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.

Centennial Shad Bake


Petersburg Progress-Index

Chris Mackowski’s recent post about George Pickett’s culinary legacy reminded me of seeing a few newspaper articles that featured cooking shad while researching the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the battle of Five Forks. None of those articles were about the combat itself or the division commander’s lack of involvement. Instead, an annual shad bake in the town of Wakefield inaugurated the campaign season for aspiring Virginia Democrat politicians. Thus George Pickett’s legacy could not escape the bony, migratory fish haunting the battle’s anniversary. On the same page of the Petersburg Progress-Index‘s feature on the Five Forks centennial was an article promoting the upcoming shad planking.

Petersburg Progress-Index, April 5, 1965, shad article at lower left

The tradition continues to this day with a few changes. Douglas Wilder broke the shad planking’s color barrier in 1976, a woman first attended the next year as a reporter, and–as political affiliations evolved in rural Virginia–the event is now dominated by Republicans. Terry McAuliffe, current Virginia governor, noticeably skipped the event when he ran for office in 2013. The large spill of the pesticide kepone into the James River from a Hopewell factory in 1976 forced Governor Mills Godwin–featured in the 1965 article when he began his campaign–to suspend fishing in the river. Event organizers nevertheless secured shad for the next decade from unaffected rivers. The event was rebranded last year as the Shad, Grapes and Grains Festival to include local breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Proceeds benefit the Wakefield Ruritan Club and the community as a whole. Should circumstances allow I hope to attend next year to report back with more on the smoked fish itself. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look of both the 1865 shad feast and the centennial commemoration of Five Forks–rivals themselves in ridiculousness.

Soldier-Artists and the Battle Experience (Part II)

This is the second of two posts regarding soldier-artists and their depictions of the experience of battle. Part I may be found here.

To appreciate the extent that images such as Adolph Metzner’s Cozy corner defied the conventions of mainstream art, it is beneficial to draw comparisons between his portrayal of the battle and the musician Alfred E. Mathew’s picture, entitled Charge of the first brigade, commanded by Col. M.B. Walker, on the Friday evening of the battle of Stone River, which was intended for a public audience. Mathews had been a landscape drawer prior to the conflict, and his skill won the admiration of many. A surgeon in the 16th Ohio Infantry recorded meeting the soldier-artist, writing: “I saw some of his sketches. They are all good. His lithograph view of “Boon’s Knob”… is very beautiful and true.”[i] General Ulysses S. Grant wrote Mathews of his views of the siege of Vicksburg, commending him by writing: “[I] do not hesitate to pronounce them among the most accurate and true to life I have ever seen. They reflect great credit upon you as a delineator of landscape views.”[ii]

Both compliments reveal a problematic issue regarding Mathew’s artistic outlook. Whilst many volunteers understood the Civil War itself as their political and social context for creating images, and that very war as their defining artistic experience, Mathews was a skilled landscape artist in the antebellum era. The war itself discouraged traditional artists’ attempts to “create meaning out of the violence” using narrative strategies designed to celebrate clear-cut heroic action and noble virtue. Landscape painters of the Hudson River School, who had visualised the ideologies of national identity by looking west, found their methods incapable of representing the internal crisis unfolding in the east.[iii] Though his creative prowess was clearly recognised by his contemporaries, his grounding in the conventions of landscape art hindered his ability to produce realistic depictions of the battle experience.

Not only did Mathew’s proficiency in landscape painting encumber his artistic representations, but so too did his desire to circulate such images through commercial organisations. Mathew’s sketches were supplied to Middleton, Strobridge, & Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, a lithographing firm that would convert his images for commercial sale.[iv] These prints were produced in “small folio” sizes to be displayed on walls for “intimate, domestic viewing.”[v] The fidelity with which the printmakers reproduced the original sketches depended entirely on their expertise. Printmakers, with their detachment from the fighting and with a patriotic fervour to instil among the populace, would often censor images to the extent that soldiers barely recognised their depictions.

