A Civil War Biography

Adams Sherman Hill

Hill was born 30 January 1833 in Boston, Massachusetts and was raised in Worchester. He graduated from the Harvard law school in 1855 and worked briefly as a law reporter then, in 1858 joined the New York Tribune as the night editor. In the spring of 1861 he was sent to the Washington DC bureau as assistant to veteran correspondent Edward E. House.

House and Hill accompanied the Union army commanded by Irvin McDowell when it moved towards the Southern army concentrated at Manassas Junction. Two days before what would become known as First Bull Run, 18 July 1861, Hill witnessed an infantry skirmish at Blackburn's Ford. He panicked under fire and fled the field, then submitted an exaggerated, inaccurate story to the Tribune. He received no further combat assignments and was instead assigned to administrative duties at which he excelled.

He was named assistant bureau chief in August 1861 then succeeded Samuel Wilkeson in January 1863. Hill was best known for widening the contacts of the Tribune. Numbered among his confidential sources were members of Abraham Lincoln's personal staff, Senator Charles Sumner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax, and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Hill also added greatly to the reporter staff of the Tribune. Known to favor an impartial style of journalism Hill fell out of favor with Horace Greeley, the Tribune's founder and publisher, who favored a partisan style of journalism. The difference in styles would lead to Hill resigning in December 1863.

Along with fellow journalists Henry Villard and Horace White, Hill founded the Independent News Room, a news service to compete with the Associated Press. The AP's exclusive rights to the American Telegraph company forced the INR to use the much smaller Independent Telegraph company putting the INR at a disadvantage.

It was initially thought that Hill had perpetuated the Gold Hoax. On 18 May 1864 two New York papers, the World and the Journal of Commerce, reported that Lincoln, citing recent military disasters, had called for a day of humiliation, prayer, and fasting and the conscription of another 400,000 men. The stock market shuddered with activity and the price of gold jumped 10%. Hill was held in Federal detention for two days as a suspect. The logic was he was using the hoax to discredit the AP. Within a few days it was shown that the hoax had been initiated by the city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, Joseph Howard. Howard, figuring dire news would send the price of gold upward, had speculated in the market the days before launching the phony Lincoln story via a fabricated AP dispatch. The dispatch was sent over Independent Telegraph lines implicating Hill.

The INR would prosper until the end of the war but could not survive against the AP with its better telegraph lines. Hill remained active in journalism until 1872 when he joined the faculty at Harvard as an assistant professor of rhetoric. He was made a full professor in 1876 and would eventually head the English department at Harvard. He published Our English in 1889 and Foundations of Rhetoric in 1892. Hill died in Boston on 25 December 1910.

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