Hill, Benjamin F. (1815–1866)

By: Craig H. Roell and Linda Harsdorff-Lees

Revised by: Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 2, 2022

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 in 1815 in Franklin County, North Carolina, the son of Jordan and Mary Nancy (Green) Hill. 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 Ross. 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 of Texas Mounted Volunteers 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.

During the Civil War Hill enlisted with a unit of Texas State Troops in 1863 and in 1864 served 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.

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 in 1866, civil authority was not restored until April 1870.

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.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Victims of Mob Violence and Police Brutality
  • Military
  • Confederate Military
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Central Texas
  • Austin
  • Southeast Texas
  • Gulf Coast Region
  • Victoria

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

Craig H. Roell and Linda Harsdorff-Lees, Revised by Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell, “Hill, Benjamin F.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hill-benjamin-f.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 2, 2022

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