The State of A.P. Hill’s Physical Remains

Most of Richmond’s monuments no longer stand where Confederate organizations placed them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Protesters pulled down several, including Jefferson Davis and Williams Wickham, and the city expedited the removal of the remainder in their control. One under its authority remains, the monument to Ambrose Powell Hill at the intersection of Hermitage Road and Laburnum Avenue. Stalled for the moment by an injunction, it is unclear if and how the city plans to proceed with this one. Should the removal be carried out, special care must be taken due to A.P. Hill’s thrice-buried remains being located at the monument’s foundation (as highlighted in this recent post).

I compiled a few untapped newspaper references about these remains while researching my talk for the now-postponed Symposium. Rather than bottling these sources up until next August, the following is what I have found on the physical history for what was described in 1891 as a “skeleton in a crumbling condition.”

Captain Francis Travers Hill, aide-de-camp and nephew to the slain general, took charge of A.P. Hill’s body after it arrived back at the Venable house, where Hill and his family stayed on the western outskirts of Petersburg on the morning of April 2, 1865. Francis had it placed in an ambulance and escorted it to Richmond, accompanied by Hill’s widow Kitty and her two young children. “He was brought back to her shot through the heart, his wedding ring still on his finger and his cape covering his dead face,” noted the Philadelphia Times in 1896 after an apparent interview with the then-remarried Katherine Forsyth.

“It was an awful journey, for the roads were choked up with disorganized troops. Sometimes they were in the enemy’s lines and again in their own, but all through that dreadful night Mrs. Hill sat in the ambulance by her dead husband’s body, holding her baby and little daughter in her arms. The wheels on the ambulance belonged to four different vehicles and the variation in size and tire added to her discomfort, but the soldiers carried it over the ravines and places where it could not be drawn by horses.”

Francis’s brother Henry rode ahead to Richmond to alert cousin George Powell Hill of the anticipated arrival of the body. Francis meanwhile escorted Kitty and the children to a family residence in Chesterfield County. Henry informed Powell that the family wanted the general returned to Culpeper or placed in Hollywood Cemetery, but failed to mention the condition of the body. “I did not know until the General’s remains reached Richmond that a coffin had not been provided,” recalled Powell. “My cousin (Henry Hill, Jr.) had failed to mention this fact, and I naturally supposed that the body had been prepared for burial before it left Petersburg.”

Placing the body in Hollywood Cemetery proved too difficult, owing to the ongoing Confederate evacuation of Richmond. Powell did manage to find a casket in Belvin’s furniture store on 12th Street. While preparing the body for the coffin, he found where John Mauk’s minie ball struck Hill, afterward writing, “We removed the body from the ambulance into the office, where we washed his face and removed his gauntlets, and examined his body to discover where the fatal ball had entered. We discovered that it had shot off the thumb of his left hand and passed directly through his heart, coming out at the back.”

Powell believed he had done the best he could, given the circumstances. He recalled:

“Gen. Hill’s body did not reach the city until after 1 o’clock that night, and as it had been sent to me in the same condition as when taken from the battlefield, it became necessary at that late hour of the night to procure a coffin and to make a hasty preparation of his body for as decent a burial as was possible under such circumstances.

“…I secured the coffin from a furniture store that had been broken into by the Confederate soldiers who passed through the city during that Sunday night… Owing to the delay in the arrival of the General’s body, I made no effort to place it in Hollywood, but determined to take it to Culpeper for interment.”

Powell placed his uncle’s body back in the same ambulance in which it had arrived, crossed Mayo’s Bridge and went to his father’s nearby refuge, arriving before Kitty. He claimed, “It had been arranged (in the event of failure to bury the body at Hollywood) that we should take it to my father’s home in Chesterfield, and there join the General’s wife and children and proceed to Culpeper.” After arriving at 8 a.m., they had to make a quick decision about what to do, given the warm temperature that day. “After consultation it was decided best to bury the body at once, as it was becoming offensive.” He hoped to “at some future day remove them to his native county and place him by the side of his parents.”

A.P. Hill’s relatives and his military staff disagreed as to where the general’s body should permanently go. The family intended for the Chesterfield grave to serve as a temporary place to store the general’s remains until they could return it to Culpeper. Thus, they did not formally designate the grave and it lay in unceremonious fashion for two years.

