The final resting place of Civil War Gen. A.P. Hill has been anything but that, as his remains were put in the ground, dug up and moved, three times in the 19th century.
Then, when the city of Richmond decided to do away with its Confederate monuments in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the general’s remains were moved once more. A statue of Hill with his bones in the base was taken down last month from the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road in the state capital.
Neither the first burial or the reinterment services that followed came with military honors, said Patrick Falci, a New York actor and historian who’s portrayed Hill for 30 years.
Those who gathered at a cemetery in Hill’s hometown of Culpeper made up for all that on Saturday with a ceremony for the ages.
An estimated 600 people, including Confederate reenactors wearing gray and butternut uniforms, gathered to pay their respects to the general at what they hope will be his permanent resting place at Fairview Cemetery.
A mule-drawn wagon brought the coffin, draped in an old Virginia flag, into the cemetery as hundreds of soldiers stood at attention. Next came a rider-less horse as a drummer provided 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 let off three rounds from a spit-polished shine cannon named “Jeb.”
The VA Scots Guards played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes; Susan and Scott Carraway played a mandolin and acoustic guitar and led the crowd in “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny;’ and a solitary bugler played “Taps.”
“Gen. Hill has been known as Lee’s forgotten general,” said a theatrical Falci, as he took microphone in hand and walked among the gravesites. “But not today. Not here in Culpeper. Not here in Virginia.”
After a court battle, the skeletal fragments of Confederate Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill were removed from the statue in mid-December and collected by morticians from Bennett Funeral Home in Richmond. Funeral officials eventually contacted Keith Price, a former member of the Culpeper Town Council, about relocating Hill’s remains at Fairview.
The cemetery is owned by the same town, where Hill was born and raised.
“He would have known this cemetery,” Price said, adding that it was formally established in the 1850s. “He grew up here and he’s finally back home after almost 160 years.”
Price is proud of the way the town helped with the service, noting officials “could have just refused to do anything to facilitate any part of it.” Instead, town employees made sure muddy roads within the cemetery were passable, and eight police officers from the town, along with seven from Virginia State Police, provided traffic control and security.
The town was prepared for problems, but didn’t encounter the first peep of trouble, said Mayor Frank Reaves Jr., who said everyone worked together like a family.
“This is a nice quiet town and that’s how we want to keep it,” he said.
The result was a ceremony that hearkened back to another time— except for a few modern touches, like a guitar plugged into a PA system, a drone flying overhead and a woman with turquoise hair leading the mule wagon.
Clusters of women wore full-length black dresses and veils, garb called “widows’ weeds” for the way the material creased after time, and the occasional man sported a stovepipe hat.
Members of the crowd wore hoodies, jackets and scarves, some bearing the image of the Confederate flag. When the Carraways led the crowd in “Dixie,” people shouted whoops, hoorahs and other versions of the Rebel yell throughout the cemetery.
Dave Singleton, a member of Knibb’s Battery in Richmond, said he heard about the burial online — and that word of mouth about the event spread to other reenacting groups as well as motorcyclists, who also showed up en masse.
While he noted that “people don’t like the fact our monuments and the people who are 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 history, not if you agree with it or don’t agree with it,” he said. “The man needs to be buried and needs to be buried peacefully.”
Angel McCreery of Lexington agreed, noting the honor was needed for “a man who’s been uprooted too many times.”
Leonard Cowherd, who lives outside the Town of Culpeper, was among about 15 Hill descendants at the event. He said the ceremony was “fantastic” and especially liked that Hill, who went by “Powell,” was coming back to his hometown.
“That’s one of the best things about it,” Cowherd said.
Falci described Hill as knightly and chivalrous, a daring leader who wore a red cape and a red sash into battle so his men could see him. Hill grew up reading stories about Alexander the Great and Julius Cesar and he wanted to mimic them in battle.
Hill also had a keen sense of timing, Falci said.
“He always arrived at the battlefield right in the nick of time to save the day,” said Falci, whose business card reads “Actor/Performing Historian,” the same initials as A.P. Hill.
Cowherd shared a slightly different viewpoint.
“I believe Powell Hill was a snob,” Cowherd said. “He was of the Virginia landed gentry and I think he looked down at people.”
Cowherd did agree with Falci that Hill is finally where he belongs. Falci ended his eulogy, saying “Gen. A.P. Hill has come home, he is now at rest.”
And with that, Rebel yells went out throughout the crowd.
(c) 2023 The Free Lance-Star
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