Daniel Harvey Hill, Educator and General

Another installment n “Tales from the Tombstone.” For other posts in the series, click here.

On a recent road-trip, I had the chance to take a slight detour off the interstate and visit Davidson, North Carolina. Now known as the college that witnessed a young Stephon Curry light up the town during his playing career, Davidson is steeped in history.

Confederate Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey “D.H.” Hill

One of its many historical ties comes in the person of Daniel Harvey “D.H” Hill. A graduate of West Point, brother-in-law to Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, mercurial and temperamental major general (provisional rank of lieutenant general) in the Confederate army, and a very capable academic, culminating in becoming the first president of the University of Arkansas in 1877.

However, where does D.H. Hill fit in the pantheon of Confederate military leaders? Or does that take a back seat to his successful career as a school administrator and educator? 

He was brash, argumentative, and hot-tempered. Yet, he was a skilled offensive leader and on September 14, 1862 led a masterful defense of South Mountain that arguably saved the life of the Army of Northern Virginia.

His prowess in battle was never the question. His fiery personality outside of the heat of battle was what caused Hill to continue to be reassigned.

He was even present at the last major engagement in the east at the Battle of Bentonville in March 1865.

But, he is more remembered by his temper; blasting Confederate General Braxton Bragg after the hollow victory of Chickamauga in September 1863. He was an enemy of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and when he spoke out against Bragg in the winter of 1863-1864, Davis would soon effectively remove Hill from active operations and reassigning him to minor roles until the last few months of the war.

FullSizeRender_2But on Main Street in Davidson, North Carolina, a North Carolina Archives and Highways marker stands right outside the cemetery gates. In the back left corner is the obelisk marking the grave of Hill. However, it was the sign out front that

There is only one line on that sign that points toward his Civil War career. The rest speak to his time as an educator, from his superintendency of the North Carolina Military Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina and his professorship at Davidson College. Also, a line about his three year editorship of The Land We Love, that provided scholarship on social and historic subjects of interest to Southerners.

D.H. Hill, from the classrooms of West Point as a student to the classrooms of universities he taught at. From the halls of Chapultepec to the mountainside of South Mountain. From the last shots at Bentonville until having to resign his last post at the Military and Agricultural College of Milledgeville, Georgia due to ill-health. In all these exploits, Hill was a fighter.

Hill died on September 24, 1889.

Was he a better educator or general officer?

I’ll let you decide.

18 Responses to Daniel Harvey Hill, Educator and General

  1. It’s interesting that Cump Sherman was the first head of the Louisiana military academy that became, over time, LSU. D. H. Hill and Sherman ended up fighting on opposite sides in Bentonville, the last major battle of the Civil War. Cump never went back to academia, instead going from success to success in the Union high command. I wonder if the two men ever had an occasion post-war to share their similar experience in starting a Southern military academy on the eve of the nation’s great conflagration. Sherman never hated the South, no matter how thoroughly he was (and still is) hated in parts of the old Confederacy.

  2. It’s difficult to assess his achievements as an educator, but as an combat officer, he certainly showed great talent at both South Mountain and in the defense of the Sunken Road sector at Antietam. However, in his performances at Seven Pines and in the North Carolina Campaign, his leadership was considerably less than stellar.

    I’ve always liked Harvey Hill. Presently, I live about a mile from Davidson College. Unfortunately, there has been serious discussion about removing the NC historical marker.

    1. To be fair, nobody earned a gold medal at Seven Pines. I’ve always thought of him as a very capable officer who didn’t necessarily “play well with others”.

    2. George
      Removing the sign was my first though and fear . Please do what you can to prevent this . Removing our history is destroying our country and not uniting us . let me know if i can help please .

  3. He certainly served well at during the 7 Days campaign, South Mountain and at Antietam. His career seemed to go south when he was sent west. His inaction at McLemores Cove was a low point although not alone in that opportunity during the Chickamauga campaign. His participation in the cabal against Bragg cost him a promotion and transfer to a small theater. I also like Hill and felt his transfer was a loss to the ANV. Favorite Hill story was at Antietam where he stayed mounted while Longstreet and Lee were standing. Asking him to dismount because he was exposed and likely drawing fire, he declined and then a cannon ball took off both forelocks of his horse, and he calmly dismounted. As an aside, I would like to have seen cranks Hill and Early in a bar after a few drinks.

  4. Arguably one of the “cooler” Confederate generals. Robert E. Lee didn’t like his acerbic wit either. Interesting that after WWII a number of generals also became the heads of prominent universities. He had abilities.

  5. Outstanding post! I was just on D.H. Hill’s trail last month on the weekend of the Fredericksburg battle anniversary. I was giving some descendants a tour whose ancestors served in D.H. Hill’s division; about as far away as you can get from Marye’s Heights. We went to D.H. Hill’s headquarters, during the winter of 1862-1863 at Grace Episcopal Church. Located in Corbin, Va. it’s on the Richmond Stage Road (RT 2) between Fredericksburg & Guinea Station. It’s also down the country road from Moss Neck Manor which served as Jackson’s winter headquarters. Both generals would worship there (along with a host of officers & enlisted alike) and it’s perhaps the epicenter of the Christian revival which swept the southern camps that winter. When D.H. Hill went west, it became Robert Rodes’ headquarters (who wasn’t fond of attending services but was encouraged by Jackson’s wife). Grace Episcopal Church has been closed for decades and is a very haunting time capsule to visit. Corbin family graves can be found in the yard and the family takes care of the property today. See “gallery” for pictures: https://www.churchsp.org/gracecorbin/

  6. I’ve always like Harvey Hill, although he wasn’t necessarily a likeable guy. I think that proved his downfall. He certainly had military skill, but his inability to rankle superiors always seemed to outweigh his battlefield achievements.

