Carl Guarneri, Saint Mary's College History department
Alyssa Sisco Ginn, Saint Mary's College Class of 2008
To his own surprise and his doctor’s as well, Captain Hill did not die of his rifle wound. His journal continues after Cold Harbor and is filled with updates on his condition. At the field hospital, Hill’s friend Jack Wood of the Sixteenth administered "stimulants"—probably whiskey—to dull the pain and arranged for an army wagon to take Hill to White House Landing on the Pamunkey River. Hill suffered excruciating pain on the wagon journey to the wharf at White House, where Wood placed him on a steamer bound for Washington. His prospects improved once he arrived at Armory Square Hospital on the National Mall. There he rested comfortably and Dr. Willard Bliss, the Michigan surgeon in charge, decided not to risk probing his wound but simply to let it heal.
Some of Hill’s nights were "wretched" and fearful, but his improvement was obvious. The diary chronicled his steps toward mobility. "Feel better to day," he wrote on June 20, when Jack (probably still Jack Wood) "wheeled me about the floor a little for the first [time]." The next day he "went out for the first time . . . in the Hospital chair." Hill recognized his progress and was gratified by it: "Expect am safe in saying that I am gaining slowly," he wrote. "Every day is a great desideratum." Within ten days of his hospitalization he was writing and receiving letters.
Hill’s days were brightened by a steady flow of visitors, who bore gifts of berries and brandy as well as towels and eating utensils. Some were apparently old friends, like the Houserights of Washington. Mrs. Houseright was so helpful that Hill was effusive in his praise for her and apologetic after an argument between them. Other callers were military colleagues who were also wounded or on leave. "About 6 Friends call on me and keep my spirits pretty well as I do theirs I don’t know which," Hill wrote after one such visit. From army friends and the newspapers Hill picked up snippets of war news—that Grant’s army had crossed to the south side of the James River, for example, and that the Union navy had finally put the Confederate raider Alabama out of commission. In mid-June a Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin, apparently relatives of Hill, made a surprise four-day visit accompanied by other family members. Especially notable was a visit from "Libby" Custer, the wife of the flamboyant young Union officer from Michigan, George Armstrong Custer.
On July 2 Hill moved to private rooms away from the hospital. He found his new quarters "home like" and wrote after his first day there that he "never passed a happier day in my life." Still, away from the hospital the flow of visitors slowed down and along with it the buzz of gossip and war news. "How commonplace every thing is becoming in my Diary," Hill complained resignedly on July 5th. "Nothing of interest to note apparently."
Things perked up a week later when Confederate General Jubal Early led a force of 12,000 soldiers up the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland to divert Union forces and relieve Grant’s pressure on Richmond. On July 5 Early’s troops crossed the Potomac then advanced to the Monocacy River, where on July 7 they pushed back a smaller force of Federals patched together by General Lew Wallace. By July 11 most of Early’s men reached the fortifications northwest of Washington, which were lightly manned since all available men had been sent to the Virginia front. A sudden attack might allow the rebels to break through and sack the Union capital.
Washington was in a state of near panic, as Hill’s diary recorded. "The city filled with strange rumors of engagement," he wrote on July 10th, "the Rebels are a coming is the Report." There was further worry the next day: "The excitement on the increase. a proclamation hourly looked for calling upon all the citizens to take up arms. Washington appears to be the real point of attack having only made a diversion on Baltimore." Hill described the city’s frantic rush to prepare: "Stores closed. Citizen soldiers in arms. The streets filled with marshall men." Communications had been cut between Washington and Baltimore, and the Confederates were reportedly marching "in full" down the Seventh Street Road from Silver Spring, Maryland toward Fort Stevens just outside the capital.
All able-bodied men, including raw militia recruits, government clerks, and convalescents from Union military hospitals, were mobilized to defend Washington’s perimeter. This motley collection of soldiers was bolstered by the arrival of six boatloads of men under General Horatio Wright that Grant sent from the Army of the Potomac. They arrived just in time. On the 11th Early hesitated and reconnoitered, and the next morning he called off his planned assault when he watched the Union rifle pits and parapets at Fort Stevens fill up with soldiers from Wright’s Sixth Corps, recognizable by the Greek cross badges on their caps. Told that more of Grant’s men were on the way, Early ordered his men to retreat after dark. On July 13th they pulled out and headed for the Potomac River, which they crossed the next day. The federals had let Early’s army escape intact, but Washington’s scare was over.
Hill’s diary reflects the delay in getting the news. On July 13th Early was already retreating but Hill anticipated a fight: "Every thing looks warlike here, but the old 6th Corps is on hand. I feel safe when I look upon the Greek cross their Badge-- The old and valliant men have I not fought beside them[?]" Only the next day did he learn that "skirmishing has ceased and the Army of Breckinridge and Brad Johnson is on the back track again"—a great relief, but also the occasion for a return to the boredom of convalescence.
A milestone in Hill’s recovery occurred on July 17th, when he "walked for the 1st time leaning upon the shoulders of Jack and Carter from the Hospital." Sometimes he pushed himself too hard: "Unwell to night. This in consequence of taking too much exercise," he wrote on July 26th. Yet the next day his diary ends on a decidedly positive note: "Feel rather better this morning."
Hill’s wound resulted in his discharge for disability on November 30, 1864. He returned to the same regiment as Major in January, 1865, but according to Private Wood he was no longer capable of field duty. Hill is not mentioned in accounts of the regiment’s engagements at Dabney’s Mill and Hatcher’s Run in February and March, 1865, respectively, and again at the pivotal battle of Five Forks on April 2nd. On March 13, 1865 Hill was promoted to Brevet Colonel for "gallant and meritorious service" in the action at Magnolia Swamp on his near-fatal day at Cold Harbor. The promotion was regularized on May 8, 1865, and three days later Hill was discharged from the Sixteenth Michigan. He was named an Inspector General of the 1st Division on June 15, 1865 then mustered out the following month.
-- Next: After the War