A Peek into the “Critic’s Corner” in Civil War News


Those of us who write about the Civil War for fun (rarely for profit) get our ideas from any number of sources. One never knows when or how some inspiration will occur. Driving to the store recently, I heard Leslie Gore’s great song from 1963, “She’s a Fool,” with that male background chorus chanting, “shag-a-doo-la.”

Hmmmm…wonder how the lyricist or studio producer thought of that? I mused, pulling into my driveway. See how one’s curiosity can be so easily piqued?

This random, most unscientific “process” is how I come up with the monthly bibliographic column I write for Jack and Peggy Melton’s national newspaper, Civil War News

I had been a regular book reviewer for Civil War News since 2010, when Kay Jorgenson owned the paper and Ed Bonekemper served as Book Review Editor. Every now and then I had written a book-related article, such as my piece on recent studies in the western theater (CWN, November 2013). Jack Melton bought the paper from Kay in January 2016. The next month I saw the new proprietor at the Dalton Civil War Show and boldly asked him if he would consider letting me write a monthly column for Civil War News on my favorite Civil War books. He agreed.

So, why bibliography? When I was a student of his at Emory, the late great Bell Wiley taught me an appreciation for Civil War books. Dr. Wiley would give us his typewritten list of favored titles on various subjects, and for years I used it as a guide for what to look for in bookstores as I built my library.

Years later, I still remember the Sunday night when the publisher of Blue & Gray Magazine, Dave Roth, called me to say that his Book Review Editor, Rowena Reed, had left, and would I consider replacing her? Of course I said yes.

Then began two decades of bibliophilia as Dave’s BRE. My stint began with the July 1985 issue of Blue & Gray; over the years I had more than three score reviews published in the magazine.

Back in the ‘80s the local newspaper, the Journal-Constitution, actually had a good Sunday book section; sometimes I got assignments for it. My review of Tidwell, Hall and Gaddy’s Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, printed in January 1989, led me to revisit it in my “Critic’s” page in September 2017.

In 1996, my good friend Bob Maher invited me to speak at his Civil War Education Association seminar in St. Louis. I told him that I’d like to speak about books, and he agreed. I tossed around various titles for my talk: “The Civil War’s Best Books: God Knows What They Are”; “The Kodachrome Bookshelf: Snapshots of Civil War Classics”; and “100 Best Books on the Civil War: Yeah, Sez Who?” I finally settled on “From Cooke’s Books to Krick’s Licks: A Century of Reading on the Army of Northern Virginia.” My choices ranged from John Esten Cooke to Robert K. Krick (Bob was in the audience, and loved it).

Some of the works I mentioned in St. Louis have become “Critic’s Choices,” such as Cooke’s Wearing of the Gray (1867), to which I devoted my very first column in April 2016. I was thrilled when Jack told me that a reader in Alaska so liked my article that she was trying to find a copy of Cooke’s Wearing.

Another of my faves is J. William Jones’ Personal Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee (1875). At St. Louis, my text (this was before everyone used PowerPoint) included the story Jones tells from Lee’s years as president of Washington College. Lee frequently called students into his office for misbehaving, and talked to them so tenderly, in a fatherly way, that the boys almost always ended up crying. One brash young lad, however, bragged to his friends that when he was called in, old man Lee would never get him to show such weakness, saying, “I will talk back at him, and get him to laughing the first thing he knows.” Not long afterward, this young student was indeed summoned to the president’s office, and some of his friends gathered outside to hear what happened. When he came out, sure enough there were traces of tears on his cheeks. They all asked why: “How did you come out?” “Did he scold you severely?” The lad replied, “No, I wish he had. I wish he had whipped me. I could have stood it better. But he talked to me so kindly, and so tenderly, about my mother, and the sacrifices which she, a widow, is making to send me to college, and of how I ought to appreciate her love, and do credit to her, by diligence in my studies, and correct deportment—that the first thing I knew I was blubbering like a baby. I promised him that I would do better hereafter, and I tell you, boys, I mean to do it.” (I wrote on Jones’ Reminiscences in April 2017.)