The Third Corps staff officers meanwhile believed they should oversee a proper burial. A group met at Brander & Cook’s store in Richmond in February 1867 “to concert measures for the removal of his remains, with the view of giving them a more honorable sepulture.” Eventually they received permission from the family to bury him in Hollywood Cemetery. William Henry Palmer, Hill’s former chief of staff, purchased Lot N-35 and they reburied him there on July 1, 1867. A Richmond paper stated several decades later that at the time of the second burial the remains “were then in a good state of preservation.”

As monuments began to appear throughout Richmond and the rest of the south during the next several decades, Hill’s former soldiers wanted to raise one for their general. The Pegram Battalion Association led the fundraising efforts. Unable to raise enough money through traditional efforts, the group appealed to prominent tobacconist and Confederate veteran Lewis Ginter. Eventually they decided to erect the monument near Ginter’s home outside of Richmond and wanted to place the general’s body there too. The Richmond Times described just how that would work:

“In the base of the shaft just above the foundation a receptacle has been prepared for the ashes of the distinguished officer. There the case containing them will be deposited and the opening closed over with granite. Until the monument rises to such a height as to prevent the possibility of disturbance, the spot will be constantly guarded by a detail of veterans from the Soldiers’ Home.”

Thanks to Frank Jastrzembski’s recent article, I saw another description that described the thirty-two foot tall pedestal, once it was completed, as “a solid granite structure containing a sarcophagus inclosing General Hill’s remains.”

Hill’s remains were initially supposed to be moved on June 24, 1891. Thomas A. Brander, president of the Pegram Battalion Association, wrote to A.P. Hill’s widow requesting permission to take charge of the remains and to place them under the monument as it was constructed. Many in the family did not desire such a removal. George Powell Hill afterward stated:

“I was not favorable to the second disturbance and removal of the General’s remains, and I believe such were the feeling of a majority of his surviving relatives, as we believe it was wholly unnecessary and furthermore, we think it would have been far more desirable had the monument been erected over the grave in the most beautiful God’s Acre in his native State, and where he has been sleeping for nearly a quarter of a century.”

Nonetheless, Ambrose and Kitty’s daughter Lucy wrote back to Brander, giving her consent and that of her mother and sister. Members of the association, including Brander, Ginter, Palmer, and Joseph Bryan went to Hollywood armed with Lucy’s letter. Cemetery superintendent John R. Hooper accepted it as authority for disinterment. Before the work could begin, he received a letter from cemetery president Anthony Bargamin, who refused to allow the removal unless permission was granted over the signature of Hill’s widow.

Within the week a new letter arrived from Kate Forsyth instructing Hollywood Cemetery to deliver the general’s remains to the Monument Association. “It is understood that the remains will be removed from the cemetery to the receptacle in the monument at a very early day and that the removal will be conducted very quietly,” noted the Richmond Dispatch on June 30.

Hill’s body was moved into the monument receptacle on July 1, 1891. Superintendent Hooper directed the disinterment work performed by cemetery workers. James Netherwood, a prominent stoneworker constructing the base for the monument, was on hand as well, as were Brander, Palmer, and other members of the Monument Association. The work lasted from 2:30 in the afternoon past 6 p.m. A Richmond Dispatch representative described the process:

“There was unexpected delay in getting to the remains, as the opening was made at the mound, and it turned out when the regular depth had been reached that the mound was not immediately over the place of burial. As a consequence a side excavation had to be made. This was due to the fact that when the section was purchased it had no curbing around it and was hardly graded and had to be straightened up afterwards.

“As was expected the box and coffin had fallen to pieces and only the skeleton in a crumbling condition and fragments of the uniform were left. On the sleeve and the collar the insignia of rank were very well preserved.

“The contents of the grave were removed with the greatest care and deposited in a strong oaken case lined with white, and this having been lifted reverently into Mr. L.T. Christian’s wagon the small cortege moved slowly to the site of the monument.”

The Richmond Times observed this procession:

“Mr. L.T. Christian, the well-known funeral director, had prepared a handsome case at his expense, to which the remains were transferred. The Confederate uniform bore the stars of rank, and was well preserved.

“The removal was quietly made and the case with the remains inclosed was deposited in the monument and the heavy stones which form the top of the base were lowered in their place, and all that was mortal of the beloved soldier found a resting place befetting his reputation.”

