Preservation Opportunity in the Western Theater

Our friends at the Civil War Trust sent along this announcement and opportunity to preserve more battlefield ground in the Western Theater. Continue reading for more information about this opportunity and how you can get involved.

“With the exception of Virginia, no state endured more significant Civil War battles than Tennessee. It was in Tennessee — during the war’s early stages — where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant first gained national recognition by demanding and securing the “unconditional surrender” of a Confederate army at Fort Donelson. In 1863, the nation’s gaze was again fixed upon the Volunteer State as Union and Confederate troops vied for control of Chattanooga. And it was in Tennessee that Gen. John Bell Hood launched a last-ditch effort to strike back at the Yankees, resulting in inconceivable suffering at Franklin and ultimate defeat at Nashville.

In recognition of the state’s importance during our nation’s defining conflict, you and I have already saved 3,491 acres in Tennessee, allowing future generations to walk the ground where history was made.

Today, we have the opportunity to save an additional 15 acres at three battlefields in Tennessee: Fort Donelson, Brown’s Ferry (near Chattanooga), and Franklin. We will be adding to the 639 acres we have already saved at these three battlefields—more tiles in the mosaic of Tennessee’s rich Civil War heritage. Thanks to a magnificent $21.17-to-$1 match, you and I can save this land—worth a combined total of $1.5 million—for just $73,250!

Help us build on our previous successes in Tennessee and save these three Tennessee battlefields.

’Til the Battle is Won,

Jim Lighthizer, President
Civil War Trust

P.S. Please join our efforts to save 15 acres at Fort Donelson, Brown’s Ferry, and Franklin. 

Steve Bartman and the Battle of Chancellorsville

In the past few weeks ESPN has been re-running the Alex Gibney film Catching Hell. The film focuses on Chicago and it’s reaction to Steve Bartman in 2003 after the Cubs lost that year’s National League Championship Series (NLCS). There is also a discussion of Boston and Bill Buckner after his error in the 1986 World Series.

Watching the film, I was struck by the group reaction to the Bartman play among the Cub fans and certain players, which led directly to the team’s collapse in Game 6. As I thought about it, I realized the Bartman story can help people understand the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville in 1863. 

For those who may not be familiar with the story: In 2003 the Cubs had enjoyed a magical regular season that raised hopes in Chicago. They entered the playoffs looking for the first World Series appearance since 1945 and their first title since 1908 (95 years at the time), and led the NLCS 3 games to 2 over the Florida Marlins (now Miami Marlins), having lost Game 5 in Miami. Game 6 occurred in Chicago on October 14, and the Cubs led 3-0 going into the top of the 8th inning. A foul ball along the third base line was deflected by a fan (later identified as Steve Bartman), and the Cub outfielder, Moises Alou, reacted in frustration. The Marlins started a flurry of hits, helped by a flubbed shortstop play by Alex Gonzalez that would have ended the inning with the Cubs up 3-1 or 3-2; instead, Florida buried the Cubs with 8 runs in the 8th, and the Cubs could score no more. Game 7 the next night went back and forth, but the Marlins again (for the third straight game) beat the Cubs and went on to their second World Series in franchise history, eventually defeating the New York Yankees. Steve Bartman, meanwhile, became the scapegoat in Chicago, blamed for the defeat.

In the film, Cub fans going to Game 6 are seen admitting their nervousness, and one stated “I’ve never been so nervous before a game.” Steve Lyons, who called the game for Fox Sports, said the whole stadium was “waiting for something crazy to happen.” Some people felt it in the 7th Inning Stretch, when Bernie Mac sang “champs” in Take Me Out to the Ballgame. But the Bartman play in the 8th (in the words of Cubs 1st Baseman Eric Karros) “took the air out of the stadium.” The team seemed to tense up, and that explains both Gonzalez’ error and the meltdown of Chicago pitching. After Game 6 many in Chicago felt it was already over; some Cubs players even booked flights home after Game 7, expecting not to go to the World Series.

This, in broad parallel, is the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville. After an energetic winter and spring during which Major General Joseph Hooker reformed, rebuilt, and re-energized the army, in late April 1863 it set off for its next contest against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The last clear-cut offensive victory the Army of the Potomac had won over the Confederates was at Williamsburg, almost exactly a year earlier. A year is a long time to an army in combat, and that record weighed on the Federals as much as the 95-year drought weighed on the Cubs in 2003. Indeed, a sense of nervous energy emanates from some of Hooker’s statements before the battle and the way some of his commanders strained to get into the fight.

Lee’s unexpected strong reaction on May 1 caused Hooker to pull back, and a strange lethargy set in among the Federals. Seizing the opening created by this passivity, Lee flanked the Army of the Potomac, launching Stonewall Jackson’s famed flank attack on the evening of May 2. Jackson’s corps routed the Union XI Corps on the army’s western flank, driving it back over 2 miles before darkness ended the fighting. The attack did not win the battle, but left the Confederates threatening to win. A strong Federal defense, and/or a resolute counterattack, would recover the Army of the Potomac’s fortunes.

Yet the Army of the Potomac was like the Cubs after Bartman – the air had gone out of them. The troops themselves fought well on May 3, but the leadership was defeated and steadily pulled back. Hooker also ordered the 20% of his army at Fredericksburg to save the other 80% at Chancellorsville – a panicked order which shows how far he had melted down mentally.

