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A Triangle: Enter A. P. Hill

22 November 2010 One Comment

Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had taken a liking to George McClellan and given him a plum of an assignment— to join a commission to study European military systems. On April 11, 1855, he sailed for the Crimea and out of Ellen Marcy’s life. 

Suitors were swarming around her like moths to a flame. Ellen and her mother spent the winter of 1855-56 at the Willard Hotel in Washington. Who should be assigned to duty in Washington but McClellan’s close friend, the charming and dashing A. P. Hill. 

The polished Virginia cavalier hailed from a prominent Culpeper family. Known at West Point for his “amiability of heart” and “amenity of manners that endeared him to all his acquaintances,” the smooth dancer was also a polished horseman. And yes, Hill loved women. So much so that a youthful indiscretion during his first furlough at West Point sent him to the brothels of New York. That night of passion left him with a “disease” that forced him to drop out of West Point for a year and would dog him the rest of his life. 

In the fall of 1848 when his favorite sister was in school in Ellicott City, Maryland. Hill, who had just returned from West Point, began courting one of her friends, Emma Wilson, a dazzling brunette. She fell in love with him and accepted his marriage proposal. But her parents, who considered Hill beneath them socially, cut it off. 

But now he turned his charms on the prize—Ellen Marcy. It was not long before Miss Nelly was seeing a lot of Lieutenant Hill. Captain Marcy, who was home on a temporary assignment, noted their closeness with an uneasy eye. He cautioned Ellen that surely this romance would not get serious. She replied, “Oh, no Daddy, you mustn’t worry.” He returned to the frontier not fully convinced. 

Soon Hill was the officer in charge of Miss Nelly’s heart and when he proposed in the spring of 1856, she immediately accepted the engagement ring—without first clearing it with her father. 

When Ellen’s letter announcing the engagement reached her father in Laredo he could scarcely believe what he was reading. “Astonished” was the first word that burst from his angry pen. In a marathon heated 11-page letter he in essence said, “How could you do this to us?” 

In mounting recrimination and rage he continued, “I could never have supposed after the repeated conversations I have had with you upon the subject of marriage, and your knowledge of my opposition to your uniting yourself to a profession which has caused so many privations and separations in families that you would desire to do the very act of all others that is the most objectionable to me.” 

His chilling conclusion stated, “I thought I could confide in you and that I had nothing to fear but I find instead of that, you must have been holding out encouragement to him from the time I left. …I forgive you, but I shall expect that you at once abandon all communication with Mr. Hill. If you do not comply with my wishes, I cannot tell you what my feelings toward you would become. I fear that my ardent affection would turn to hate. Do nothing therefore my dear child without choosing between me and him.” 

A week later he wrote a more conciliatory letter and asked her to make no decision for six months. He needed to know if Hill had sufficient means to support her without his pay. He received a letter from Hill indicating he was worth about $10,000. “That is something,” Captain Marcy conceded, “but not much.” Moreover, the fact that Hill was a southerner concerned her father in the heated political climate. 

Now Ellen was fighting back for the man she loved. She reminded her father that McClellan was in the army and he had not objected to him. 

Meanwhile, in Washington Hill was feeling a strong sense of Deja-vu. Was this Emma Wilson and her snooty parents all over again? But the worst was yet to come. Mrs. Marcy was ready to unload on Hill personally with great vengeance. She had somehow learned of his indiscretion at West Point and she would see that the word got out.*

Stay tuned for “McClellan Returns”

*From “The Class of  1846: From West Point to Appomatax” by John Waugh (Highly recommended.)

One Comment »

  • Gregg Jones said:

    No matter how many times I read this true story, I am amazed at how timeless this situation is. You could find a similar scenario in the Old Testament and you will see the same scenario in a modern soap opera on TV. There are no boundaries for this story. Every nation, ever ethnicity has witnessed this very same scenario. It could be Romeo and Juliet.

    This is a story that was and will be retold over and over into the future of mankind.

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