D. H. Hill Takes a New Command

Daniel Harvey “D. H.” Hill

On this date in 1863, Daniel Harvey Hill took command of the district of North Carolina (an assignment that would stretch up to the south bank of the James River in Virginia). Hill had earned a well-deserved reputation as a fighter, but, being a prickly fellow, he also earned a well-deserved reputation as a difficult subordinate. Following the battle of Fredericksburg, Robert E. Lee had looked for a convenient way to shuffle Hill aside; even Hill’s immediate superior, his own brother-in-law, Stonewall Jackson, assented to Hill’s reassignment. (Hill would soon get his irascible revenge by denying Lee reinforcements in advance of the Gettysburg campaign.)

To get some great insight into Hill’s personality, look at the general order he issued to his new command on the day he took charge. This has to be some of the most colorful language used by a general officer in an official communication! This comes from O.R. XVIII, pp. 894–5. I have added a few paragraph breaks to make reading easier.


Headquarters, Goldsborough, V. O.,
February 25, 1863.

The undersigned has been placed in charge of the troops in North Carolina. In assuming command he would address a few words of exhortation to his forces:

Soldiers! Your brutal and malignant enemy is putting forth efforts unexampled in the history of the world. Having failed to subjugate you, he is maddened with the thirst for vengeance, and is pushing forward his foreign mercenaries to plunder your property and lay waste your homes. But his marauding hosts have been so often beaten and baffled that they are now discouraged and demoralized. Should you be able to check them everywhere for the next sixty days the 300,000 whose time expires in May will not re-enlist, and the war will end before July. Should the scoundrels, however, gain a single substantial success at any one point the war will be prolonged during the entire administration of Lincoln.

It becomes a solemn duty then to labor and fight during the next two months as we have never done before. We must make the war unpopular with the mercenary vandals of the North by harassing and annoying them. We must cut down to 6 feet by 2 the dimensions of the farms which these plunderers propose to appropriate. You will have to endure more hardships and to fight more desperate battles than you would have done were your ranks properly filled. Our cities, towns, and villages are full of young and able-bodied skulkers, wearing the semblance of men, who have dodged from the battle-field under the provisions of the exemption bill. The scorn of the fair sex and the contempt of all honorable men have not been able to drive these cowardly miscreants into the ranks, so long as they can fatten upon the miseries of the country and shelter their worthless carcasses from Yankee bullets, but they are insensible to shame. But a day of retribution awaits these abortions of humanity. Their own descendants will execrate their memory when the finger of scorn is pointed and the taunt is uttered, “He is the son, or grandson, or great-grandson of an exempt and extortioner.” Do your full duty, soldiers, and leave these poltroons and villains to the execration of posterity.

All commanding officers are hereby enjoined to furnish the names of officers and men who distinguish themselves in pitched battles and skirmishes. Those so distinguishing themselves will be recommended for promotion and their names published in the principal papers of their respective States.

The infantry have to bear the brunt of every battle and to endure special hardships in every campaign. The post of danger and of suffering is the post of honor. If our liberty be ever won it will be due mainly to the indomitable pluck and sturdy endurance of our heroic infantry.

The Confederate artillery has behaved most nobly, and the wonder is that with inferior guns and ammunition it has been able to cope successfully with the splendid armament of the enemy. It has been a mistake, however, to contend with the Yankee artillery. Reserve your fire, as at Fredericksburg, for the masses of infantry, and do not withdraw your guns just when they are becoming effective. It is glorious to lose guns by fighting them to the last; it is disgraceful to save them by retiring early from the fight.

The cavalry constitute the eyes and ears of the army. The safety of the entire command depends upon their vigilance and the faithfulness of their reports. The officers and men who permit themselves to be surprised deserve to die, and the commanding general will spare no efforts to secure them their deserts. Almost equally criminal are the scouts who, through fright, bring in wild and sensational reports. They will be court-martialed for cowardice. Many opportunities will be afforded to the cavalry to harass the enemy, cut off his supplies, drive in his pickets, &c.

Those who have never been in battle will thus be enabled to enjoy the novel sensation of listening to the sound of hostile shot and shell, and those who have listened a great way off will be allowed to come some miles nearer, and compare the sensation caused by the distant cannonade with that produced by the rattle of musketry.

Major- General.


14 Responses to D. H. Hill Takes a New Command

  1. His general order reads more like a like a declaration than an order.

    His use of “brutal and malignant enemy… unparalleled in history… And foreign mercenary’s plundering your homes” is almost certainly intended to reference back to the Declaration of Independence’s charges against the King regarding his cruelty in waging wars and his use of mercenary‘s. He hopes this will bolster up the solders and citizens of the district and help bring an end the war by July. To achieve that victory he’s willing to grant each federal soldier, a small parcel of southern land, their graves.

