Is He Or Isn’t He? Does This Man Look Like Gen. A.P. Hill?
By Sam Snyder
(November 2012 Civil War News)
If the identity can be authenticated, a recently discovered image could become a national treasure. Except for the three known images of Gen. Robert E. Lee on Traveller, no known images exist of any of the Confederate high command taken in the field.
I believe the quarter plate tintype shown on this page is a previously unknown image of Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill, sitting astride his favorite horse, “Champ,” taken around February or March 1865. Hill died during the breakout at Petersburg on April 2, 1865.
Before that statement can be made as fact, I need the help of the Civil War community.
Seven years ago I was searching the Internet for Civil War images to add to my collection and came across “Antique tinted tintype. Man on a white horse. Powell, Georgia.”
I thought I had seen the man before and the boy holding the backdrop appeared to be in a Confederate uniform, so I bought it. The person who bought it at an estate auction for the sellers was told the man’s name was “Powell.” The sellers knew nothing about the estate.
Sam Snyder believes this unidentified tintype image he bought online shows Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill a month or two before he died on April 2, 1865. Note the boy holding the backdrop.
I did an Internet search for a General Powell, Civil War. Immediately up came images of Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill. The facial features appeared to be an astounding match. The only problem was the man in my image doesn’t have a full beard. All the known images of Hill as a general show him sporting a full beard, so the research began.
Six consistencies of the image led me to believe the man was A.P Hill. For one, the boy in what appears to be a C.S. uniform leads one to believe the image has some military connection, even though the man is not in a uniform.
I believe the backdrop was being used to make the image appear to have been taken indoors, but the photographer decided to leave the entire image.
Next, while the image was sold as a “man on a white horse,” I have determined it to be a dapple-gray horse, as indicated by the gray patches on the legs, ears and around the nose and mouth and the dark eyes. A.P Hill’s favorite horse was a dapple-gray named “Champ.”
It’s possible, since this image came from a Georgia estate, that Hill was meeting one of his generals and was asked to pose for an impromptu photo for their benefit. This could explain why he wasn’t in a formal uniform. He was known to ride Champ more often, so the chances would be greater he would be seen on Champ.
Gen. James A. Walker at the 1892 dedication of Hill’s statue in Richmond said Hill “was known to dress plainly while in the field, usually in a gray wool sack coat, absent any rank insignia, dressing plainly but neatly preferring the ease and comfort of his fatigue jacket to his general’s uniform.”
While Hill was known for wearing his red battle shirt when going into battle, he otherwise was known to wear hand-sewn white linen shirts made by his wife, Dolly.
Clearly, the man in the image is dressed in a gray four-button coat which resembles a sack coat, with no rank insignia. A white shirt can be seen under the coat.
Hill also was known to wear a black floppy felt hat. The actual hat he wore when he was killed is at the Museum of the Confederacy. This image doesn’t show the crown to determine if it’s the same hat, but you can tell it’s a dark floppy hat.
Another point: the rider’s feet are askew in the stirrups as if he is trying to keep his weight off the saddle or was unable to bend his leg fully at the knee.
This is consistent with Hill’s known aliments. Hill was on furlough most of the winter of ‘64-’65, but stayed at his headquarters in Petersburg. He walked with a limp and had trouble sitting in the saddle due to the leg wounds received at Chancellorsville. He also was thought to suffer from chronic prostititis, making it difficult to sit.
Finally, the man’s appearance. Hill was known to be a man of small stature, about 5 feet 8 inches and narrow in the chest, whose weight around the end of the war dropped to about 125 pounds. He had high cheek bones and forehead and a chiseled Roman nose.
In this image, the man’s jacket is loose fitting, consistent with someone who has lost weight, and he appears to be narrow in the chest.
If you look closely you can see a strand of hair barely covering his right ear under the hat and a flowing set of full curls totally covering his left ear. This is identical to the way Hill is seen wearing his hair in the last known image taken of him by George S. Cook in 1864. The same graying starting in the beard in 1864 is more pronounced in the questioned image.
I have contacted five museums and two authorities on A.P. Hill. None are willing to say the man in the image is him, but none are saying it is not. They all cite high probability and the need for more information.
The only issue seems to be the lack of sideburns in this photo. The known images of Hill later in the war show him sporting a full beard. However, he used to have a goatee and mustache as can be seen in a published CDV taken in early 1861 when Hill was colonel of the 13th Virginia.
The Hill family owns an image of Hill with only a goatee and mustache as an officer in 1st U.S. Artillery. Published sketches show a goatee and mustached Hill coming to the aid of Gen. Thomas J. Jackson after he was shot at Chancellorsville.
One can speculate that since Dolly was with Hill in winter quarters that he would shave his sideburns and then allow them to grow while on the campaign trail, as was a common practice.
Or perhaps his facial hair was just easier to maintain while he was growing sicker in the last few months. Therein lies the problem: why would he choose to be photographed for the known studio images in his general’s uniform in what would then be considered an unshaven manner? Or in his last days did he just prefer to go back to his old style of facial hair?
That’s where the Civil War community can help solve this mystery. I would like to hear from anyone with any knowledge such as a document, letter or diary mentioning Hill’s physical appearance in late 1864, early 1865.
Are there any photographs taken of his or another general’s headquarters around Petersburg, which may resemble the building in the background? Any original artifact, such as a shaving kit, that belonged to A.P. Hill? Anything that would help prove my theory that A.P Hill merely shaved his sideburns during that winter?
All inquiries are welcome. Even if known information disproves this image is A.P. Hill, I feel the mystery needs solving. I also need information about firms that do facial recognition study. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org