Alexander Hays was a soldier, construction engineer and Civil War general who was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness.
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Alexander Hays was born on July 8, 1819 in Franklin, Pennsylvania. His father, Samuel Hays, was a congressman and a general in the Pennsylvania militia. Alexander attended Allegheny College before transferring to the United States Military Academy in his senior year, starting in July of 1840. He graduated with the West Point Class of 1844, ranking 20 out of 25 cadets. Fellow classmates included Simon Bolivar Buckner, Winfield Scott Hancock, and Alfred Pleasonton. Ulysses S. Grant was a year ahead of Hays and became a very good friend.
Hays was promoted to brevet second lieutenant in the 4th United States Infantry Regiment on July 1, 1844. He was stationed at Camp Salubrity at Natchitoches, Louisiana until 1845, and then was involved with the military occupation of Texas.
On June 18, 1846 Hays was transferred to the 8th Infantry Regiment with a promotion to full second lieutenant. He took part in the Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma on May 8 and May 9, 1846, and received a brevet of first lieutenant for “Gallant and Meritorious Conduct” in those battles.
He took part in a number of minor skirmishes in 1847 and 1848:
Defense of Convoy (from Vera Cruz) at Paso de las Ovejas, Sep. 12, 1847
Combat of Huamantla, Oct. 29, 1847
Action of Atlixco, Oct. 19, 1847
Skirmish at Tlaxcala, Oct. 29, 1847 (winning special distinction)
Skirmish at Matamoras, Nov. 23, 1847
Skirmish at Galaxara, Nov. 24, 1847
Action of Sequaltiplan, Feb. 25, 1848
Return to Civilian Life
Alexander Hays resigned his commission on April 12, 1848 and returned to Venango County, Pennsylvania, where he was engaged in Iron manufacture. In 1850 he succumbed to the gold fever sweeping the country and left for California to find his fortune. He was not successful but was smart enough to return east as soon as he realised the futility.
Hays returned to Pennsylvania and became an assistant construction engineer on the Pittsburg and Steubenville Railroad and then the Allegheny Valley Railroad. In 1854 he became a civil engineer for the city of Pittsburg working on bridge construction.
Alexander Hays rejoined the army on March 14, 1861 with the rank of captain in the 16th United States Infantry. At the same time he began recruiting the 12th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, a three months service regiment of which he became major. The 12th Pennsylvania guarded the critical Northern Central Railroad line from Pennsylvania to Baltimore until early August, when it mustered out.
Hays returned to Pennsylvania and immediately began recruiting for what would become the 63rd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. They left the state for Washington on August 26, 1861, and were assigned to Heintzelman’s Division in the Defences of Washington.
In March of 1862 Hays and his regiment accompanied McClellan’s army to Virginia:
Siege of Yorktown, Apr. 5 to May 4, 1862
Battle of Williamsburg, May 5, 1862
Battle of Fair Oaks, May 31-June 1, 1862
Battle of Peach Orchard, June 29, 1862
Battle of Glendale, June 30, 1862
Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862
Hays was given a promotion to brevet major in the regular army for “Gallant and Meritorious Services”
at the Battles of Fair Oaks, Peach Orchard, and Glendale, Va., and to brevet lieutenant colonel in the regular army for the Battle of Malvern Hill.
Northern Virginia Campaign
Action of Bristoe Station, Aug. 27, 1862
Battle of Manassas, Aug. 29‑30, 1862 – Hays was badly wounded and was on sick leave until September 29, missing the Battle of Antietam. When he returned to the army he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers.
Battle of Gettysburg, July 1‑3, 1863
Pursuit of Lee to Warrenton, Va., July, 1863
Auburn, Oct. 14, 1863
Bristoe Station, Oct. 14, 1863
Mine Run Campaign, Nov. 26 to Dec. 3, 1863
Battle of the Wilderness, May 5 – Alexander Hays was killed.
Alexander Hays was buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
Death and Memorials
There is also a monument on the Wilderness battlefield at the location where he was killed.