I am talking about using a stick as a spacer, against the tree. You can work it in after you tie the knot and before you weight the hammock. You need a fairly smooth stick so you can work it out before you untie the webbing. That way you have a little more access to that 1st half hitch.
The principle is that half hitches cinch up around the tree, choke the tree if you will. Then it is hard to pull the webbing on that 1st half hitch free because it is between the webbing and the tree with no working room. The stick acts like a spacer in that you can usually work it free or move it a little so that you can more easily pull the webbing on that 1st half hitch free.
There is a learning curve to using gear. I have to re-learn things when I haven't been out in a while or use something that I haven't used lately. You did well on your hang. The learning curve can be interesting and fun as long as it isn't too painful.