Even thought the fighting on May 3 ended with the Federals in a strong position south of U.S. Ford, the battle was all but over in the mind of Hooker and many of his commanders. After some skirmishing on May 4 and 5, the Army of the Potomac quit the field. After the battle the XI Corps became the scapegoat for the army because of its failure to hold Jackson – much like Steve Bartman became the scapegoat for the foul ball play in 2003.  In both cases, the overall group saw these events as the turning points where it all went wrong and spiraled into the inevitable defeat.

The next time Catching Hell is on, take the time to watch it, as the group dynamics among the Chicago Cubs fans and players echo those of the Army of the Potomac leadership 140 years before.

Top: Steve Bartman and Moises Alou go for a foul ball in Game 6, with one out in the Top of the 8th. 

Bottom: Jackson’s flank attack on May 2.

Notice the reorientation of the Union line and the isolated position of the XI Corps “behind” the new Union position.

Ironclad Superweapons of the Civil War: USS Monitor and CSS Virginia


USS Monitor

The clash of the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia in Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862 is considered a revolutionary event in naval warfare, but neither vessel quite lived up to the ambitious expectations of its sponsors.

On a hot August day in 1861, the new Secretary of the United States Navy, Gideon Welles, met with fellow Connecticuter, Cornelius S. Bushnell, at the Willard Hotel across from the White House. Welles handed over a copy of draft legislation directing construction of armored ships and floating batteries.

Congress was sitting in special session called by President Lincoln to approve the raising of troops and committing of funds to suppress the rebellion. Welles was anxious that his bill also be passed. Bushnell, an influential railroad executive and shipbuilder from New Haven, agreed to promote the matter with contacts in the House of Representatives.

Welles perceived a dire threat from Confederate ironclads already being constructed in Norfolk, Mobile, and New Orleans. He was particularly worried about the former USS Merrimack. The once-powerful frigate had been partially burned and scuttled when the navy abandoned the Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk, Virginia, the previous April.

Virginia in drydock

CSS Virginia

The ship now was under furious repair in the Gosport drydock, being clothed in iron armor, and renamed the CSS Virginia. Despite Rebel efforts to keep the project secret, the secretary had, “contrived to get occasional vague intelligence of the work as it progressed.” His own government, however, “was wholly destitute of iron-clad steamers or floating batteries.”[1]

A letter from, “a distinguished citizen of Massachusetts” was entered into the Congressional record supporting the secretary’s proposed legislation. Mr. E. H. Derby wrote, “in reference to mail-clad [ironclad] steamers—a subject which he has thoroughly examined.”

Derby urged the absolute necessity for acquiring such vessels, and, “that neglect of this opportunity will expose us to serious losses, obloquy, and disgrace.” The British had tested and confirmed that 4.5-inch iron plates were impervious to shot and shell even from the best Armstrong and Whitworth 100-pounder cannon. They had ceased building wooden ships-of-war altogether.

“England and France will, by the close of this year, have twenty to thirty iron-clad steam ships, each of which could pass into Boston or New York with impunity, and possibly destroy either city. Unless we have means to meet them, France and England may be able to dictate terms as to the southern blockade. With such steamers we can, with little or no loss, recover Charleston, Savannah, Pensacola, Galveston, Mobile, and New Orleans…. [I] trust you will grasp a weapon so essential to our country at this moment.”[2]

Senator James Grimes of Iowa also argued in favor of the bill: “We need a more effective blockade…. Scoundrels North, as well as scoundrels South, are carrying on an unlawful trade in fraud of our revenue.” Pirates and sea rovers must be captured; Southern harbors and forts must be retaken; commerce must be protected, and Northern harbors defended.

“Suppose England, in her love for cotton, should forget the duties which she owes to mankind and attempt to break our blockade, and we should get into trouble with her: what is to become of our northern cities and our cities upon the coast?”  New York harbor is defenseless against the navies of Great Britain or France. “I want to protect [my country] and to preserve it in all its parts.”[3]

Congress passed, and Lincoln signed, the Welles legislation. The secretary was directed to appoint a board of “three skillful naval officers” to investigate plans and specifications for constructing armored ships and floating batteries, and upon their recommendation, to cause them to be built. The bill appropriated for that purpose $1,500,000.[4]

Cornelius Bushnell submitted his own design to the board for a standard wooden-hulled broadside frigate with iron plating added. Concerned about the vessel’s stability under the additional weight of armor, Bushnell was advised to consult John Ericsson, a highly-regarded Swedish engineer residing in New York.


USS Galena

Ericsson reassured Bushnell about the viability of his planned ironclad; Bushnell’s plans would be accepted and eventually become the USS Galena. (Galena was, however, widely regarded as a failure due to the thinness of armor plate. She suffered serious damage at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff near Richmond in May 1862.)

Ericsson then surprised Bushnell by asking him to examine Ericsson’s own model for, “a floating battery absolutely impregnable to the heaviest shot or shell,” called Monitor. Ericsson explained, “how quickly and powerfully she could be built.” He proudly exhibited a medal and letter of thanks from Napoleon III, who had considered a similar plan during the recent French war with Russia, but had not acted on it.