I like bringing back into currency these old chestnuts. It’s gratifying to learn that our readers like it too. Michael Harrington of Houston sent me an e-mail awhile back. “I’ve thought for years we should review occasionally some select older books as well as new publications,” he wrote; “it is a real service to our readers, not all of whom are deep readers of CW historiography.” More recently, John Sinclair of Baltimore wrote Jack, “Steve Davis’ fascinating essay on Richard Harwell’s In Tall Cotton [about which I wrote last March] breathed life into an overlooked classic that might cause some to give it a second look rather than write it off as ‘outdated.’”

It’s even finer when the author of one of these “overlooked classics” learns of my selection of his work for my page. After I wrote about John Hennessy’s Return to Bull Run (1993) in May 2016, John e-mailed me a word of thanks. “It’s been 23 years since I wrote the thing,” he added, “and yours is probably the first review of it in15 years.”

Breathing youthfulness into old books kind of reminds me of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages”: “Ah, but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.”

Draft Dilemma in Poweshiek County: The Murder of the Marshals

The newspaper clipping, “United States Marshals Murdered in Iowa” quotes the Chicago Tribune, but the printed source is the Pittsburgh Daily Post, 10/13/1864, located online at www.newspapers.com

Emerging Civil War welcomes guest author David Connon

Amid mounting Union Army death counts in summer 1864, Iowa had its first draft. Three men didn’t report for duty on October 1, so the provost marshal in Grinnell sent two deputy marshals to southern Poweshiek County to round up the draft deserters. Bushwhackers murdered the marshals. As the second marshal lay dying, he named the murderers. The killings occurred in an atmosphere thick with fear, that could be traced back to the firing upon Fort Sumter.

Many Iowa Republicans and Democrats had enlisted after Fort Sumter, but many peace-minded Democrats feared a draft. Some conscription-eligible men considered moving to Canada. As the war continued, outraged Republicans blasted Democrats who dissented against the war, President Lincoln, and (as the war progressed) emancipation.  Congressional candidate J.B. Grinnell (who the town of Grinnell was named after) worried  about Iowa’s southern border with slave-holding Missouri. He wrote Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood in August 1862: “Secret Societies are being organized to defy the draft and collection of taxes. The traitors are armed. Our soldiers are defenseless. We want arms. Can we not have them?”

The next year, in July 1863, thousands fell in hails of bullets at Gettysburg. The Lincoln administration quickly enacted a draft, but it didn’t yet affect Iowa (which had high numbers of volunteers). Conscription sparked several days of deadly race riots in New York City.

Abraham Lincoln

Outspoken editors of dissenting Democratic newspapers denounced the federal government’s tactics. The Muscatine Courier wrote, “Let Mr. Lincoln withdraw his emancipation proclamation and there will be no more riots in New York or elsewhere, occasioned by resistance to the draft.” John Gharkey of the Fayette County Pioneer told Iowan men in September 1863: “You should resist the conscription with your rifles, your shotguns, or whatever weapons you get hold of. If you, young men, do not resist conscription, you are unworthy to be called American citizens.”

Words turned violent outside South English, Keokuk County, Iowa, on August 1, 1863. Gun-toting Peace Democrats, led by Reverend Cyphert Tally, passed through the heavily Republican town. Fiery words flew, gunfire erupted, and Talley dropped dead. His supporters rallied at the Skunk River, some 16 miles away, drawing friends from Poweshiek and other counties. Governor Kirkwood sent in six militia companies, and the mob disappeared.

The next governor, William M. Stone, responded to Tally’s death (and the New York City draft riots) by calling in January 1864 for “loyal men” to “preserve the peace of the state.” Volunteer militia companies in every county were “promptly organized … of loyal and substantial citizens.” This action later bore deadly fruit in Poweshiek County.