Several indicators attest to the image’s conventional style. Most notable is the fact that this image presents the spectator with a panoramic battle view that combines the features of both the popularised wilderness aesthetic of American landscape views and those of traditional European history painting.[vi] The perspective taken by Mathews denies the observer the soldier’s view of the fighting, and in doing so reduces these vital participants to miniature figures in a homogenous mass. As the regiments charge, every foot steps forward together and every rifle is levelled in a uniform position. But the Civil War battlefield was, unlike the European landscape where history painting was honed, characteristically rolling and rugged, often denying regiments visibility and cohesion.[vii] Thus, the two artistic styles involved in this image are incompatible. One Pennsylvanian noted that during his entire four year service, he had only witnessed one such assault “that was like the pictures in the newspapers.”[viii]

Additional methods are employed by Mathews and the engravers in order to idealise the actions of the Union soldiers in this image. The officer leading the charge of the supporting regiment, pictured at centre-right with his sword drawn above his head, is almost farcical. Such occurrences were so rare following the early-war period that its inclusion would invite further criticism from experienced soldiers. Though the officer class are also drawn as minute figures, the annotative captions allow spectators to identify officers based on their unit’s position. For example, the first annotation allows one to identify the left-most regiment as the 31st Regiment of Ohio Volunteers, “Lieut. Col. F. W. Lister, Command’g.” The enlisted men are denied recognition, not because of the wounds they have sustained through their participation in the combat, like the victims of Metzner’s Cozy corner, but because their individualisation in the Mathew’s lithograph would detract appreciation from the Union Army as a grand, monolithic fighting machine.

Furthermore, two national flags are placed in an immediately obvious and central position in this picture. The flag borne by the regiment leading the charge rises almost triumphantly from the smoke of battle before the engagement has truly started. Though the national and regimental flags were carried at the centre of regiments, soldiers soon learned that flags did much to draw the enemy’s fire. It was not uncommon for every member of the ten-strong colour guard to be shot dead before a battle was over.[ix] The centrality of the flags and the invincibility of their bearers is more reminiscent of the idealised lithographs of the U.S.-Mexican War.[x] But whilst the vastly distant nature of that earlier conflict invited a more imaginative depiction by artists, the Civil War’s immediacy to a large section of the populace quickly revealed such images as fictitious.

It is important to also note that not a single casualty, killed or wounded, is depicted on the Union side. The soldiers are portrayed as invincible as they march forward. Even on the Confederate line, the only evidence of the casualties are three individuals dramatically falling to the ground. The image depicts none of the carnage that left both belligerents unable to renew any form of offensive against one another for months. Instead, the image provides a level of suspense; illustrating the charge in its initial stages and calling upon the viewer’s imagination to visualise the ensuing combat in their minds, should they wish to.

Consequently, Metzner’s and Mathews’ artwork illustrate how soldiers’ individually perceived their experience of battle as much as any diary entry or letter sent home. Whether choosing to record the plight of their adversaries or the might of the army to which they belonged, the artistic record of the Civil War soldier offers a rich vein of relatively untapped historical source material. Though the illustrations of newspaper sketch-artists, cartoonists, and high-art painters reveal much about perceptions of the Civil War, soldiers’ art allows us to analyse more fully the ways in which those best-poised to visually represent the war experience did so in response to their own lived realities.

[i] B. B. Brashear, ‘letter to the Tuscarawas Advocate Newspaper, March 12, 1862,’ in ‘Letter from Dr. Brashear.’, Tuscarawas Advocate Newspaper (Tuscarawas County, Ohio: March 28, 1862)

[ii] Ulysses S. Grant, ‘Unidentified newspaper clipping in the Western History Department, Denver Public Library,’ Daily Miner’s Register (Central City, Colorado: December 1, 1865), p. 3

[iii] David Holloway; John Beck, eds., American Visual Cultures (London: Continuum Publishing, 2005), p. 13

[iv] Jeffrey Weidman, Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000), p. 277

[v] Alfred Edward Mathews; Middleton, Strobridge & Co., lithograph, 1863 ‘Charge of the first brigade, commanded by Col. M. B. Walker, on the Friday evening of the battle of Stone River. January 2nd, 1863; In which the Rebels were repulsed with heavy loss, and driven behind their breastworks. Sketched by A. E. Mathews, 31st Reg., O.V.I.,’ PGA – – Middleton, Strobridge & Co.—Charge of the first brigade… (D size), Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Boundaries of American Political Culture in the Civil War Era (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009), p. 13

[vi] Eleanor Harvey defines history painting, in the traditional, academic sense, as the “monumental canvases depicting elaborate battle scenes and heroes” that were prominent in European art. But such imagery had gained, at best, a tenuous foothold in the United States. Even Grand Manner history paintings by artists such as Benjamin West and John Trumbull never garnered the same support as the wilderness aesthetic. Harvey, The Civil War and American Art, p. 5

[vii] Earl J. Hess, The Union Soldier in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1997), pp. 55-56

[viii] Gilbert Adams Hays, Under the Red Patch; Story of the Sixty Third Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1864 (Pittsburgh, PA: Sixty-Third Pennsylvania Volunteers Regimental Association, 1908), p. 422

[ix] Gerald Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the Civil War (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2008), pp. 157-178

[x] See, for example, N. Currier, lithograph, 1846, ‘Battle of Monterey – The Americans forcing their way to the main plaza Sept. 23th 1846,’ PGA – Currier & Ives—Battle of Monterey (A size), Prints and Photographs Division, LoC, or N. Currier, lithograph, 1847, ‘Battle of Cerro Cordo April 18th 1847,’ PGA – Currier & Ives—Battle of Cerro Cordo April 18th 1847 (A size), Prints and Photographs Division, LoC.

