The Civil War Diary of Captain Edward Hill: Two Years of Hard Fighting
Edward Hill was born April 13, 1835 in Liberty, New York, to Betsey Hill. His father's name is unlisted on his death certificate. At some point the Hill family moved to Michigan, and on December 14, 1861, at age twenty-seven Hill enlisted in company D, Lancers at Detroit. The Lancers, a cavalry unit organized by a colonel in the Canadian militia, Arthur Rankin, was an unusual outfit. Its men were to carry long-shafted wooden spears in addition to sabers, carbines and pistols. Since the Lancers were founded by a Canadian and war with England seemed possible, there were reservations in the government about approving its organization. In February 1862, before the Lancers left Michigan the War Department broke them up into two companies of infantry and two smaller detachments. The recruits of Lancer Companies D and E, including Edward Hill, were assigned to an independent Michigan regiment that had been organized in September 1861 by Colonel Thomas W. Stockton, a West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran. Stockton's regiment was shortly afterward designated the 16th Michigan and sent to join the Army of the Potomac.
On March 20, 1862 Hill was officially mustered out of the Lancers as a 2nd Lieutenant, then commissioned four days later into company K of the 16th Michigan Infantry. This regiment was assigned to the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, which was then commanded by General Fitz John Porter, and they remained there (under various commanders) until the end of the war. By then, the men of the Sixteenth had become veterans of some of the Civil War's most important and bloodiest campaigns. Attached to the Army of the Potomac, they took part in the Peninsular Campaign under General McClellan, including the siege of Yorktown and a battle at Hanover Court House in May 1862. On June 27, 1862 the Regiment fought a desperate battle in front of Richmond at Gaines' Mill. Confederate General Robert E. Lee assaulted Porter's reinforced army of 34,000 with a force of 57,000 men, finally forcing Porter's men to withdraw across the Chickahominy River. At Gaines' Mill the Sixteenth suffered 49 men killed, 116 wounded, and 55 missing. Four days later, during the retreat of McClellan's army to the James River, the Sixteenth prevented a Confederate charge from succeeding at Malvern Hill.
Given little time to rest, the Sixteenth was transferred to northern Virginia at the end of the Peninsular Campaign and on August 30, 1862 participated in the Second Battle of Bull Run. There the regiment faced heavy fire in an advance on a Rebel battery and took serious casualties. Among the wounded was First Lieutenant Edward Hill, who had been promoted after the struggle at Gaines' Mill, but the wound apparently healed quickly and Hill rejoined his regiment within weeks.
The toll continued as the 16th Michigan fought in nearly every major battle undertaken by the beleaguered Army of the Potomac under its successive commanders. At Antietam in September 1862 the regiment was held in reserve but used to pursue Lee's retreating Confederates across the Potomac River. At Fredericksburg in December 1862, the Sixteenth was one of the last Union units to cross the Rappahannock and advance on Confederates waiting behind earthworks at the heights above the town. Their attack was repulsed, and the survivors were forced to spend twenty-four hours lying on the field until they were ordered to retreat under cover of darkness. In the commanding officer's report, Lieutenant Hill was commended for his bravery, as he had also been at Malvern Hill.
At Chancellorsville in May 1863, the Sixteenth was not involved in heavy fighting, but they made up for it the following summer during the Gettysburg campaign. At Middleburg, Virginia, on June 21, 1863 the 16th Michigan pushed back J.E.B. Stuart's brigade, which was screening Lee's northward push into Maryland and Pennsylvania. On the second day of the climactic Battle of Gettysburg, men from the Sixteenth joined others from the Third Brigade for the desperate, and ultimately successful, Union defense of Little Round Top, one of the pivotal moments of the entire war. Although part of the regiment's line broke, most of the men, including Hill, remained at their critical position near the southern end of the Union line. After Gettysburg, the Sixteenth was constantly on the march, maneuvering for position against the Confederates in northern Virginia and occasionally skirmishing with them. The Michigan men managed to capture the Confederate defenses at Kelly's Ford on the Rappahannock early in November 1863 and remained there until Thanksgiving. In General Joseph Bartlett's report on this battle at Rappahannock Station, Captain Hill and his skirmishers were praised for charging and entering the enemy's works.
In December 1863, with two years' service completed, over 90 percent of the Sixteenth's veterans-more than 260 men--re-enlisted for three additional years, including Captain Edward Hill, who had been promoted in April 1863. The regiment was allowed to return to Michigan on a veteran furlough of thirty days. At its end, the men gathered in Saginaw on February 17, 1864, fortified by the addition of nearly 150 new recruits.
Carl Guarneri, Saint Mary's College History department
Alyssa Sisco Ginn, Saint Mary's College Class of 2008
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