American Civil War: Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill

A.P. Hill
Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell HIll. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Born November 29, 1825, at his family plantation near Culpeper, VA, Ambrose Powell Hill was the son of Thomas and Frances Hill. The seventh and final of the couple's children, he was named for his uncle Ambrose Powell  Hill (1785-1858) and Indian fighter Captain Ambrose Powell.  Referred to as Powell by his family, he was educated locally during his early years. At age 17, Hill elected to pursue a military career and received an appointment to West Point in 1842. 

West Point

Arriving at the academy, Hill became close friends with his roommate, George B. McClellan. A middling student, Hill was known for his preference for having a good time rather than academic pursuits. In 1844, his studies were interrupted after a night of youthful indiscretions in New York City. Contracting gonorrhea, he was admitted to the academy hospital, but failed to improve dramatically. Sent home to recover, he would be plagued by the effects of the disease for the remainder of his life, usually in the form of prostatitis.

As a result of his health issues, Hill was held back a year at West Point and did not graduate with his classmates in 1846, which included notables such as Thomas Jackson, George Pickett, John Gibbon, and Jesse Reno. Dropping into the Class of 1847, he soon befriended Ambrose Burnside and Henry Heth. Graduating on June 19, 1847, Hill ranked 15th in a class of 38. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he received orders to join the 1st US Artillery which was engaged in the Mexican-American War.

Mexico & Antebellum Years

Arriving in Mexico, Hill saw little action as the bulk of the fighting had finished. During his time there he suffered from a bout of typhoid fever. Returning north, he received a posting to Fort McHenry in 1848. The following year saw him assigned to Florida to aid in fighting the Seminoles. Hill spent the majority of the next six years in Florida with a brief interlude in Texas. During this time, he was promoted to first lieutenant in September 1851.

Serving in an unhealthy climate, Hill contracted yellow fever in 1855. Surviving, he received a transfer to Washington, DC to work with the US Coast Survey. While there, he married Kitty Morgan McClung in 1859. This marriage made him brother-in-law to John Hunt Morgan. The marriage came after a failed pursuit of Ellen B. Marcy, daughter of Captain Randolph B. Marcy. She would later marry Hill's former roommate McClellan. This would later lead to rumors that Hill fought harder if he thought McClellan was on the opposing side.

The Civil War Begins

On March 1, with the Civil War looming, Hill resigned his commission in the US Army. When Virginia left the Union the following month, Hill received command of the 13th Virginia Infantry with the rank of colonel. Assigned to Brigadier General Joseph Johnston's Army of the Shenandoah, the regiment arrived at the First Battle of Bull Run that July but did not see action as it was assigned to guard Manassas Junction on the Confederate right flank. After service in the Romney Campaign, Hill received a promotion to brigadier general on February 26, 1862, and was given command of the brigade formerly belonging to Major General James Longstreet.

The Light Division

Serving gallantly during the Battle of Williamsburg and the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862, he was promoted to major general on May 26. Taking command of the Light Division in Longstreet's wing of General Robert E. Lee's army, Hill saw substantial action against his friend McClellan's army during the Seven Days Battles in June/July. Falling out with Longstreet, Hill and his division were transferred to serve under his former classmate Jackson. Hill quickly became one of Jackson's most reliable commanders and fought well at Cedar Mountain (August 9) and played a key role at Second Manassas (August 28-30).

Marching north as part of Lee's invasion of Maryland, Hill began bickering with Jackson. Capturing the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry on September 15, Hill and his division were left to parole the prisoners while Jackson moved to rejoin Lee. Completing this task, Hill and his men departed and reached the army on September 17 in time to play a key role in saving the Confederate right flank at the Battle of Antietam. Retreating south, Jackson and Hill's relationship continued to deteriorate.

Third Corps

A colorful character, Hill typically wore a red flannel shirt in combat which became known as his "battle shirt." Taking part in the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, Hill performed poorly and his men required reinforcement to prevent a collapse. With the renewal of campaigning in May 1863, Hill took part in Jackson's brilliant flanking march and attack on May 2 at the Battle of Chancellorsville. When Jackson was wounded, Hill took over the corps before being wounded in the legs and being forced to cede commander to Major General J.E.B. Stuart.


With Jackson's death on May 10, Lee began to reorganize the Army of Northern Virginia. In doing so, he promoted Hill to lieutenant general on May 24 and gave him command of the newly formed Third Corps. In the wake of the victory, Lee marched north into Pennsylvania. On July 1, Hill's men opened the Battle of Gettysburg when they clashed with Brigadier General John Buford's Union cavalry. Successfully driving back Union forces in concert with Lieutenant General Richard Ewell's corps, Hill's men took heavy losses.

Largely inactive on July 2, Hill's corps contributed two-thirds of the troops involved in the ill-fated Pickett's Charge the next day. Attacking under the leadership of Longstreet, Hill's men advanced on the Confederate left and were bloodily repulsed. Retreating to Virginia, Hill endured perhaps his worst day in command on October 14 when he was badly defeated at the Battle of Bristoe Station

Overland Campaign

In May 1864, Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant commenced his Overland Campaign against Lee. At the Battle of the Wilderness, Hill came under heavy Union assault on May 5. The next day, Union troops renewed their attack and nearly shattered Hill's lines when Longstreet arrived with reinforcements. While fighting shifted south to Spotsylvania Court House, Hill was forced to cede command due to ill health. Though traveling with the army, he played no part in the battle. Returning to action, he performed poorly at North Anna (May 23-26) and at Cold Harbor (May 31-June 12). After the Confederate victory at Cold Harbor, Grant moved to cross the James River and capture Petersburg. Beaten there by Confederate forces, he began the Siege of Petersburg.


Settling into the siege lines at Petersburg, Hill's command turned back Union troops at the Battle of the Crater and engaged Grant's men several times as they worked to push troops south and west to cut the city's rail links. Though commanding at Globe Tavern (August 18-21), Second Ream's Station (August 25), and Peebles' Farm (September 30-October 2), his health began to deteriorate again and his missed actions such as Boydton Plank Road (October 27-28). As the armies settled into winter quarters in November, Hill continued to struggle with his health.

On April 1, 1865, Union troops under Major General Philip Sheridan won the key Battle of Five Forks west of Petersburg. The next day, Grant ordered a massive offensive against Lee's overstretched lines in front of the city. Surging forward, Major General Horatio Wright's VI Corps overwhelmed Hill's troops. Riding to the front, Hill encountered Union troops and was shot in the chest by Corporal John W. Mauck of the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry. Initially buried in Chesterfield, VA, his body was exhumed in 1867 and moved to Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery.


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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, February 16). American Civil War: Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).