J.B. Grinnell (Library of Congress)

As the war continued, Democrat fears of a growing war machine – and opportunities for negroes — became a reality. On Feb. 1, Congressman J.B. Grinnell introduced a resolution to encourage Negroes to enlist in the Union army.

President Lincoln told Grinnell, “I am glad that Congress has endorsed the policy of actively enlisting black men … It is a great day for the black man when you tell him he shall carry a gun … it foretells that he is to have the full enjoyment of his liberty and manhood.”

Lincoln concluded: “Now, tell your people in Iowa … the time has come when I am for everybody fighting the rebels. Let Indians fight them; let the negroes fight them; and if you have got any strong-legged jackasses in Iowa that can kick rebels to death, they have my hearty consent.”

Southern-sympathizing congressmen described Grinnell as being ‘drunk with blood.’  Grinnell retorted that Democrats were “in league with slavery and the Devil.”

In early May, Union troops entered the Wilderness Campaign. Turning his face like flint toward Richmond, Grant said he would “fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” Over the next six weeks, more than 60,000 Union soldiers died, were wounded, or missing. Meanwhile, Sherman’s troops moved toward Atlanta.

The war came home to Grinnell when Provost Marshal James Mathews quietly announced a draft. Grinnell Republican men formed a militia and began to drill. Mathews, located in Grinnell, “spoke of the necessity of dealing with severity with the rebel sympathizers at the north.”

Fourteen miles south of Grinnell, men formed a militia in Sugar Creek Township. That part of the county had most of its southern-born population. Elizabeth D. Williams, wife of a Union Army soldier, said the neighborhood “contained numerous sympathizers with the South,” and she said they harassed her, killed their cows, and destroyed other property.

The Sugar Creek militiamen called themselves the “Democratic Rangers.” Said to be Democrats, its members took an oath to support the United States Constitution and the State of Iowa — but with a twist. They reportedly “would resist the draft … shoot any Marshal or officer who would come for them … and assist the rebels if they should come into Iowa.”

The fifty or so Democratic Rangers drilled twice in September 1864. Many of them carried arms. In mid-September, Provost-Marshal Mathews issued draft notices to three of them, requiring them to appear in Grinnell by September 30. One draftee, Joseph Robertson, said that if he were forced into the army, he would “shoot the officers.”

Democratic Ranger Michael Gleason, a native of Ireland, said he was “not in favor of forcing men to fight in a nigger war.” He bragged that “if the Marshals came to Sugar Creek Township to take men, he was ready to help kill them.” He added, “If the Marshals came into Sugar Creek township to take men out, he … had plenty of backing.”

10/1/1864 letter from Provost Marshal James Mathews to Gov. William M. Stone. The letter is contained in the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Archives.

The draft deadline passed, and on October 1, Provost Marshal.Mathews sent Deputy Marshal John L Bashore and Special Agent Josiah M. Woodruff to locate and arrest three draft deserters. Bashore and Woodruff rode a buggy into Sugar Creek, unaware that the Democratic Rangers planned to drill that afternoon.

The marshals began looking for draft-deserter (and South Carolina native) Samuel A. Bryant. Two brothers, John and Joe Fleener, rode up to the marshals, opened fire, and killed one instantly. A third bushwhacker, Irish native Michael Gleason, ran up and started hitting the surviving marshal in the head with a rifle. Someone shot Gleason in the leg during the melee. The Fleeners rode away, never to be seen again. A local man found Gleason and Marshal Bashore.  The dying marshal identified his killers (and Gleason as an assailant), and he said bushwhackers (who “had sworn resistance to the draft”) had come directly from the drilling site.

Provost Marshal Mathews suspected the murders were planned and that all Democratic Rangers were accessories to the crime. He called up militias from Grinnell and Montezuma and asked Governor Stone for help. Mathews set up roadblocks into Grinnell, and he sent militiamen to capture the Fleeners, Gleason, and the draft-deserters.

