During the chaotic aftermath of the Sixth Corps breakthrough attack outside Petersburg, Virginia, on April 2, 1865, Corporal John Mauk fired at a pair of mounted riders, instantly killing Lieutenant General A.P. Hill.
Ambrose Powell Hill did not perform as well as a corps commander as he had in charge of a brigade or division, and the general spent much of the Petersburg campaign outside of the limelight. He returned from medical leave just a day before his death and inherited a situation where his men held responsibility for guarding far too long of a stretch of line than their numbers would allow. The decisive attack that ended the 9.5-month long campaign pierced his lines, and, not knowing the extent, Hill rode to meet with division commander Henry Heth.
John Mauk participated in the 138th Pennsylvania’s attack that morning as it swept through the Confederate defenses near the home of John Hart. As triumphant Union soldiers fanned in all directions, Mauk and Private Daniel Wolford ventured for the South Side Railroad, the final supply line into Petersburg. As they returned they noticed the approach of the two Confederate riders.
Though Mauk did not find out until the end of the day who he had actually killed, the Pennsylvanian’s recollection of the event perfectly matches that of Confederate courier George Tucker, who accompanied Hill. Many Civil War scholars are familiar with the basic outline of Hill’s last ride and his standoff with Mauk and Wolford. This talk will explore how that story came to light, examine the reliability of some of the popular conclusions made about Hill’s mindset, and share new details that have recently been discovered.
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