Bushnell was delighted with the model, taking it—with Ericsson’s permission—immediately to Hartford where Welles was vacationing. As Bushnell recalled, he “astounded” the secretary by saying that now the country was safe; he, “had found a battery which would make us master of the situation so far as the ocean was concerned.”[5]

The model, “impressed me favorably,” recalled Welles, “as possessing some extraordinary and valuable features, tending to the development of certain principles, then being studied, for our coast and river blockade, involving a revolution in naval warfare.” He urged Bushnell to lose no time in presenting the plan to the Naval Board in Washington.[6]

Through New York contacts—who happened to be large manufacturers of iron plate—Bushnell connected with former New York governor and now Secretary of State William Seward, who in turn provided “a strong letter of introduction” to the president. Lincoln, ever interested in new gadgets, “was at once greatly pleased with the simplicity of the plan and agreed to accompany us to the Navy Department at 11 A. M. the following day, and aid us as best he could.”

Promptly as scheduled, Bushnell and the president met with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox (Welles had not yet returned from Hartford) and members of the board. “All were surprised at the novelty of the plan. Some advised trying it; others ridiculed it,” wrote Bushnell.

The conference closed with Lincoln remarking, “All I have to say is what the girl said when she put her foot into the stocking, ‘It strikes me there’s something in it.’” After intense discussions, the board approved the plan and Ericsson began construction, with orders to complete it before Virginia could raise havoc.[7]

Virginia underwayConfederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory also had grand visions for his new weapon. He wrote to Virginia’s commander: “Could you pass Old Point [Comfort] and make a dashing cruise on the Potomac as far as Washington, its effect upon the public mind would be important to the cause.”[8]

A following letter inquired: “Can the Virginia steam to New York and attack and burn the city?” Presuming good weather and smooth seas, Mallory did not doubt she could destroy the Brooklyn Navy Yard with its magazines, all the lower city, and much shipping.

“Such an event would eclipse all the glories of the combats of the sea….” Bankers would withdraw their capital from the city. The enemy could never recover. Peace would inevitably follow. “Such an event, by a single ship, would do more to achieve our immediate independence than would the results of many campaigns. Can the ship go there? Please give me your views.”[9]

It was not to be. Neither the USS Monitor nor the CSS Virginia were capable of becoming, “master of the situation so far as the ocean was concerned.” Neither they nor their successors were going to range up and down the coasts conquering cities and defeating enemy fleets; they could hardly poke their noses out of shallow and sheltered waters.

USS_Monitor_CSS_Virginia_Merrimac_2The two fought to a tactical draw in Hampton Roads (the strategic outcome is still debated). Monitor almost sank on its way to the battle and did sink in a storm off Cape Hatteras, December 31, 1862. Virginia was blown up by her own people to avoid capture, May 11, 1862. But both spawned classes of ironclads that, despite severe shortcomings, played important roles in the war. Their places in history are assured.


Note: This post was extracted from a forthcoming book for The Emerging Civil War Series, With Mutual Fierceness: The Battle of Hampton Roads.

[1]Gideon Welles, “The First Iron-Clad Monitor,” in The Annals of The War Written by Leading Participants North and South (Philadelphia, 1879), loc. 106, 147 of 15999, Kindle.

[2] John C. Rives, The Congressional Globe: The Debates and Proceedings of the First Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress (Washington, 1861), 210.

[3] Ibid., 256-57.

[4] Ibid., 217.

[5] C. S. Bushnell, “Negotiations for the Building of the ‘Monitor,’” in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Being for The Most Part Contributions by Union and Confederate Officers. Based Upon “The Century War Series.” Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, of the Editorial Staff of “The Century Magazine” 4 vols. (New York, 1884-1888), vol. 1, 748.

[6] Welles, “The First Iron-Clad Monitor,” loc. 120-123 of 15999, Kindle.

[7] Bushnell, “Negotiations for the Building of the ‘Monitor,’” in Battles and Leaders, vol. 1, 748.

[8] S.R. Mallory to Flag-Officer Franklin Buchanan, February 24, 1862, in Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, 2 series, 29 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1894-1922) (Hereafter cited as ORN), Series 1, vol. 6, 776-777.

[9] S.R. Mallory to Flag-Officer Franklin Buchanan, March 7, 1862, in ORN, Series 1, vol. 6, 780-751.

Another Courier’s Perspective: William Henry Jenkins and the Death of A.P. Hill

Earlier this week I shared some new information discovered about William Bennett Kirkpatrick, a previously unidentified courier who relayed A.P. Hill’s last message to his Third Corps headquarters on April 2, 1865. Within the hour, Corporal John Watson Mauk shot Hill as he was attempting to reach Henry Heth’s division headquarters. Sergeant George Washington Tucker, Hill’s chief of couriers, was the only Confederate who accompanied the general at the time he was killed. Two decades later, Tucker and Mauk wrote their recollections of the event. Widely available through the Southern Historical Society Papers, these have formed the basis for the narrative of Hill’s death.

Digging deeper, I’m finding a wide variety of other sources. Most are in postwar correspondence and newspapers. Some confirm the seemingly accurate accounts provided by Mauk and Tucker, others dispute minor details, and an amusing few are wildly incorrect. I recently found an account by the other courier who followed Hill that morning to Robert E. Lee’s headquarters at the Turnbull house. Unlike Kirkpatrick, this courier continued to ride with Hill for a few more minutes of the general’s life. Forty-three years later he wrote about his experience. Comparing his account with the rest, I believe he misremembered many of the details. Nevertheless, it is important to attempt to reconcile his story with the popular interpretation.

