The Forgotten General: Daniel Harvey Hill
Hayden Daniel ('19)-
Lexington has become linked with the names of great generals. Generals George Washington and Robert E. Lee lend their names to W&L. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson taught at VMI, lived in the only house he ever owned in Lexington, and is buried in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. General George C. Marshall, who served as Army Chief of Staff during World War II and masterminded the postwar rebuilding of Europe, graduated from VMI in 1901. Sam Houston, one of the principal leaders of the Texas Revolution of 1836 and first president of the Republic of Texas, was born on Timber Ridge Plantation in Rockbridge County. All of these generals have placed a lasting mark on both Lexington and the nation, but one prominent general who called Lexington home has been overlooked. Daniel Harvey Hill spent five years as a professor of mathematics at Washington and Lee (then Washington College), wrote a widely-read textbook on algebra, became “Stonewall” Jackson’s brother-in-law, and served with distinction in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
Hill was born in York County, South Carolina in 1821. After graduating from West Point in 1842, Hill served with distinction in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1849. He was brevetted to captain for bravery at the Battle of Churubusco and brevetted to major for bravery at the battle of Chapultepec, in which other future Civil War generals such as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Pickett, James Longstreet, and Thomas Jackson also participated. After returning from the Mexican-American War, Hill married Isabella Morrison in 1848, and they would eventually have nine children. In 1849, Hill resigned his commission in the United States Army and became a professor of mathematics at Washington College. While teaching at the College, Hill produced Elements of Algebra, an algebra textbook targeted toward a Southern audience. The work contained several algebra questions that poked fun at “Yankees,” such as:
“The field of battle at Buena Vista is 6½ miles from Saltillo. Two Indiana volunteers ran away from the field of battle at the same time; one ran half a mile per hour faster than the other, and reached Saltillo 5 minutes and 54 6/11 seconds sooner than the other. Required their respective rates of travel. Ans. 6, and 5½ miles per hour. (Elements of Algebra, page 322.)”
Thomas Jackson, who became a close personal friend of Hill while both lived in Lexington, endorsed the textbook. In 1857, Thomas Jackson married Mary Anna Morrison, Hill’s sister-in-law, linking the two friends through marriage. After five years at Washington College, Hill accepted a position at Davidson College, where his wife’s father was president. In 1859, Hill was appointed superintendent of the North Carolina Military Institute in Charlotte.
Hill took up command of the 1st North Carolina Volunteers after the outbreak of the Civil War and experienced his first taste of command at the battle of Big Bethel in June 1861 near Fort Monroe, Virginia. Promoted to a division command, Hill served with great distinction during the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles, Robert E. Lee’s first major operation as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, in 1862. In July 1862, General Hill and Union General John A. Dix concluded an agreement on the official exchange of prisoners, later called the Dix-Hill Cartel. During the Maryland Campaign, Hill’s division fought at South Mountain and desperately held the infamous “Bloody Lane” at Antietam. Hill was absent from the Battle of Chancellorsville and the subsequent Gettysburg Campaign in 1863 because of conflicts with Lee regarding the reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia after Stonewall Jackson’s death and Lee’s refusal to promote Hill to a corps command.
Hill was transferred to the Army of Tennessee in late 1863 under the command of Braxton Bragg, who Hill had served with in Mexico. Hill’s forces suffered heavy casualties at the bloody Confederate victory at Chickamauga, and Hill soon joined the cabal of Confederate officers who condemned the leadership ability of Bragg in a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis sided with Bragg in the dispute, and Hill found himself without a command in the subsequent reorganization of the Army of Tennessee. Hill regained his command after Bragg’s dismissal, but Hill rarely saw action for the remainder of the war. Hill’s last participation in combat came at the battle of Bentonville, North Carolina in March 1865 where he commanded a division. On April 26, 1865, General D.H. Hill surrendered alongside his commanding officer Joseph Johnston and the rest of the Army of Tennessee to the Union Army under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman, representing an effective end of the Civil War east of the Mississippi River.
After the war, Hill took up several professions and travelled the South extensively. He became editor of the influential magazine The Land We Love while living in Charlotte, North Carolina, was president of the University of Arkansas from 1877 to 1884, and finally became president of Georgia Military College. Hill resigned from that post in 1889 due to failing health. Returning to Charlotte, Daniel Harvey Hill died in September 1889 and was buried in Davidson College Cemetery.
Though he may not have left as much of an impressive mark on history as Washington, Lee, Jackson, Houston, or Marshall, General D.H. Hill became an important part of the Lexington community during his tenure as a professor at Washington College and exemplified the virtues of honor and integrity that W&L holds so dear during his service in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.