A Poet’s Perspective: Herman Melville and the Civil War

It was November of 1860, and America had a new president. He was highly popular among the northern states, but he was widely disliked in the South. At the same time you have Herman Melville, famous for his 1851 novel Moby-Dick, just returned to New York


Author, Herman Melville

City after a cruise in the Pacific. It was around this point in time when Melville began writing about the palpable animosity growing between the northern and southern regions of his beloved country.

His poem “Misgivings,” while simple in nature, is perhaps one of the most meaningful pieces of literature to emerge during the time period directly following Lincoln’s election. Here are the opening lines:

When ocean-clouds over inland hills

Sweep storming in late autumn brown,

And horror the sodden valley fills,

And the spire falls crashing in the town,

I muse upon my country’s ills—

The tempest bursting from the waste of Time

On the world’s fairest hope linked with man’s foulest


By the time Melville returned to New York, South Carolina had already announced its


Newspaper announcement of South Carolina Succeed from the Union, December 21, 1860

intentions to succeed from the Union. Melville wrote “Misgivings” during the lull between Lincoln’s election and the first shots fired at Fort Sumter, a period of fear and apprehension that would forever change the course of American history.  

Those feelings are expressed in his poem “The Conflict of Convictions,” in which Melville uses a storm to represent the animosity felt on all sides: “I know a wind in purpose strong – it spins against the way it drives.”  

Melville was living in uncertain times. The nation that had been established in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence,  and validated in 1783 with the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, was tearing itself apart. As the second and final verse of “Misgivings” reads:  

Nature’s dark side is heeded now—

(Ah! Optimist -cheer disheartened flown)—-

A child may read the moody brow

Of yon black mountain lone.

With shouts the torrent down the gorges go,

And storms are formed behind the storms we feel:

The hemlock shakes in the rafter, the oak in the driving keel.

In the final line, Melville suggests that once sturdy structures like “rafters” and “keels” are no longer sturdy and safe. This is a reflection on the fracturing of the United States – a country that was believed to be sturdy and safe.

Melville was one of many Americans who struggled to comprehend the changes that occurred just before the start of the Civil War. Stay tuned over the next few weeks to learn more about Melville’s interpretations of America during the mid-1800s.

Soldier-Artists and the Battle Experience (Part I)

This is the first of two posts regarding soldier-artists and their depictions of the experience of battle.

“Pshaw. It’s no use, they can’t picture a battle,” exclaimed the young son of Reverend A. M. Stewart of the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteers, a recent observer of the battles of Williamsburg and Fair Oaks, as he indignantly threw down a copy of Harper’s Weekly with images depicting those engagements. By 1862’s end, Stewart noted that pictures “of officers with drawn swords riding before their men into battle” led the enlisted men to “shout out with mocking irony; all played out.[i] It seemed that war pictures, to those who had seen war, weren’t all that war-like.

But armies are composed of individuals, no matter how uniform military officials might attempt to make them, and so some men disagreed. In June 1864, George Oscar French wrote a letter advising his home-circle “to get Harpers Weekly of the 11th June. All the pictures about the Army of the Potomac are very good.” Two months later, he recommended another image for his father’s observation, noting that it was “perfectly lifelike” and could be studied for “ten minutes to good advantages.”[ii] But whilst most of the rank-and-file gauged the accuracy of conventional war images around campfires and in their correspondence, there were those decided to take up pencils and paintbrushes to make their own.

These soldier-artists are generally rendered peripheral in our comprehension of the conflict, despite the prolific outpouring of scholarship in recent decades on both Civil War artwork and the ordinary soldier. Men such as Alfred Bellard, John J. Omenhausser, Robert Knox Sneden, Charles Wellington Reed, Alfred E. Mathews, and Adolph Metzner, all unknowingly contributed to the creation of a collective visual scrapbook that provides insight into the totality of the soldier’s war experience. Much of the artwork is now published, but it rarely receives the scholarly consideration of historians: high-art painting and prominent photographs enjoy their focus. But the soldier’s artwork, no matter how folkloric or even primitive it may appear, holds much potential for analysis. Soldiers weren’t merely attempting to record the sights they encountered. They were making artistic statements about their war experiences.

