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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