Three days later, Governor Stone arrived, passing out new Springfield rifles to the militiamen, who rode off to arrest the remaining Democratic Rangers. Grinnell militiamen bagged six Colt revolvers, a pistol, a horse pistol, 15 rifles, eight shotguns, and ammunition. They also arrested 16 men.

Second view of 10/1/1864 letter from Provost Marshal James Mathews to Gov. William M. Stone. The letter is contained in the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Archives.

The editor of the Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, a Republican paper, assumed the worst. He wrote, “The Unionists of Poweshiek are naturally a good deal stirred up, and if the long-threatened Copperhead war is now to begin, they are ready.” He also demonized leading Democrats as being “armed and ready, with murder in their hearts … but waiting the opportunity to deluge the country in blood. Our safety is in their cowardice and want of opportunity.”

The Montezuma Republican editor made political hay, calling Poweshiek County Democratic leaders “more guilty in the sight of God, and more deserving of punishment, than the three men who committed the murder[s].”

The evidence suggests that the Fleeners murdered the marshals to keep their uncle Joseph Robertson from being impressed into the U.S. Army. Gleason, on the other hand, was a Democratic Ranger who expressed drunken bravado (about the marshals) to the Fleeners. He unwittingly stepped into a nightmare that spun out of control. The Democratic Rangers as a group just happened to be drilling the day of the murders.

Authorities in 1867 released every Democratic Ranger except Michael Gleason, who was tried and sentenced to death by hanging. President Andrew Johnson commuted his sentence to life in prison, where Gleason died in 1875. The Fleeners escaped justice.

Tempers and emotions had dissipated by 1911, and Sugar Creek Township’s odious Copperhead reputation faded. Poweshiek County historian Leonard F. Parker wrote that the former Democratic Rangers “were evidently misled. We are glad to accord them an honorable place among good citizens since that unfortunate hour in 1864 … The war is over. Neighborly relations have been restored.”


David Connon has studied pre-war and war-time Iowa for the past 15 years.  A bleary-eyed veteran researcher, he has found that primary sources sometimes lead to rich stories. He has documented 76 Iowa residents who left that state and served the Confederacy. He shares some of their stories on a blog, Confederates from Iowa:  Not to Defend, but to Understand. The blog also delves into the Iowa Underground Railroad, the Iowa home-front, war-time violations of civil liberties, and book reviews. He speaks to audiences across the state through the Humanities Iowa Speakers Bureau, and he works as a historical interpreter at Living History Farms. He has a master’s degree in Education from Northern Illinois University.

Stolen Pie, but a Bigger Prize for Sergeant Young at Petersburg

Today is the favorite holiday for math teachers. March Fourteenth (3-14) represents the first three numbers in the mathematical constant pi. I’ve been using pi (3.14159…) a lot more than I had anticipated as a historian. Each time I rescale the maps I draw, I need to use pi to find the circumference of the circle in my compass. Then I divide it by twelve so that the compass can define direction like a clock in addition to north, south, east, west.

Bakers have also jumped in to make today a pie-themed holiday and I also hope that my favorite Richmond pie shop–Proper Pie–does not have too long of a line after work. In the spirit of the holiday I dug through my Petersburg source material looking for a reference to pie. I found an article relating to one of the first 6th Corps soldiers to reach the Confederate lines in the campaign’s decisive assault on April 2, 1865.

Sergeant David Wilson Young carried the colors of the 139th Pennsylvania Infantry in Colonel James Warner’s 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 6th Corps. Despite his regiment starting in the second line in Warner’s column, Young was reported to have planted his flag on the Confederate earthworks that morning before any others in the brigade. Before the battle a donor had provided Ulysses S. Grant with a purse of $460 to award to the first Union soldier to raise the national flag over Richmond. Since the city fell as a result of the fighting at Petersburg, Grant divided the sum into three parts and requested the commanders of the 5th, 6th, and 24th Corps select a suitable soldier for the prize.

