Heth is the son of John Heth, of the Black Heth estate, in that Chesterfield County, who served as a Colonel in the volunteer forces of Virginia, and as an officer in the U. S. Navy in the War of 1812. An uncle of his, Col. William Heth, fought at Quebec under Gen. Richard Montgomery and was
distinguished in the American Revolutionary War.
Heth refused an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis to went to West Point. He graduated in 1847, ranked 38 out of 38 in his class, with the rank of brevet 2nd lieutenant of the 2nd Infantry. He served 14 years in the infantry. He served in the Mexican War, in the West in Indian fighting, and in garrison. On the Indian frontier he was on duty at Fort Atkinson, Fort Kearny and Fort Laramie, taking a conspicuous part in many Indian fights, and promoted to 1st lieutenant in June, 1853, with promotion to adjutant in November, 1854, and to captain, 10th Infantry, in March, I855. Soon after this, he led a detached company, mounted as cavalry, in the Sioux Expedition under Gen. Harney, which ended in the victory at Bluewater.
resigned his commission on April 25, 1861. He joined the Confederacy to serve his native Virginia. He served on the staff of Gen. Taliaferro at Norfolk, Virginia as a captain, and accepted the duty of organizing the quartermaster's department at Richmond. He was promoted to major and then Colonel of the 45th Virginia Regiment, in which capacity he organized Brigadier Gen. John B. Floyd's command at Wytheville, for the West Virginia Campaign, and after participating in the battle of Carnifax Ferry, conducted Floyd's retreat from Cotton Hill. In January, 1862, he was promoted and assigned to the command in West Virginia. In June, he joined Gen. E. Kirby Smith at Knoxville, Tennessee and accompanied him in the movement into Kentucky.
In February 1863, he joined the Army of Northern Virginia, and was assigned the command of Field's Brigade, of which he had charge in the battle of Chancellorsville. When Gen. Major Gen. A. P. Hill was wounded, he took command of the division but was himself wounded the next day.
He was promoted major-general and placed in command of a division of Hill's Corps. Commanding a Virginia brigade, he fought at Chancellorsville and was in command of the division until wounded.
Returning to duty, he was soon promoted and given a division in the new III Corps.
In the Gettysburg Campaign, he sent Pettigrew's brigade to Gettysburg to procure a supply of shoes. They returned with information of a Union advance. Heth attacked the Union army under Gen. John F. Reynolds the next day and was himself severely wounded. This was the start of the battle of Gettysburg. During the retreat, he fought at Falling Waters.
The next spring and summer, he guided his men through the Overland Campaign. In the following October, with 2 brigades, he attacked Warren's Corps of Gen. George B. Meade's army, fighting the battle at Bristoe Station. He commanded the advance of Hill's corps, marching on the plank road to resist Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's flank movement of May 4, 1864. He was disinguished for courageous fighting at Spottsylvania. Heth supervised his force in the trenches around Petersburg. During the Siege of Petersburg. As a division commander in the III Corps, he participated in much of the fighting around Petersburg including Weldon Railroad, Reams Station, Peebles Farm, Burgess Mill and Hatcher's Run. He conducted his division on the retreat and surrendered with Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9th.
After the war, Heth gave his attention to mining for a time, worked in the insurance business, and later served in the government as a surveyor and in the Office of Indian Affairs. Before his death, he wrote his memoirs. Heth gave his attention to mining for a time, and then engaged in insurance at Richmond, Virginia.
Brigadier General - January 6, 1862
Major General - May 24, 1863
District of Lewisburg (February 6-May 8, 1862)
Division, Department of East Tennessee (July 3-December 1862)
District, Department of East Tennessee (December 1862)
Department of East Tennessee ( January 1863)
Field's (old) Brigade, A.P. Hill's Division, II Corps, Army of Northern Virginia (March 5-May 2, and late May 1863)
A.P. Hill's Division, Army of Northern Virginia(May 2-3, 1863)
Heth’s Brigade/Hill’s Division
Heth’s Division/III Corps
Division, III Corps (May 30-July 1 and July 1863-February 1865 and March-April 9, 1865)