William Henry Jenkins was born in Page County, Virginia, on June 30, 1843. He enlisted into an artillery company in early January 1863 but was transferred on the 21st into Company C, 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry. On September 12, 1864, he received an assignment as a courier on A.P. Hill’s headquarters staff. At that time the Third Corps had responsibility for protecting the Confederate supply lines west of Petersburg. They battled Union offensives to a standstill at the end of September and late October 1864, as well as in early February 1865, but each time the Confederates yielded additional ground to George Meade’s army. By late March 1865, Union forces used these positions seized from the Third Corps to launch an offensive against the supply lines past the Confederate right flank. For the first four days of the campaign, March 29-April 1, combat occurred southwest of the Third Corps’ lines, but Lee had to send reinforcements from Hill’s corps to bolster his right.

Hill took a medical leave of absence before the Union offensive began. He returned on April 1st to find only five-and-a-half brigades under his immediate command to oppose the entire VI Corps and three divisions from the Army of the James. Hill inspected his lines during the day and spent a sleepless night listening to the Union bombardment preliminary to their attacks the next morning, April 2, at multiple points, including the Third Corps position. Concerned, Hill crossed the street from his personal quarters, shared with his pregnant wife and two young daughters, and entered corps headquarters at Isabella Knight’s residence.

There, Hill learned that the Confederate Second Corps had been attacked southeast of Petersburg by the Union IX Corps and had lost portions of their entrenchments near the Jerusalem Plank Road. He immediately mounted to meet with Lee at the Turnbull house to the west and called for Tucker, but the chief of couriers had unsaddled his horse for grooming. Tucker afterward recalled:

“He directed me to follow him with two couriers immediately to General Lee’s headquarters. He then rode off rapidly. It was our custom, in critical times, to have, during the night, two of the couriers’ horses always saddled. I called to Kirkpatrick and Jenkins, the couriers next in turn, to follow the General as quickly as possible. I saddled up at once and followed them. Kirkpatrick and Jenkins arrived at General Lee’s headquarters together, only a few minutes after General Hill.”[1]

Somehow Hill had become aware of the break in his own lines during the line and directed Private William Kirkpatrick to return to the Knight house with instructions for his chief of staff. Colonel William Henry Palmer was to assist in rallying the men whose lines the VI Corps had shattered. Hill then briefly conversed with Lee and Lieutenant General James Longstreet inside the Turnbull house before Lieutenant Colonel Charles Scott Venable, a member of Lee’s staff, burst into the house to report that armed Union infantrymen lurked within sight of the headquarters.

A.P. Hill’s Ride to Lee’s Headquarters (click on map for full size, created by Edward Alexander)

Hill immediately rushed out, followed by Venable. Jenkins had waited outside and joined the pair to investigate just how badly the lines had been broken. Tucker arrived at that time and also accompanied the trio. “We went directly across the road into the opposite field, and riding due south a short distance the General drew rein, a for a few moments used his field-glass,” Tucker recalled. “We then rode on in the same direction down a declivity toward a small branch running eastward to Old Town Creek, and a quarter mile from General Lee’s.” This stream was Cattail Run, which originated west of Heth’s headquarters and flowed northwest into Rohoic Creek (also known as Old Town Creek and Indian Town Creek).

“We had gone little more than half this distance, when we suddenly came upon two of the enemy’s armed infantrymen. Jenkins and myself, who, up to this time, rode immediately behind the General, were instantly upon them, when, at the demand, ‘surrender,’ they laid down their guns. Turning to the General, I asked what should be done with the prisoners? He said: ‘Jenkins, take them to General Lee.’ Jenkins started back with his men, and we rode on.”[2]

Despite the scare, Hill, Tucker, and Venable continued toward Heth’s. An artillery courier named George Percy Hawes meanwhile began the morning at the Whitworth house, south of Lee’s headquarters and on the other side of Cattail Run. He was forced to evacuate by the approach of Union skirmishers and attached himself to Hill’s party. He warned them of the danger directly to the south and the riders took a circuitous route up Cattail Run to reach their destination at the Pickrell house. Hill soon dispatched Venable and Hawes to position artillery around the Turnbull house to protect army headquarters. Only Tucker escorted the general for the last mile of his ride and he returned within a short time with news of the general’s death by Mauk’s bullet.

The Death of A.P. Hill (click on map for full size, created by Edward Alexander)

Tucker published his account in 1883 and Hawes sent a copy to Venable, who responded with his own recollections. “I remember Tucker’s presence but not that of Jenkins at the [Cattail Run] branch,” he claimed. “When we left the gate of the Turnbull House General Hill had but one courier; but another could have easily ridden up behind us without attracting my attention, while we were examining the front so intently in the dim light of the coming day.”[3]

Despite Venable’s doubts, historians have accepted Tucker’s insertion of Jenkins into the story.

The courier seemingly lived a normal life after the war. He married Mary Virginia Zimmerman on April 7, 1868, and moved to Ladoga, Indiana by the end of the decade. The 1870 census listed him as a silversmith with a personal estate of $200. Mary meanwhile kept house, which now included a one-year-old son, William K. Jenkins. Ten years later, the elder William worked as a jeweler and by 1900 he had become a hardware dealer. Three daughters, Bertha, Nellie, and Annetta, still lived at home at the turn of the century. His son worked as a carpenter and lived next door with wife Francis, son Noah, and daughter Doris. William H. Jenkins died on November 9, 1908, and was buried in Ladoga Cemetery.

