Heth was born at Black Heath, in Chesterfield County, Virginia, on December 16, 1825, into a family with a solid military pedigree. His paternal grandfather, Henry Heth, had been a colonel during the American Revolution (1775–1783), while his father, John Heth, was a navy captain who was briefly captured during the War of 1812. One of Heth's cousins was Confederate general George Pickett. Heth was denied entrance to the U.S. Naval Academy and instead was graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1847, finishing, like his cousin, at the bottom of his class. He served during the Mexican War (1846–1848), although he arrived well after active operations had ended. After returning to the United States, he saw active service fighting Native Americans on the western frontier (he led a successful flanking maneuver against the Sioux in the 1855 Battle of Ash Hollow, in present-day Nebraska) and in 1858 wrote the army's first marksmanship manual, A System of Target Practice (1862).
Heth and his command were transferred east in February 1863 and assigned to a division in the Army of Northern Virginia's Second Corps, which was under the command of Heth's West Point classmate and groomsman, A. P. Hill. After Hill was wounded during the night of May 2–3 at Chancellorsville, Heth took command of Hill's division and led it with characteristic aggressiveness through the rest of the battle. Despite suffering a slight wound of his own at Chancellorsville, Heth received command of a new division in the Third Corps shortly before the Confederate army embarked on a second campaign north of the Potomac River in June 1863.
On June 30, 1863, Heth, now a major general, sent a force into the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg in order, he wrote a few months later, to "search the town for army supplies (shoes especially)." After briefly skirmishing with Union cavalry, Heth returned to the town the following morning, July 1. His advance once again encountered cavalry, almost by accident touching off the Battle of Gettysburg. Heth handled his division badly that day and suffered a head wound. Command transferred to Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew, and on July 3 the division participated in the attack on Cemetery Ridge that came to be known as Pickett's Charge. Heth recovered sufficiently from his wound, however, to resume his command even before the army retreated across the Potomac and back to Virginia.
When Hill was killed during the last Union offensive against Petersburg on April 2, 1865, Lee intended to have Heth take command of the Third Corps. But in the course of the day's fighting, Heth had become physically separated from the rest of the corps, which led Lee to assign direction of the corps to another officer. Heth nonetheless managed to accompany the army as it retreated west from Petersburg and was with it when it surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
After the war, Heth sold insurance and engaged in a number of other enterprises, including assisting the U.S. War Department in its efforts to gather material for its Official Records. He died of Bright's disease at his home in Washington, D.C., on September 27, 1899, and is buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
December 16, 1825 - Henry Heth is born in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
1843 - Henry Heth enters the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
1847 - Henry Heth graduates from West Point at the bottom of his class.
1858 - Henry Heth sees active service on the western frontier and writes the U.S. Army’s first marksmanship manual, A System of Target Practice.
January 1862 - During the American Civil War, Henry Heth accepts a promotion to brigadier general and is later sent to East Tennessee to assist Confederate forces in that region.
July 3, 1863 - Major General Henry Heth's forces take part in an attack on Cemetery Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg. (The attack will come to be known as Pickett's Charge.) Heth himself is unable to participate because of the head wound he received two days earlier.
April 9, 1865 - Major General Henry Heth is present with the Army of Northern Virginia when Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox Court House to end the American Civil War.
September 27, 1899 - Henry Heth dies in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
- Civil War, American (1861–1865)
Cite This EntryAPA Citation:
First published: October 30, 2008 | Last modified: March 25, 2014