  7. Hill served briefly as a division commander under Beauregard at Bermuda Hundred. He did well, and gave good advice, but he got into a petty squabble with Jefferson Davis that made neither man look particularly good.

    I think in the Union army his spirit brother was David Stanley. Both men were brave, excellent tacticians, but exceedingly bitter, although Stanley was just a tad better at keeping his acidic personality in check. His memoirs though make for a great read. They are among the most blunt I have ever read.

  8. The only modern full-length biography examining Harvey Hill’s career as a soldier, educator, and spokesman for the Lost Cause (and himself) is an unpublished PhD dissertation by Brit K. Erslev, “Nearly there”: Daniel Harvey Hill, propenent and target of the Lost Cause. University of North Carolina, 2011.

  9. Ah, Harvey Hill. My favorite Rebel. He had a sardonic sense of humor which must have made Christmas dinner with his brother-in-law, Maj. TJ Jackson, interesting. Stonewall had a genetic defect – no sense of humor – so keeping them away from each other must have tried the patience of their wives!

    In 1857, he authored an algebra book published by Lippincott. Supposedly the editor was concerned it would not sell in the North. Do you think? Here are some of the problems – and, yes they are real! Much more entertaining than “Tom and Susie get on trains 20 miles apart – how soon will they meet?”:

    A Yankee mixes a certain number of wooden nutmegs, which cost him 1/4 cent apiece, with a quantity of real nutmegs, worth 4 cents apiece, and sells the whole assortment for $44; and gains $3.75 by the fraud. How many wooden nutmegs were there?

    In the year 1692, the people of Massachusetts executed, imprisoned, or privately persecuted 469 persons, of both sexes, and all ages, for alleged crime of witchcraft. Of these, twice as many were privately persecuted as were imprisoned, and 7 17/19 times as many more were imprisoned than were executed. Required the number of sufferers of each kind?

    In the year 1637, all the Pequod Indians that survived the slaughter on the Mystic River were either banished from Connecticut, or sold into slavery. The square root of twice the number of survivors is equal to 1/10 that number. What was the number?

    A man in Cincinnati purchased 10,000 pounds of bad pork, at 1 cent per pound, and paid so much per pound to put it through a chemical process, by which it would appear sound, and then sold it at an advanced price, clearing $450 by the fraud. The price at which he sold the pork per pound, multiplied by the cost per pound of the Chemical process, was 3 cents. Required the price at which he sold it, and the cost of the chemical process.

    In the year 1853, a number of persons in New England and New York, were sent to lunatic asylums in consequence of the Spiritual Rapping delusion. If 14 be added to number of those who became insane, and the square root of the sum be taken, the root will be less than the number by 42. Required the number of victims.

    Quick – without using a calculator, what are the answers? BTW, you can read the entire book at http://books.google.com/books?id=5JoKAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=daniel+harvey+hill+elements+of+algebra&source=bl&ots=DPDx_YqtV3&sig=P8eqPhXalcBAbXnsFWjKpIJlVag&hl=en&ei=1V9ATfiDEoigsQOfjrCrCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Hill did not spare his superiors. Of the Seven Days, he wrote “The result, as might have been anticipated, was a disastrous and bloody repulse.” Of Malvern Hill he remarked on “the blundering management of the battle.” Malvern Hill, he went on to say, “was not war, it was murder!” Not the sort of thing to endear him to Marse Robert! Robert Kean called Hill “harsh, abrupt, and often insulting.” No wonder Lee got rid of him!

    My favorite “Hillism” is his sidebar on an article he wrote for B&L to the effect that the Civil War was won by Southerners, folk like Lincoln, Farragut, Thomas and Gibbon!

  10. As a Tar Heel by birth and a Davidson College graduate by choice, I wish to comment. DH Hill, Stonewall Jackson and Rufus Barringer became brothers-in-law when they married three Morrison sisters (their father was the first President of Davidson College in 1836). Hill, Jackson and Barringer became Confederate generals, who were all known for their aggressive battlefield skills; their strict discipline; their strong faith and intellect; and their divergent senses of humor. Hill won the first battle of the War at Big Bethel Church on 8June1861. Hill’s phrase, “it was not war, but it was murder,” following the Seven Days is not flattering to R.E. Lee’s leadership. His later battlefield successes and leadership conflicts were discussed above. His post-war academic leadership as president of the Univ. of Arkansas(1877) and of Georgia Military College (1885) are reflections of his pre-war successful roles at Washington and Lee Univ.(1849), Davidson College (1854) and the NC Military Institute (1859).Two of his sons also had successful leadership roles: DHH, Jr (President of NC State Univ.) (1889) and JM Hill (Chief Justice, Ark. Supreme Court)(1904).
    I was humbled and flattered to receive the DH Hill Award on 15 Nov 2014 from the NC Civil War Round Table, which was established in 1955.
    I strongly oppose the removal of the NC Archives and Highways Marker of D H Hill on Main Street, Davidson, NC., whose post-war career really defines him.

    1. Hill also edited a magazine while based in Charlotte called “The Land We Love” from 1866-69. The normally acerbic Hill used to say “Never speak ill of the dead” which served him well.

      1. Hill’s role as an editor is also on the NC Archives and Highways Marker, pictured above in Phill’s blog—another reason not to remove the Marker.
        Educator vs. General: clearly he was both. I hope Davidson College sees his role as Educator is “better,” if one is forced to dichotomous choice.

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