Five months before William’s death, the National Tribune published an article on June 11, 1908 by Gilbert Thompson, a former Union engineer. Thompson compiled the various accounts of the death of A.P. Hill into a narrative and included the courier’s presence. Historians can thank one of William’s friends who showed him this article, giving us another perspective of the story. William wrote to the newspaper the next month with his recollection of Hill’s death.

As could be expected, his memory had unfortunately clouded during the almost half a century since the event. Like many who wrote after the war, he also probably inflated his own impact and standing, particularly when he mentioned his meeting with Robert E. Lee just before the campaign. His claim to have been with Hill for over two years also does not match his service records. With these disclaimers, however, here is Jenkins’s full account with minimal comment. It is useful in showing the presence of Union soldiers so close to Lee’s headquarters just after the breakthrough, as well as explaining what happened to Jenkins and his prisoners after they left Hill’s cavalcade.

Editor National Tribune: Thru the kindness of Comrade Fred Souther, a Union veteran, I was presented a paper containing the account of Gen. Ambrose Powel[l] Hill’s death at Petersburg. As I was one of his couriers and had been with him for over two years I will give a few items that may be of interest to some. I, therefore, will make a short statement of the incidents connected with the General’s death.

All are familiar with the situation of the two armies facing each other around the city of Petersburg, Va., and at this time every one who was conversant with the surroundings, believed that a crisis was near. For instance, a day or two before the crisis came, a courier was called and my turn came to carry some papers from Hill’s headquarters to Gen. Lee’s headquarters and also to Gen. Heth, both being west of the city. When I delivered the message to Gen. Lee I saw the General was troubled, and being a very pleasant gentleman and a dear friend to your correspondence, after my official duty was ended with him I told him I was going over to Gen. Heth’s headquarters, and as I started the General accompanied me down almost to the road in front of the Venable House, which was a good distance from the road; all the while talking of the situation, which the General knew I was very familiar with. [ed. – Throughout the article Jenkins misidentifies Lee’s headquarters, which were actually at the home of William Turnbull. To prevent confusion, I will correct all future references.] When we parted Gen. Lee said: “Jenkins, tell Gen. Heth, for me, to keep a close watch on the enemy’s movements, and report every move to me at once,” which I did. This showed the great stress to which the situation had grown.

On the morning of April 2 the crisis came. When our lines were broken about Fort Gregg, about 8 o’clock, Gen. Hill called for two couriers. Serg’t Geo. W. Tucker and myself went with Gen. Hill to the right of our line. [ed. – Jenkins does not include Kirkpatrick, who only briefly accompanied Hill but whose presence was confirmed my multiple sources. He also misidentified the time and location of the breakthrough.] We went by Gen. Lee’s headquarters at the [Turnbull] House, and I think Gen. Hill stopped a short time, talking with Gen. Lee. We then proceeded on our way to the westward. We had gone probably about a mile when we came upon two bluecoats (stragglers), whom we disarmed and Gen. Hill said to me: “Jenkins, you take these prisoners to Gen. Lee’s headquarters.”

I immediately started back with the prisoners, but had not gone more than half a mile when I encountered a squad of 12 to 15 armed infantrymen near a peach orchard, west of the [Turnbull] House. I at once dismissed my prisoners, and falling flat on my horse’s back, ran the gauntlet.

These men had crossed the road, gone north, and were returning. When they saw me they commenced firing and as they were not more than 200 yards away I made the run thru the peach orchard under this fire and at the east end of the orchard I got out of their range, as I went down an incline which hid me from the firing squad. Then I proceeded on my way to Lee’s headquarters, and when I got there Serg’t Tucker had just arrived with the General’s horse and his own.

After I left Gen. Hill and Serg’t Tucker to take the prisoners back, they proceeded westward and came to a skirt of timber, where they came upon a bluecoat standing by a tree and ordered him to surrender. He set his gun down by the tree, then suddenly grabbed his gun and fired at Gen. Hill, the ball passing thru his left hand and his body, killing him instantly. With his left hand he was holding his bridle rein. [ed. – Corporal Mauk, who killed Hill, was not alone. Private Daniel Wolford was also present and did start to lower his musket when ordered to surrender. Mauk, however, maintained his aim on Hill the entire time. Many southern accounts of Hill’s death nonetheless claimed that Mauk had deceived Hill and Tucker by pretending to surrender. It is partially due to this rumor’s prevalence that the modest Mauk agreed to write his own recollections for publication.]

The General’s body was recovered about two hours later, and nothing of his personal effects had been disturbed. As I was a bunkmate and messmate of Serg’t Tucker, he told me all about it when we were together again, and I have always understood it this way—that there was but one man when Gen. Hill was shot, and no one else with the General but Serg’t Tucker.

Col. Venable was not with Gen. Hill when we started from Gen. Lee’s headquarters. Gen. Hill’s death caused a wave of great sorrow all thru the army.

So far as I remember, Serg’t Tuck and myself were the only two persons who accompanied Gen. Hill from his headquarters that morning from the Widow Knight’s home.—W.H. Jenkins, Ladoga, Ind.[4]

So it’s not a perfect source, as none of them seem to be, but by trimming it up I will find a way to fit into the story of Hill’s death.


[1] George W. Tucker, “Death of General A.P. Hill,” Southern Historical Society Papers (Richmond, VA: Published by the Society, 1883), Volume 11, 566.

