Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Professor Hill’s Southern Algebra

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 25, 2015

In 1857, future Confederate general Daniel Harvey Hill was a mathematics and civil engineering professor at Davidson College in North Carolina. That year he published a mathematics textbook, Elements of Algebra. Lest one assume that a mathematics text would be dull, fear not — Hill went to some length to make it a primer on the evils of Yankeedom. Here are some of the actual word problems from the book:


A Yankee mixes a certain number of wooden nutmegs, which cost him 1/4 cent apiece, with a quantity of real nutmegs, worth 4 cents apiece, and sells the whole assortment for $44; and gains $3.75 by the fraud. How many wooden nutmegs were there?

In the year 1692, the people of Massachusetts executed, imprisoned, or privately persecuted 469 persons, of both sexes, and all ages, for alleged crime of witchcraft. Of these, twice as many were privately persecuted as were imprisoned, and 7 17/19 times as many more were imprisoned than were executed. Required the number of sufferers of each kind?

In the year 1637, all the Pequod Indians that survived the slaughter on the Mystic River were either banished from Connecticut, or sold into slavery. The square root of twice the number of survivors is equal to 1/10 that number. What was the number?

The field of battle at Buena Vista is 6½ miles from Saltillo. Two Indiana volunteers ran away from the field of battle at the same time; one ran half a mile per hour faster than the other, and reached Saltillo 5 minutes and 54 6/11 seconds sooner than the other. Required their respective rates of travel.

A man in Cincinnati purchased 10,000 pounds of bad pork, at 1 cent per pound, and paid so much per pound to put it through a chemical process, by which it would appear sound, and then sold it at an advanced price, clearing $450 by the fraud. The price at which he sold the pork per pound, multiplied by the cost per pound of the chemical process, was 3 cents. Required the price at which he sold it, and the cost of the chemical process.

At the Women’s Rights Convention, held at Syracuse, New York, composed of 150 delegates, the old maids, childless-wives, and bedlamites [lunatics] were to each other as the number 5, 7, and 3. How many were there of each class?



The first testimonial endorsement in the front of the book — what we would now call a “blurb” — was from a Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at the Virginia Military Institute, named T. J. Jackson. The endorsement didn’t mention that Jackson was Hill’s brother-in-law.

H/t user CSA Today at Civil War Talk.

8 Responses

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  1. jfepperson said, on March 26, 2015 at 9:04 am

    As a mathematician with Civil War interests, I have always wanted a copy of this book. Thanks!

  2. fredsargeant said, on March 26, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Must have been a relative of Prof. Michael Hill at the League of the South.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 26, 2015 at 9:28 am

      Truer than you know. One of the things that the southern nationalists continually carp about is that universities don’t reflect their values. They’re not usually referring to math courses, but it’s not hard to imagine them approving of this sort of book.

  3. Ken Noe said, on March 26, 2015 at 11:39 am

    So Hill went to his brother-in-law for a blurb. Reminds me of some Amazon reviews I’ve seen lately.

  4. Lane Casteix said, on March 26, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    I had to LOL.

  5. Foxessa said, on March 31, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Here’s a numerical inquiry: how many Native Americans did the colonial and early USians of what got to be called South Carolina were captured and sold as slaves — mostly to the Caribbean? How many of the SC slave traders went to war with Virginian slave traders in the colonial era about who got to control the slave trade out of their colonies to the Caribbean?

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