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HILL, BENJAMIN F.

HILL, BENJAMIN F. (ca. 1815–1866). Benjamin F. Hill, whose murder by Union troops in Victoria, Texas, during Reconstruction received widespread notoriety, was a public official in both the Republic of Texas and the state. He was born about 1815 in North Carolina. The exact time of his arrival in Texas is not known, but he seems to have come with his brother William G. Hill. In 1839 he was a captain and adjutant of the command in the Mexican Federalist army, in the Texas division commanded by Reuben Rossqv. In 1842 he was a second lieutenant in Capt. John P. Gill's company of mounted volunteers, under the command of Col. Clark L. Owen, in the Army of the Republic of Texas. In 1844 he was elected assistant clerk and then engrossing clerk in the House of the Eighth Congress of the republic. He was elected chief clerk with a salary of $900 under President Anson Jones in 1845 and served in the office again in the First Texas Legislature, after annexation. He was captain of his own company during the Mexican War. "Colonel" Hill, as he was called, was appointed adjutant general by Governor Peter H. Bell by 1850, when he was residing in Travis County.

Little is known of his Civil War activities, but by 1864 he was serving the Confederacy as a procuring agent. During the Union occupation after the war he lived in Victoria. There he was a candidate for county clerk in June 1866, when he quarreled with a discharged Union soldier in the Smile Saloon and killed him, apparently in self-defense. Hill was arrested by the post commander, a Captain Spaulding. Soldiers of the Third Michigan Infantry, a black regiment, and the Eighteenth New York Cavalry, encamped at Victoria, became outraged at the death of their comrade, and though Captain Spaulding tried to preserve order, he "could not effect anything against the hundreds of drunken, infuriated wretches, running riot, and thirsting for human blood," as the Victoria Advocate characterized the mob. Dr. James B. P. January, veteran of the Texas Revolution and Republic of Texas congressman, was himself arrested trying to protect Hill. Union troops broke into Hill's cell and axed him to death, then hung his mutilated body from the jail banisters. Further violence was avoided as officers of the Eighteenth New York maintained order with armed patrols. Many citizens loyal to the Confederate cause reportedly hid in the country for a time thereafter. Hill's wife and family moved to Cuero, though she returned to aid fellow Victorians during the 1867 yellow fever epidemic.

The Hill murder was one of a number of clashes with Union occupation forces in Texas that contributed to the general bitterness, much of it with racial overtones, associated with Reconstruction. In 1866 black soldiers took control of the Victoria County Jail and reportedly made the confinement of a black or northern man impossible. A group of black troopers demolished the grave monuments in the city cemetery. There were also other killings. Though not as sensational as the burning of Brenham, Texas, by Union soldiers, these acts in Victoria and Captain Spaulding's apparent inability to command so incensed Governor J. W. Throckmorton that he insisted on the captain's court-martial and the removal of Union troops. Spaulding was exonerated, however, and although most occupation forces were removed by 1866, civil authority was not restored until April 1870.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

John P. Carrier, A Political History of Texas during Reconstruction, 1865–1874 (Ph.D. dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1971). Roy Grimes, ed., 300 Years in Victoria County (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1968; rpt., Austin: Nortex, 1985). Joseph Milton Nance, After San Jacinto: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1836–1841 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963). Joseph Milton Nance, Attack and Counterattack: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1842 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Charles W. Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1970). William L. Richter, The Army in Texas during Reconstruction, 1865–1870 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987). Victor Marion Rose, History of Victoria (Laredo, 1883; rpt.,Victoria, Texas: Book Mart, 1961). Victoria Advocate, 88th Anniversary Number, September 28, 1934.

Craig H. Roell and Linda Harsdorff-Lees

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Craig H. Roell and Linda Harsdorff-Lees, "HILL, BENJAMIN F.," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhi17), accessed September 17, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.