“What In Sam Hill Is Going On?”

By John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard

This old time euphemism has been attributed, by various sources, to numerous individuals, one of which was Kentucky Adjutant General Samuel Ewing Hill, born on Jan. 30, 1844, in Morgantown, Kentucky.  Hill was appointed, the 16th adjutant general by Gov. Simon Bolivar Buckner, serving in the position from Sep. 30, 1887 to Aug. 30, 1891.

Hill was the youngest of six children of Daniel S. and Malinda Ewing Hill, both of Butler County, Kentucky.  In his youth, Sam was raised in Ohio County, Kentucky, where he received his education in the old Harford Seminary.  At the age of sixteen he began working on a farm. 

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Sam’s brother, John, organized Company G, Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry, and U.S.A.  Sam joined his brother’s company on Aug. 20, 1862, at Owensboro, Kentucky, and was appointed the orderly sergeant.  On Nov. 18, 1863, Captain John W. Hill, was killed in battle at Knoxville, Tennessee.  Sam was elected captain upon the death of his brother, and was referred to as the “boy captain,” as his commission was given a few days prior to his 20th birthday.  

During his service Hill attained many accomplishments including: the pursuit of Confederate Cavalry leader, Gen. John Hunt Morgan during his Indiana-Ohio raid; his company served under Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, in eastern Tennessee, 1863-1864; as well as Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in the Atlanta campaign in 1864.  His company participated in Gen. George Stoneman’s expedition and raid on Saltville, Virginia in 1864, and served in several other engagements during the war.  It was noted that Capt. Hill never missed a campaign with his company or spent a day in the hospital.  By war’s end he had received a brevet promotion to major. 

Maj. Hill and his command were mustered out of the service at Louisville, Kentucky, on August 23, 1865.  Sam returned to Hartford after the war and entered the law office of the Honorable Henry D. McHenry.  He was admitted to the Kentucky bar in the spring of 1866, continuing his studies until October of that year, when he was admitted to the senior class of the Louisville Law School.  He graduated in the spring of 1867, receiving the degree of Bachelor of Laws.  Returning to Hartford he entered into partnership with Judge Jesse W. Kincheloe, a partnership which lasted until Jan. 1872, when he entered into partnership with his former mentor, H. D. McHenry, with whom he remained for several years.  On Oct. 12, 1869, Hill married, Naomi Baird, of Hartford.

Hill entered into politics and in 1877, was elected state senator from Ohio County, serving until 1881.  His eight senatorial district was composed of Ohio, Butler and Muhlenberg Counties.  In 1885, he was again elected to the same office and served until 1887.  He served as chairman of the joint committee on education in the Kentucky General Assembly and was a member of two of the law committees of the state senate.  For many years he served as a member of the state and county Democratic committees.  In 1882 and 1887, there had been talk of Hill running for lieutenant governor, it was not until the 1887 election that he formally announced himself as a candidate for the position, however he soon withdrew claiming he did not have the time to campaign.            

On Aug. 30, 1887, Simon Bolivar Buckner was sworn in as the 30th governor of Kentucky, one of his first appoints was that of Hill as the adjutant general.  During the Civil War, Buckner had served as a general in the Confederate Army, while Hill had served on the side of the Union.  At the time of his appointed, Hill was a state senator.  An uproar in some papers across the state called for Hill’s resignation as senator, at the time, Hill could legally hold both offices.  Due to the continued pressure from the media, Hill resigned his senatorial seat on Dec. 1, 1887.

When Buckner took office a number of feuds had been raging for a number of years in eastern Kentucky.  The governor immediately began receiving pressure from the citizens and political parties in the state to put an end to the on-going violence.

Soon after his appointment as adjutant general, Gov. Simon Bolivar Butler directed Hill to go to Rowan County to learn the history of the feuds, the current situation and what could be done to put an end to the fighting once and for all.

Newspapers around the country were attentive to Hill’s mission and eagerly awaited word of what was happening in the hills of eastern Kentucky.  As time passed, with no word, journalists and the public were asking,

“What in Sam Hill is going on up there?”

Soon after his investigation of the situation in Rowan County, Hill submitted his findings and recommendations to the Governor. [See Hill’s Report to Gov. Buckner.]

During his tenure as the adjutant general, Hill had faced numerous issues from the feuds which had plagued the state for a number of years, civil and political disturbances, and natural disasters.  Hill would make numerous trips to Washington, attempting to acquire Kentucky’s $600,000 Civil War claim.  Additionally, his office accomplished the publication of the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky Mexican War Veterans in 1889, and Roster of the Volunteer Officers and Soldiers from Kentucky in the War of 1812-1815, in 1891.

When Hill left the adjutant general position in 1891, he had left a favorable impression on the citizens of the state, as reflected in various newspaper accounts:

From The Ohio County News (Hartford, KY), Sep.9, 1891, p. 2.

            Our State Capital.  Sep. 3, 1891.

            . . . Among the retiring state officials, none are more popular than Adjutant General Hill.  He is popular not only with officials, but with the whole state Guard force, officers and privates.  His administration of the affairs of his department has been characterized by sound judgement at all times.  He assumed the duties of his office when eastern Kentucky was in perpetual feud and turmoil, and several trips he was compelled to make into that section accompanied by detachments of state Guards before peace finally took permanent residence there.  The militia fund was low when he entered upon his duties, but by judicious management and good business methods, he is able to turn over to Adjutant General Gross the neat sum of ten thousand dollars.  The condition of the State Militia has steadily improved under his administration, so much so that many admiring friends are heard to say he is the best adjutant general Kentucky has ever had.  He and his cultivated and interesting family move to Lexington the 5th inst. [September], where he will form a law partnership with ex-treasurer Sharpe.

Following his service as the adjutant general, Hill returned to the practice of law.  In 1892, he moved to and set his practice at Lexington, Kentucky, becoming one of the most prominent figures at the Fayette bar. 

In September 1895, he was elected president of the newly organized Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry Association.  In 1897, he was appointed United States Commissioner by President Grover Cleveland and re-appointed by Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, an office he held until his death at the age of sixty on May 30, 1904.  He was buried in the Lexington Cemetery, next to his wife, Naomi Baird Hill.  The Hills had three daughters, Elizabeth Hill Lancaster, Mary Lawrence Hill France and Effie Hill Young.

Samuel Hill’s legacy of military service was carried on by his grandson, Col. Ewing Hill France (Class of 1924), and great-grandson, Samuel Ewing Hill France (Class of 1946), both graduates of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Today, the Samuel Ewing Hill home built in 1871, located on Union Street in Hartford, Kentucky, is a historical landmark.

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