[2] Ibid., 567.

[3] Charles S. Venable to George Percy Hawes, December 25, 1883, “Further Details of the Death of General A.P. Hill,” Southern Historical Society Papers (Richmond, VA: Published by the Society, 1884), 187.

[4] W.H. Jenkins, “Death of Gen. A.P. Hill: One of the Couriers on Duty With Him Gives His Remembrance of the Circumstances,” National Tribune, July 30, 1908.

Identifying “Courier Kirkpatrick” on A.P. Hill’s Last Ride

Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill was killed in the aftermath of the successful Union attack near Petersburg on the morning of April 2, 1865. Sergeant George Washington Tucker, Jr., the general’s chief of couriers, was the only Confederate present at the time. Both Tucker and John Watson Mauk, the corporal in the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry who killed Hill, wrote lengthy descriptions of the event. Several other Confederates accompanied Hill for smaller phases of his last ride and they provided additional details of the journey. In all the accounts, both primary and secondary, a courier named Kirkpatrick is referenced. Until now he has only been referred to by his last name. Thanks to the recent digitization of historical records and newspapers, we can finally put a full name and additional information together on one of Hill’s companions during the final hour of the general’s life.

That morning, Hill left his corps headquarters at the Widow Knight house, “Indiana,” on Petersburg’s western outskirts. At the time he only suspected that Union forces had attacked somewhere along the Confederate lines and remained uncertain as to the exact location or results. Somehow the Third Corps commander discovered that his own lines had been broken during his mile-and-a-half route west to army headquarters at the Turnbull house, “Edge Hill.” How Hill found out is still a mystery.

The general had initially raced toward Robert E. Lee’s headquarters alone that morning, directing Colonel William Henry Palmer, his chief of staff, to remain at “Indiana” awaiting further orders. Hill instructed Tucker, his chief courier, to follow him to relay messages but the sergeant was in the process of grooming his horse and would be delayed while fixing the saddle. Headquarters protocol, however, required that two couriers always keep their horses prepared. Tucker beckoned to the current pair on call, Jenkins and Kirkpatrick, to follow the general and chased off after the trio several minutes later. Privates William Henry Jenkins and Kirkpatrick reached Edge Hill shortly after their general. Hill had seemingly become aware of the break in his lines during this ride and immediately directed Kirkpatrick to return to Widow Knight’s with a message for Palmer. The chief of staff was to head toward Wilcox’s lines and assist in rallying the scattered men.

The courier galloped off to bring the first news of the breakthrough to corps headquarters. Tucker afterward wrote that he passed him on the road “going at full speed.” Hill meanwhile climbed off his horse and entered the Turnbull house to converse with Lee and Lieutenant General James Longstreet. He soon rode onward, shedding his escort until only Tucker remained. After Kirkpatrick delivered Hill’s message to Palmer, the colonel immediately mounted and rode to Major General Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox’s headquarters at “Cottage Farm.” Wilcox commanded the division whose lines had been broken and Palmer warned him about the successful Union attack before continuing across Rohoic Creek toward the Whitworth house. Palmer wrote that Kirkpatrick followed behind him but did not provide any more information about the courier.[1]

Major General William Mahone’s Third Corps division had camped on the Whitworth farm during the winter before garrisoning the Confederate line at Bermuda Hundred, in between Petersburg and Richmond. Their vacated winter quarters afterward housed a few invalid soldiers, but Palmer now noticed Union soldiers lurking in that vicinity. He carefully picked his way toward the Long Ordinary Road—a small road that connected Boydton Plank Road with Cox Road. There he met Sergeant Tucker, alone, who told him that A.P. Hill had been shot.

The Death of A.P. Hill (click on map for full size, created by Edward Alexander)

The details of Hill’s death are well documented and will not be dissected here. The best place to find them is in the accounts of Tucker and Mauk, found in Volume 27 of the Southern Historical Society Papers. Readers can also consult Bud Robertson’s Hill biography—James I. Robertson, Jr., General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior (New York: Random House, 1987) and Will Greene’s narrative history of the last week at Petersburg—A. Wilson Greene, The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2008).

In the meantime, Wilcox had jolted into action. He immediately launched a counterattack that blunted any further expansion of the breach toward Petersburg before settling into a defensive position near Rohoic Creek. Brigadier General Nathaniel Harrison Harris’s Mississippians meanwhile rushed toward Forts Gregg and Whitworth. They belonged to Mahone’s division and were familiar with the ground but provided the lone reinforcements that Mahone could spare from Bermuda Hundred. Nevertheless, Wilcox’s attack and Harris’s defense bought time for Longstreet’s First Corps to arrive from Richmond in the early afternoon to garrison Petersburg’s inner defenses. Though the Confederates abandoned both cities overnight, the lack of a complete breakdown on Petersburg’s western front that morning perhaps extended the life of Lee’s army by another week.


Since then, no historian has produced more details or even a full name for the courier who first accompanied Hill and relayed the last message the general directed to corps headquarters. Who can blame them? Kirkpatrick was not present with Hill when Mauk shot the general, did not write an easily identified firsthand account, and though his message to Palmer had important consequences it could have been delivered by any mounted soldier. Furthermore, before modern research methods allowed keyword searches through historic records and newspapers, an effort to track down more information on Kirkpatrick would be a wild goose chase not worthy of the time commitment.

