Civil War general’s remains come back to his hometown

Civil War general’s remains come back to his hometown

The final resting place of Civil War General AP Hill was anything but, as his remains were buried, excavated and moved three times in the 19th century.

When the city of Richmond decided to abolish its Confederate monuments following the murder of George Floyd and amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the general’s remains were relocated again. A statue of Hill with his bones in the pedestal was taken down from the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road in the state capital last month.

Neither the first burial nor subsequent reburial services were held with military honors, said Patrick Falci, a New York actor and historian who has portrayed Hill for 30 years.

Those who gathered at a cemetery in Hill’s hometown of Culpeper made up for it all Saturday with a ceremony for eternity.

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An estimated 600 people, including Confederate reenactors in gray and butternut uniforms, gathered to pay their respects to the general at what he hopes will be his permanent resting place in Fairview Cemetery.

A mule-drawn wagon brought the coffin, draped in an old Virginia flag, to the cemetery while hundreds of soldiers stood to attention. Next came a riderless horse while a drummer kept a steady beat.

After Falci’s eulogy, songs and prayers, Longstreet’s corps loaded muskets and fired a 21-gun salute, while those with Knibb’s battery fired three shots from a highly polished cannon called the Jeb.

The VA Scots Guards played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes; Susan and Scott Carraway played mandolin and acoustic guitar and led the crowd in “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”; and a lone bugler played “taps.”

“Gene. Hill is known as Lee’s forgotten general,” said a theatrical Falci as he picked up the microphone and paced among the graves. “But not today. Not here in Culpeper. Not here in Virginia.”

After a court battle, the skeletal fragments of Confederate General Ambrose Powell Hill were removed from the statue in mid-December and collected by morticians at the Bennett Funeral Home in Richmond. Funeral officers eventually contacted Keith Price, a former member of Culpeper City Council, about moving Hill’s remains to Fairview.

The cemetery belongs to the same town where Hill was born and raised.

“He would have known that cemetery,” Price said, adding that it was officially established in the 1850s. “He grew up here and is finally back home after almost 160 years.”

Price is proud of the ways the city has helped with the service, noting that officials “could just refuse to do anything to facilitate any part of it.” Instead, city officials made sure the muddy roads within the cemetery were passable, and eight city police officers and seven from the Virginia State Police provided traffic control and security.

The city is prepared for trouble but hasn’t seen the first trouble, said Mayor Frank Reaves Jr., who said everyone is working together like family.

“This is a beautiful, quiet city and that’s how we want to keep it,” he said.

The result was a ceremony reminiscent of another time – apart from a few modern touches like a guitar hooked up to a PA system, a drone flying overhead and a turquoise-haired woman leading the mule-wagon.

Groups of women wore long black dresses and veils, a robe called “scabious” because the material wrinkled over time, and the occasional man wore a stovepipe hat.

Members of the crowd wore hoodies, jackets and scarves, some bearing the image of the Confederate flag. As the Carraways led the crowd in “Dixie,” people in the graveyard yelled whoops, hurahs, and other versions of the rebel yell.

Dave Singleton, a member of Knibb’s Battery in Richmond, said he heard about the funeral online – and that word of mouth about the event spread to other reenactment groups, as well as motorcyclists, who also showed up en masse.

While noting that “people don’t like the fact that our memorials and the people buried under them are being moved,” he said Saturday’s turnout was more about honoring Hill.

“They fought for what they believed in and we want to celebrate their story, not if you agree with it or not,” he said. “The man must be buried, and peacefully.”

Angel McCreery of Lexington agreed, noting that the honor was needed for “a man who has been uprooted too many times.”

Leonard Cowherd, who lives outside of the town of Culpeper, was one of about 15 Hill descendants at the event. He said the ceremony was “amazing” and he was particularly pleased that Hill, who went by the name “Powell,” returned to his hometown.

“That’s one of the best things about it,” Cowherd said.

Falci described Hill as chivalrous and chivalrous, a daring leader who wore a red cloak and sash in battle so his men could see him. Hill grew up hearing stories about Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and wanted to emulate them in battle.

Hill also has a good sense of timing, Falci said.

“He always got to the battlefield just in time to save the day,” said Falci, whose business card reads “Actor/Performing Historian,” sharing the initials with AP Hill.

Cowherd shared a slightly different point of view.

“I think Powell Hill was a snob,” Cowherd said. “He was a member of the Virginia gentry and I think he looked down on the people.”

Cowherd agreed with Falci that Hill is finally where he belongs. Falci ended his eulogy with the words: “Gen. AP Hill has come home, he’s resting now.”

And with that, rebel cries went through the crowd.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

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