Sergeant David Wilson Young, 139th Pennsylvania Infantry (Richard A. Sauers Collection)

Wright selected Young and the Pennsylvania sergeant received a handwritten letter from Grant containing $153.33 just before mustering out of the army. Two decades later he reflected on the experience and wrote to the National Tribune in 1884 inquiring for the names of the other two recipients.

Private Sylvester Ford Hildebrand had served with Young in the 139th Pennsylvania and had written extensively about his experience. He read Young’s inquiry in the National Tribune. Though he could not identify the other two recipients (Corporal Jacob R. Tucker, 4th Maryland, and Sergeant Thomas W. McGraw, 23rd Illinois), he saw the opportunity to publicly admit to a prank he had played on the color bearer while camped at Petersburg in early 1865. His letter to the editor appeared in the June 24, 1884 issue under the headline “They Love Pie, Not Wisely, But Too Well.”

Private Sylvester Ford Hildebrand, 139th Pennsylvania Infantry (Simpsons Leader Times, April 14, 1930)

Some time ago there appeared an article in the columns of The Tribune from Sergeant D.W. Young, company E, 139th Pennsylvania volunteers, asking for the names of the other two brave boys who first planted the glorious old flag on the ramparts of Richmond. I have forgotten his address, but would like to ask, through The Tribune, if the sergeant ever found out the names of the two parties who, while in camp at Patrick Station, Va., 1865, took from his tent a large pie, which had been procured for a grand supper (such as soldiers usually got up in the front) for himself and his messmates. It is now nineteen years ago, and we know he will not be angry if we relate that little joke.

After his table had been spread with a bountiful supply of pure fat meat and army beans for five, with clear, cold sparkling water to quench thirst, he turned to an improvised mantlepiece for the pie, but there was no pie to be seen. It was a mystery to him, as it had been there a moment before, and, although a diligent search was made through the company, “nary” pie was to be found. Of course not, for by this time E.E. Smith and S.F. Hildebrand had made away with it–eaten heartily to Davy and his messmates’ wellfare.

Allow me to return many thanks to him for the pie. If we ever meet again we will divide a well-baked pie with him. We were all boys together, more than two-thirds of company E, 139th Pennsylvania volunteers having entered the service between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years.

The prankster boys did well during the Breakthrough on April 2nd. Colonel Warner afterward reported, “A few resolute men of each brigade of the division effected a lodgment and drove the enemy from their works. In this connection especial mention is due the One hundred and thirty-ninth Pennsylvania volunteers.”

Celebrate the Expected Capture of Richmond with a New Stove!


I found this humorous newspaper article while searching through historic Vermont newspapers. Burlington entrepreneur J.B. Wardell hoped to cash in on the public’s joy at what he anticipated to be the end of the Civil War by attaching that jubilation to his products. “As Gen. Grant is about to close up the campaign in Virginia, and with it this wicked rebellion, the subscriber respectfully informs the good people in this vicinity that he is prepared to show them one of the best assortments of Goods in his line to be found in this town.” Fuel for the fire of those who want to denounce Yankeeism, I suppose.

It should be noted that Wardell’s advertisement jumped the gun. he apparently wrote it during the latter stages of the Overland Campaign, as the Union army indeed drew close to Richmond before turning south to Petersburg. I found it in the Bennington Banner issue of June 23, 1864, an infamous date in the Sixth Corps’ Vermont Brigade. Several battalions from the 4th Vermont Infantry and 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery were isolated on picket duty that day. Their lines stretched toward the Petersburg & Weldon Railroad. An unanticipated Confederate attack overran the position, and gobbled a sizable number of prisoners.

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 Fold3.com 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 Newspapers.com. 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, FindAGrave.com. 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 Ancestry.com 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, Ancestry.com.

[5] Ibid.

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

[7] Ibid.