My search for the courier’s identity began with published primary accounts and secondary narratives. Those which identified him did so only with his last name. The next best reference place would be among the paroles of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. As a member of the corps staff, Kirkpatrick should be expected to have remained with the army through the last week of the war. Volume 15 of the Southern Historical Society Papers contains a list of parolees and a search for Kirkpatrick identified a “Private W.P. Kirkpatrick, Courier at Corps H’d Q’rs, one private horse.”[2]

One problem, however. That Kirkpatrick is listed as belonging to the 8th Tennessee Infantry, a regiment that would have been with Joe Johnston in North Carolina at the time. Furthermore, I used to browse through the service records for the 8th Tennessee and could not even find a W. Kirkpatrick. Perhaps at least the state and initials were correct. Fortunately for my search’s sake the Army of Northern Virginia only contained one brigade of Tennessee infantry, commanded at the end of the war by Brigadier General William McComb. They served in Major General Henry Heth’s division of the Third Corps and would have been located just a mile south of the point of the initial VI Corps attack on April 2, 1865.

In addition to the 2nd Maryland Infantry Battalion, McComb’s brigade included the 1st (Provisional), 7th, 14th, 17th, 23rd, 25th, 44th, and 63rd Tennessee regiments. In searching their records, I soon found a probable match in a soldier who shared the initials listed in the Southern Historical Society Papers parole list. Private William Pat Kirkpatrick, 7th Tennessee Infantry, was at Petersburg on April 2nd. His records show that he was captured on that day, held at Fort Delaware, and then released on June 28, 1865. Nothing, however, indicated that he was ever a courier or detached on any special detail.

I noticed several other members of the 7th Tennessee with similar names and started browsing their records. While clicking through Fold3’s muster roll cards for a William B. Kirkpatrick, Company E, I see “On extra or daily duty as Courier for Gen. Archer since 5 Oct 1862.” A few more clicks and I find “Detailed as Courier for Gen. Hill since 20 July 1863.” I continue through the end of William B.’s record and find him identified on the roll of prisoners paroled at Appomattox. “Remarks: Courier at Corps Hd Quarters and owns one horse.” Looks like a typo misidentifying his regiment in the Southern Historical Society Papers helped contribute to the courier being lost to history. I have his name now—William B. Kirkpatrick—what can we find out about him?


The service records simply show that he enlisted in Nashville on May 21, 1861 and served in Company E, 7th Tennessee Infantry. He was elected 2nd corporal on April 26, 1862, while the company was at Yorktown, Virginia, and then assigned as a courier for Brigadier General James Jay Archer, commanding the brigade, on October 5, 1862. Archer was captured at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, and held prisoner for over a year. Shortly after his return to the Army of Northern Virginia, Archer died on October 24, 1864. The general’s capture at Gettysburg deprived Kirkpatrick of his assignment, but he was detailed as a courier for A.P. Hill, commanding the Third Corps, on July 20th. Though his records do not identify a date or reason, Kirkpatrick was reduced to private before January 23, 1864. He nevertheless continued running messages for Hill until April 2, 1865.

There’s a brief synopsis of Kirkpatrick the soldier, but what more can we discover? I still did not have an age or a hometown, believing that Nashville could very well be just the place where he joined his company. Having exhausted Fold3, it was onward to digital newspaper databases. My favorites are the Library of Congress’s Chronicling American and A few keyword searches there produced obituaries for several Tennessee residents named William B. Kirkpatrick but those proved to not be the courier. But I’ve found with keyword searches that you need to take the time to include all possible name combinations. That means searching William Kirkpatrick, William B. Kirkpatrick, Wm. Kirkpatrick, Wm. B. Kirkpatrick, W. Kirkpatrick, W.B. Kirkpatrick, Will Kirkpatrick, Bill Kirkpatrick, and so on.

Searching for Wm. B. Kirkpatrick finally produced a hit. “In Memory of Wm. B. Kirkpatrick”—a letter written by a Jesse Cage to the editor of the Nashville Tennessean. It appeared in print in the May 4, 1908 issue. “Dear Sir—It is always sad to chronicle the death of a friend and more especially so when the friendship has been cemented and bound by all the ties incident to soldiers’ lives, who were closely associated together through the late war, who were on the Confederate side, where hardships and sacrifice were intense and were an excellent test of manhood.”[3]

Cage identified Kirkpatrick as a member of the 7th Tennessee Infantry and a courier for Hill’s staff. He also wrote that Kirkpatrick died in Weatherford, Texas. We’ll look more at the rest of Cage’s letter later in this article, but for now we have an approximate date and location of Kirkpatrick’s death. I could now consult another online resource, Once again, a precise search for “William B. Kirkpatrick, died 1908, buried Weatherford, Texas” did not turn up anything. But a broad search for “W Kirkpatrick, died 1908, buried Texas” produced a headstone in the Greenwood Community Cemetery, Parker County, Texas, for a W.B. Kirkpatrick, born April 30, 1842, died April 29, 1908. Buried beside him is a Nettie Kirkpatrick, listed as his wife, born January 1, 1849, died June 12, 1935. Google Maps confirmed that the cemetery is located in Weatherford.


Now that I have a birth date, death date, burial location, military record, and spouse for Kirkpatrick, I could head over to and plug those details into a search. There were a few matches in user-generated family trees but I prefer to avoid those until the end. Sometimes you can find worthwhile material in photographs, newspaper clippings, and family stories that other members of Ancestry upload, but it is wise to save this until you’ve developed a fuller picture on the individual you are researching. This enables you to properly screen out misleading or inaccurate information.