    His condemnation of “able-bodied skulkers” and their descendants is a call for Old Testament generational punishment.

    His expectations for the officers and soldiers of the infantry, artillery, and calvary under his command is clear. Attack, Charge, Victory or a sanctified Death!!

    After reading that order, I can almost hear Lee, Jackson, or Bragg thinking to themselves, Oh no, here comes here comes Harvey!

  2. Here’s another one from DH Hill: GOLDSBOROUGH, N. C., March 24, 1863.
    Major General J. G. FOSTER, Federal Army.

    SIR: Two communications have been referred to me as the successor of General French. The prisoners from Swindell’s company and the Seventh North Carolina are true prisoners of war and if not paroled I will retaliate five-fold. In regard to your first communication touching the burning of Plymouth you seem to have forgotten two things. You forget, sir, that you are a Yankee and that Plymouth is a Southern town.

    It is no business of yours if we choose to burn one of our own towns. A meddling Yankee troubles himself about everybody’s matters except his own and repents of everybody’s sins except his own. We are a different people. Should the Yankees burn a Union village in Connecticut or a cod-fish town in Massachusetts we would not meddle with them but rather bid them God-speed in their work of purifying the atmosphere.

    Your second act of forgetfulness consists in your not remembering that you are the most atrocious house-burner as yet unhung in the wide universe. Let me remind you of the fact that you have made two raids when you were weary of debauching in your negro harem and when you knew that your forces outnumbered the Confederates five to one. Your whole line of march has been marked by burning churches, school-houses, private residences, barns, stables, gin-houses, negro cabins, fences in the row, etc.

    Your men have plundered the country of all that it contained and wantonly destroyed what they could not carry off. Before you started on your freebooting expedition toward Tarborough you addressed your soldiers in the town of Washington and told them that you were going to take them to a rich country full of plunder. With such a hint to your thieves it is no wonderful that your raid was characterized by rapine, pillage, arson and murder.

    Learning last December that there was but a single weak brigade on this line you tore yourself from the arms of sable beauty and moved out with 15,000 men on a grand marauding foray. You partially burned Kinston and entirely destroyed the village of White Hall. The elegant mansion of the planter and the hut of the poor farmer and fisherman were alike consumed by your brigands. How matchless is the impudence which in view of this wholesale arson can complain of the burning of Plymouth in the heat of action!

    But there is another species of effrontery which New England itself cannot excel. When you return to your harem from one of these Union-restoring excursions you write to your Government the deliberate lie that you have discovered a large and increasing Union sentiment in this State. No one knows better than yourself that there is not a respectable man in North Carolina in any condition of life who is not utterly and irrevocably opposed to union with your hated and hateful people. A few wealthy men have meanly and falsely professed Union sentiments to save their property and a few ignorant fishermen have joined your ranks but to betray you when the opportunity offers.

    No one knows better than yourself that our people are true as steel and that our poorer classes have excelled the wealthy in their devotion to our cause. You knowingly and willfully lie when you speak of a Union sentiment in this brave, noble and patriotic State. Wherever the trained and disciplined soldiers of North Carolina have met the Federal forces you have been scattered as leaves before the hurricane.

    In conclusion let me inform you that I will receive no more white flags from you except the one which covers your surrender of the scene of your lust, your debauchery and your crimes. No one dislikes New England more cordially than I do, but there are thousands of honorable men even there who abhor your career fully as much as I do.

    Sincerely and truly, your enemy,
    D. H. HILL, Major-General, C. S. Army

    1. I recall reading somewhere that Lee called Hill a “croaker” … which i believe in 19th century parlance means “pain in the a**.”

  3. He was like Jackson on crack. He must have been hell in a command tent conference. No wonder Robert E had no problem “giving you a command commensurate with your unique talents”, or something like that.

    1. Yeah, for all his talent on the battlefield, I can’t see Hill as someone Lee would’ve wanted to put up with on a personal level. It’s one thing to be profane like Early; being acerbic is a whole different kind of grating.

      1. Acerbic and bombastic. The new Fair Oaks book quotes him chewing out Billy Mahone rather harshly for ordering his back from their line.

  4. I think he pours out his soul in the most dramatic and flamboyant writing style from that era. If his oratory matched his written skills, no one, not even his ranking superiors, likely wanted to get into a disagreeable dialogue with him.

  5. Not too different from the standard speech given by George S. Patton during and pre-WW II. And perhaps like Hill, many of Patton’s contemporaries recoiled from the tone and tenor of the speech. Yet, just as many contemporaries invited Patton to visit their unit and give the speech.

  6. “The general is a dodger, a well-known dodger. The general he’s a dodger and I’m a dodger, too. He’ll march you up and he’ll march you down, but lookout boys, he’ll put you underground.” The Dodger Song.

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