BLOOD STAINED PIECE OF C.S. LIEUTENANT GENERAL A.P. HILL’S COAT KIA APRIL 2, 1865, AT PETERSBURG

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Item Code: 846-141

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This coat fragment measures roughly three inches by three inches and comes with a wonderful brown ink note reading, “A piece of the military coat worn by Lt. Genl. A.P. Hill when he was killed Petersburg Va. April 1865.” These have been professionally and archivally mounted in a gilt frame and brown mat with gilt flourishes, along with an oval-matted CDV engraving of Hill. A dark stain is visible on the upper right of the fabric and the display is accompanied by a letter of provenance dated 1995, recounting is purchase in 1983, and a 1995 letter from a forensic serologist attesting to test results “indicative of the presence of blood.”

Hill was shot and killed at Petersburg early on the morning of April 2, 1865, as he rode out to try to restore his broken lines. The night had been cool and he went to his headquarters somewhere around 3:00 a.m. and to Lee’s headquarters before dawn. Period testimony indicates he was wearing a caped overcoat, including the detail that his cape covered his face in the wagon carrying his body away from Petersburg. Two cousins transported his body into Richmond, which was in chaos,  and managed to acquire a coffin, in which they placed his body, “wrapped in his army overcoat” in the words of biographer James Robertson. The cape was apparently removed in its entirety and still exists in the collection of Museum of the Confederacy, now the American Civil War Museum, in Richmond. Other pieces, like this, were undoubtedly clipped as mementos. Fragments of Stonewall Jackson’s coat, for instance, were treasured for decades as sacred relics. The heavy weave of the fabric, now a brownish-gray with a greenish-blue stripe at bottom and upper corner, suggest it came from an overcoat, and the phrasing of the note, that it is a piece of Hill’s “military coat,” all fit.

Accompanying this great display is a 1995 letter of provenance from Federal Hill Antiquities of Baltimore, written to the original purchaser indicating the coat fragment and note had been purchased around 1983 from the “Mauk estate.” John W. Mauk was the Union army corporal, serving in Company F of the 138th Pennsylvania, who had shot and killed Hill in the confusion after Union forces had stormed the Confederate lines. Hill’s death was almost immediately known and Mauk was identified the same day, April 2, by his regimental commander as one of two men chanced upon by Hill and an accompanying courier. The two Union soldiers had drawn beads on the two Confederates who rode up with drawn pistols demanding their surrender. Mauk remarked that he “couldn’t see it,” and said to his companion, “Let’s shoot them.” Mauk’s shot stuck Hill in the hand and heart, killing him instantly. His companion missed the courier, who rode back to inform Lee of what happened, following Hill’s last orders to him.

Mauk may have cut the souvenir on the spot, though he did not know whom he had shot until later in day and soon after the incident had unsuccessfully attempted to go back and see “what the officer had with him.” He might also have obtained the relic sometime later. He was immediately recognized as Hill’s slayer in army reports and in newspapers as early as May 25, 1865, when a May 5 letter from his first lieutenant was published in the Bedford (PA) Inquirer. In later years he was reported not to have been boastful about it, but did not shy away from the subject when asked. A pension investigator supposedly heard the story from Mauk in the 1880s, but it gained much wider circulation starting in 1891 as preparations were made in Richmond for Hill’s reburial under a monument in the city. Accusations were apparently made that Mauk and his companion were “stragglers” or had shot Hill after pretending to surrender, and Mauk made sure the true story got out and it was published not only in the Baltimore American, but in the Papers of the Southern Historical Society in 1892, immediately before an account of the unveiling of Hill’s statue in Richmond. Thus, Mauk may well have acquired the relic at some point between 1891 and his own death in 1898. The penmanship of the note accompanying it, at least, suggests a date in that range.

Hill’s body had remained in a hastily dug grave for two years, until it was moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond in August 1867, where it remained until reinterred beneath his statue. Reports were that his body in 1867 was in “a good state of preservation,” and if any of the coat remained intact pieces might then have been retained by the friends who moved him. The condition of the fragment, however, indicates it was cut by Mauk immediately after the incident, by one of Hill’s cousins who took custody of the body, or by the men of Hill’s command, reportedly the 5th Alabama, who recovered his body very soon after.

This is a telling relic of one of the war’s best known and highest ranking southern generals, who expressed the desire not to survive the fall of Richmond and was killed in action as Federal troops finally took Petersburg and sealed Richmond’s doom. Hill fought in numerous hard actions of the Army of Northern Virginia and is perhaps best known for bringing up his “light division” on a forced march in the nick of time at Antietam. Promoted to Lieutenant General and corps commander under Lee after the death of Stonewall Jackson in 1863, he became the fourth-highest ranking Confederate officer. A native Virginian, West Point roommate of George McClellan (and failed suitor of McClellan’s eventual wife,) Hill had just returned to the front lines from a sick leave and only that morning left his wife’s side to meet his fate. This is a wonderful, historic relic, very nicely presented and ready for display.  [sr]

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