“Though it cannot be said that the depositing of the remains in their final sepulchre yesterday evening amounted to a ceremony the scene was deeply impressive,” noted the Dispatch:

“Just as the sun was setting the two ex-Confederate veterans mounted guard on the foundation of the monument, and the case being taken from the wagon was, amid deep silence, lowed into the receptacle, those about standing with uncovered heads.

“Mr. Netherwood then gave his orders in an undertone to his assistants, and in a few minutes three heavy stones had been placed over the opening and sealed down.

“The stone work of the monument has already reached a height of some six feet, and Mr. Netherwood calculates upon having the entire pedestal finished by the latter part of this month, as the stones are already cut and upon the ground ready to be placed in position. It is hoped that the bronze figure of General Hill will be completed in time to have the unveiling in October.”

The monument was formally dedicated on May 30, 1892.

 

Sources:

“The Late Lieutenant-General A.P. Hill,” Richmond Dispatch, February 16, 1867.

“A.P. Hill’s Grave at Richmond,” Alexandria Gazette, November 18, 1886.

“Remains Not Moved,” Richmond Dispatch, June 25, 1891.

“Remains Not Removed,” Richmond Times, June 25, 1891.

“Authority to Remove General Hill’s Remains,” Richmond Dispatch, June 30, 1891.

“General Hill’s Remains,” Richmond Times, July 2, 1891.

“In Grave of Stone,” Richmond Dispatch, July 2, 1891.

G. Powell Hill, “First Burial of General Hill’s Remains,” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 19 (Richmond, VA: Published by the Society, 1891), 183-186.

“Virginia Notes,” Roanoke Times, March 18, 1892.

“Braved the Dangers of War,” Philadelphia Times, July 5, 1896.

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11 Responses to The State of A.P. Hill’s Physical Remains

  1. Chris Mackowski says:

    Wow, what a great collection of stuff! Nice job on the research.

  2. Anne Carson Foard says:

    I am a strong advocate of leaving Confederate history where it was originally placed. But because General A. P. Hill’s memorial covers his actual grave and because they were both placed in a roadway that has become very busy, I believe it would be appropriate to relocate – with care and respect – the memorial and grave to Hollywood Cemetery. This is somewhat similar to the situation with the memorial and graves of General N.B. Forrest and his wife, in Memphis, TN, where his final resting place in a Park named for him was desecrated in return for $9 million for the property, with not the smallest iota of respect for the fact that it was a grave not only for the Forrests but also for unnamed deceased from a previous nearby hospital. Since this situation seems not to involve financial reward, and will result in a continuing, and possibly better, tribute to General Hill, I am glad to see it being considered in a reasonable manner.

  3. W Charles Young says:

    His family expressed the desire to have him in Culpeper. Maybe that should be honored now.

  4. John Fox says:

    How about leave him where he is instead of caving in to the mob rule and the stupidest elected leaders this once great state had ever witnessed!

  5. Edward S. Alexander says:

    Curiously, when going through my file on Hill’s burial I didn’t find anything about him specifically being buried standing up any of the three times, even in the secondary sources I had on hand. I know it’s part of the modern story, and I haven’t anything that explicitly rules it out, but where did it even originate?

  6. An excellent essay, Ed, and on info I had never heard. Well done.

  7. James says:

    Great write up Ed. Where in Chesterfield was the home located that he was initially buried at? Is the home still there?

    • Edward S. Alexander says:

      It was initially thought to occur at Bellgrade Plantation, which is still standing today but operating as a Ruth’s Chris Steak House near the intersection of Huguenot and Robious. Others have more recently claimed the family home and cemetery was two miles northeast, near modern Trinity Episcopal School. That cemetery still exists on private property but the home does not.

  8. i SHARE MR FOX STATEMENT ADDING ONLY THE TERRIBLE DISGRACE SHOWN TO GEN FORREST AND HIS FAMILY REMAINS AND I ADD A AMERICAN VETERAN BY PRES EISENHOWER, . MOB RULE SHOWS NO RESPECT BY A GROUP WHO COULD CARE LESS ..
    THANK YOU ED FOR THE RESPECTFUL ARTICLE .

  9. 65th NY Guy says:

    Great piece. I enjoyed it.

    –Chris Barry

  10. Pingback: The Saga of Lt. General A.P. Hill’s Remains Continues | Emerging Civil War

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