained in the ‘log school-house,’ and his ambition never reached beyond the simple employments which required no large stock of school-book [36] learning. Nevertheless, he was a man of excellent sense, had an intelligent conception of the great Civil War, its causes and results, and could give a vivid account of the campaigns in which he was engaged. He never boasted of the act which brought his name into the official report of the commander of the division in which he served, but he had no hesitation in telling the thrilling story when it became the subject of special inquiry.

During the last few years of his life Mauk drew a pension of $12 a month from the United States government, which, with his modest earnings as a carpenter and common laborer, enabled him to live in comparative comfort, in the plain, simple style of his neighborhood. At the time of his enlistment, he had a wife and two children. His wife died soon after the close of the war, and both children, by this marriage, died before reaching maturity. In 1866 he married his second wife, who is now his widow. A son, Mr. H. C. Mauk (who is a teacher in the public schools), and a daughter, are the surviving children. For twenty years or longer, Mauk was an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He led a quiet, unobtrusive life, full of toil, but honest, upright and manly.

Daniel Wolford, the comrade who fired the ineffective shot at Sergeant Tucker, when Mauk with steadier aim brought down General Hill, is still living. He belongs to the class of honest toilers, of whom Mauk was an excellent type. He has spent his whole life in Bedford county, Penna., near to the spot where he was born. The tremendous events through which he passed in his youth, made no appreciable impression on his character and apparently had nothing to do with shaping his destiny. He is a quiet, well-meaning, hard working man, and this is what he would, in all probability, have been, if he had remained at home when the other farmer boys marched off to the war—and had never seen ‘a squadron set in the field.’

Sergeant Tucker.

The other survivor of the Hill tragedy, Sergeant George W. Tucker, who escaped through Wolford's bad marksmanship, in his best days bore but little resemblance to the two men just described. In his youth he was surrounded by an entirely different environment. He is a native of Baltimore and enjoyed the educational advantages that belong to a large city. Of handsome person and soldierly bearing, it is not surprising that he was soon taken from the cavalry company, in which he had enlisted as a private soldier, and put into a [37] responsible position at headquarters. Several acts of personal bravery attracted the attention of General A. P. Hill, and during the remainder of his service he was one of that able officer's confidential messengers, and was often entrusted with special duty regarded as particularly delicate and dangerous.

At the close of the war Tucker returned to Baltimore and for a number of years was a salesman for the large wholesale house of William T. Walters & Co. Of late years he has resided, for the most part, in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At present he is living in the little village of Pearl, Frederick county, Maryland. It is understood that his health has become greatly impaired.

General Sedgwick's sudden taking off.

It is a fact worthy of being noted that Corporal Mauk was an eye witness to the killing of General Sedgwick, commander of the Sixth army corps, whose taking off was as sudden, as unexpected, and almost as tragic as that of General A. P. Hill. The Sixth corps had made a long march on the 8th of May, 1864, and on the 9th was getting into position in front of Spotsylvania. No general engagement was expected for some hours, and Sedgwick and several officers of his staff were leisurely inspecting the lines, walking from one point to another, and stopping occasionally to speak encouraging words to the men. The Confederate line was apparently a mile away, but every now and then the whirr of a minie ball showed that the sharpshooters were plying their deadly work from such vantage points as the natural features of the battle ground afforded. Sedgwick had been told by his chief of staff, earlier in the day, that there was one place on the line which he should avoid, for the reason that the fire of the sharpshooters seemed to converge upon it, as if it had been selected for a target.

Strangely enough, the officer who had given the warning accompanied General Sedgwick to the very spot which he regarded as specially dangerous. They stopped, and Sedgwick passed some jokes with the men who were inclined to drop to the ground whenever they heard the singing of a bullet. To reassure one poor fellow whose dodging interrupted his work, Sedgwick said to him, ‘They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance.’ These were the last words of the amiable, good-natured, gallant Sedgwick. A ball struck him fair in the face, and went through his head. General

McMahon, who was standing close beside him, in attempting to support [38] his stricken chief, was borne to the ground, and it was not until he saw the blood gushing from the mortal wound that he recalled the warning he had given but a short time before. Fate had led both men unconsciously along, until they stood immediately in front of the sharpshooters' target.

Corporal Mauk was close enough to the group to hear the conversation with the dodging soldier, and he often repeated Sedgwick's expression about the inability of a sharpshooter to hit an elephant at so great a distance. General McMahon described the touching scene in a private letter to a friend, a portion of which was published not a great while ago, and the last sentence uttered by Sedgwick, as recorded by his chief of staff, is identical with what Mauk heard him say an instant before the sharpshooter gave such awful proof of his skill.

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