By briefly comparing two Union soldier-artist’s depictions of the Battle of Stones River, one can gain an appreciation of the ways soldiers employed artwork to convey differing sentiments about the battle experience. Adolph Metzner, a captain in the 32nd Indiana Infantry, and Alfred E. Mathews, a musician in the 31st Ohio Infantry, both made pictures of Stones River, but their subjects, techniques, and intended audiences result in markedly dissimilar images. Metzner produced his image for himself, or at most a close circle of associates or family members. Conversely, Mathews had his ambition set on commercial success, and so his picture would pass through the censoring gaze of the printmakers to be made digestible for the northern citizenry.

Metzner’s artwork initially exhibited an exaggerated and comical outlook towards the war, but shifted to show the turmoil his regiment experienced following the loss of comrades at Rowlett’s Station in December 1861.[iii] By Shiloh in April 1862, the comedic elements notable in his early works were irretrievable. One of the most graphic of Metzner’s images was The rebel line at Stones River, (Murfreesboro), Jan. 1863. “A cozy corner.” The watercolour depicts a portion of the Confederate line following the battle. Soldiers of all ranks lay pell-mell in heaps. A sword, a symbol of martial authority and of southern honour and chivalry, is notable protruding from the mass of the dead.

There is no formal hierarchy in this death scene. Soldiers are rendered anonymous as they die facedown or are mangled by their wounds from the storm of bullets and shells. The carrion birds gather above the mass as they prepare to feast on the slain, emphasising fears regarding the appropriate treatment of the dead. Civil War soldiers worried greatly about their remains, as one Confederate wrote: “It is dreadful to contemplate being killed on the field without a kind hand to hide one’s remains from… the gnawing of… buzzards.”[iv] Metzner’s scene depicts the soldier’s anxiety over the futility of such improper deaths.

Of particular note in this image is the almost religious and sacrificial symbolism of the figures at centre-left. The pyramidal composition, which is traditionally employed to represent order and stability in conventional artwork, is that which draws the eye to the one soldier’s desperate attempt to grasp at his comrade. It is rendered the most humane act in this depiction of battle. It is no coincidence that the two subjects form a pieta, particularly in view of the similarity in the location of the bullet wound on the officer’s right breast and Christ’s chest wound caused by the Holy Lance. But in this representation, such sacrifice is revealed as useless, for the only reward is to face an impending and unheroic death in Metzner’s paradoxically Cozy corner.

But Metzner’s scene reveals sympathy rather than any hatred for the enemy. This is no exhibition of the triumph of Union military might, but instead a mournful scene illustrating the traumas of modernising warfare. Though new innovations in armament development occurred in the antebellum era, most combat continued to occur at a range of about one hundred yards, meaning that it was impossible to facilitate emotional distance from destructive acts.[v] Metzner’s work reveals the internal struggle that countless soldiers battled with, as the work of killing marked a significant departure from their understandings of themselves as human beings and Christians.[vi] His watercolour is not a visual assault on the Confederate soldier, but a terrifying representation of the fate that frequently befell the victims on both sides of the conflict.

[i] Rev. A. M. Steward, Camp, March and Battle-Field; or, Three Years and a Half with the Army of the Potomac (Philadelphia, PA: Jas. B. Rodgers, Printer, 1865), pp. 280; 188

[ii] George Oscar French, ‘letter, to Dear friends, Camp on the Chickahominy, Near Cold Harbor June 10th;’ ‘letter, to Dear Father, Hospital, Annapolis, Sunday morn. August 28th 1864,’ George Oscar French Letters, Vermont Historical Society,

[iii] Michael A. Peake, Blood Shed in this War: Civil War Illustrations by Captain Adolph Metzner, 32nd Indiana (Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2010), pp. 2

[iv] Wirt Armistead Cate, ed., Two Soldiers: The Campaign Diaries of Thomas J. Key, C.S.A., December 7, 1863 – May 17, 1865 and Robet J. Campbell, U.S.A., January 1, 1864 – July 21, 1864 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1938), p. 182

[v] Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 2008). For more on the destructive power of rifled weaponry, which caused 94% of Union casualties in the war, see Hess’ The Rifled Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2008).

[vi] Orestes Brownson; Henry F. Brownson, ed., The Works of Orestes Brownson (Detroit, IL: Thorndike Nourse, Publisher, 1882-87), Vol. 17, p. 214