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.
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.
But 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.