Included among Confederate pension records I found an application from a Nettie Kirkpatrick of Weatherford, Texas, filed November 19, 1913, and approved December 1, 1913. This digitized record confirmed all the previously identified information on William. It also provided a middle name, Bennett; a marriage date and location, November 12, 1874, Sumner County, Tennessee; Nettie’s full name, Eunetta R. Hunter Kirkpatrick; and an approximate year of their move to Texas, 1889. Nettie also testified that in addition to his early service in the 7th Tennessee, William “Was a Courier part of the time, was with Gen’l. A.P. Hill when he was killed and was at Gettisburg [sic] and all of the great battles… Mounted as a Courier for Gen’l Hill and Gen’l Longstreet.”[4]

Several of William’s former comrades provided statements on Nettie’s behalf. S.O. Cantrell wrote that he was a schoolmate of William’s in Gallatin, Tennessee, served with him in the 7th Tennessee Infantry, and that William served on Hill’s staff and then transferred to Longstreet’s. “There was no better soldier in Gen. Lee’s command than W.B. Kirkpatrick during the whole war,” Cantrell testified.[5]


The previously mentioned letter to the Nashville Tennessean had similarly praised Kirkpatrick. Jesse Cage served as sergeant in Company E, 7th Tennessee Infantry, and was wounded and captured during the Breakthrough on April 2, 1865. He wrote that William went by the nicknames “Fancy” and “Billy Kirk” and reflected on William’s character in his eulogy.

“His courage was unimpeachable, not of the kind which was foolish or for display, but was prompted by the noblest impulses of the heart, the thoughtful kind which carried him into the thickest and most dangerous places with no fear of consequences as to his own person. No message was ever placed in his hands, verbal or otherwise, but which was born to its destination, regardless of the dangers or hazards to his own life, and that, too, because of his high ideas of duty to the cause in which he was engaged. He had a kind, benevolent heart, full of compassion; his disposition was of the sunny kind, and his bearing always that of a gentleman.”[6]

Cage’s heartfelt letter included an incorrect rumor about Hill’s death as well as certainly false details about Kirkpatrick. “Gen. A.P. Hill was wickedly slain after he had surrendered, so I have been informed, and ‘Fancy’ killed the federal who did it.”[7]

The accounts of both Mauk and Tucker disprove the rumor that Hill was killed after surrendering. As to Cage’s assertion that Kirkpatrick killed Mauk, neither Mauk nor Daniel Wolford (the other Union soldier present at the time) were killed on April 2nd. They lived until 1898 and 1908 respectively. Colonel Palmer also wrote that Kirkpatrick was near him at the time of the general’s death. I’ll trust that more than Cage’s secondary claim. Because no one else placed Kirkpatrick with Hill at the time of his death, I also think we can safely interpret Nettie’s claim fifty years later that he “was with Gen’l. A.P. Hill when he was killed” to mean that William was present on his staff that morning.


However, I’m no longer surprised to see such far-fetched renditions of the event as Cage’s. After the war many veterans claimed to have been present. I’ve identified at least half a dozen unsubstantiated claims from Confederates who claimed to have been along Hill’s route, most of whom claim to have had the last conversation with the general. Even more Union soldiers claim to have fired the shot that killed the general. One must utilize a critical eye when consulting Civil War resources, but I am satisfied with confidence that we can close the book on Private William Bennett Kirkpatrick, courier for Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill.


[1] George W. Tucker, “Death of General A.P. Hill,” Southern Historical Society Papers (Richmond, VA: Published by the Society, 1883), Volume 11, 566. William H. Palmer to Murray F. Taylor, November 8, 1902, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.

[2] Southern Historical Society Papers (Richmond, VA: Published by the Society, 1887), Volume 15, 288.

[3] Jesse Cage to “Editor The Tennessean,” May 2, 1908, “In Memory of Wm. B. Kirkpatrick,” Nashville Tennessean, May 4, 1908

[4] Nettie Kirkpatrick, Pension Record, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, accessed through Alabama, Texas, and Virginia, Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958,

[5] Ibid.

[6] “In Memory of Wm. B. Kirkpatrick,” Nashville Tennessean, May 4, 1908.

[7] Ibid.

Not Just Antietam – September 17, 1862 In Perspective

Wednesday, September 17, 1862. is rightly classed as the bloodiest day in American history. In that 24-hour period, more Americans fell killed, wounded, captured, or missing, than in any like 24-hour period before or since.

This contention rests almost totally on the Battle of Antietam outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, where 23,726 (12,410 US and 10, 316 CS) soldiers fell in essentially 12 hours of combat that day.

But that horrific number does not cover all the losses on September 17.

Let’s not forget the war also occurred elsewhere that day. Dozens of people were lost in small skirmishes at places like Cumberland Gap and elsewhere (to include the high seas). Also, at 6 A.M. (local) that morning, 4,000 US troops surrendered at Munfordville, Kentucky, to Confederates under Braxton Bragg. All these numbers need to be added into the battlefield losses that day; this puts America’s bloodiest day at approximately 28,000 men killed, wounded, missing, and captured for that 24-hour period.

Two other notes about this day might be of interest. September 17, 1862, was the 75th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. The largest airborne operation in history, Operation Market-Garden in Holland, began on the 82d anniversary of this day.