After several hours of hand shoveling, workers unearthed the remains of slain Confederate general Ambrose Powell Hill Jr. from his tomb Tuesday, as Richmond continues its work to remove the last city-owned Confederate monument.
A sudden silence blanketed the crowd, including the general’s indirect descendant John Hill, as workers lifted a tarp while uncovering A.P. Hill’s skeletal fragments. That stillness broke after a loud argument erupted just 20 feet away from the excavation.
“I was just trying to ask a simple question,” said Devin Curtis, 34, of Richmond.
Curtis gestured toward a man wearing a leather jacket with the image of the Confederate flag on its back. He and other members of Sons of Confederate Veterans sported the same jacket.
Curtis, who’s lived his entire life in the former capital of the Confederacy, said he’s proud Richmond wants to rid itself of hateful symbols, but the division those symbols have caused continues to linger.
“I spoke to them because I wanted us to come understand that we have to coexist with each other,” said Curtis. “To me that flag, this statue, they’re all symbols of division, but there’s a lot of people out here who don’t understand that.”
Richmond’s desire to do away with symbols of its Confederate past began in June 2020, amid months-long protests following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Removing the Hill monument proved especially challenging, since the general’s remains were buried underneath the dirt mound at the intersection of Hermitage Road and Laburnum Avenue.
After receiving the go-ahead from a Richmond Circuit Court judge, city officials moved swiftly to remove the Hill statue and relocate the gravesite underneath.
Morticians from Bennett Funeral Home helped escort Hill’s remains as they were dug up. The container holding his remains was wrapped by a small quilt and the Virginia flag before being ushered away.
Tuesday marks the third time the general’s body has been moved since his death in 1865 at the hands of a Union soldier in Petersburg.
The general was initially buried in a cemetery in Chesterfield County and later moved to a plot in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Hill’s remains were moved yet again in 1891 to Laburnum and Hermitage. When workers removed Hill’s body from Hollywood Cemetery, the wooden-oak coffin had fallen to pieces, according to an account in the Richmond Dispatch newspaper from the unveiling of his bronze statue in 1892.
Paul DiPasquale, a local sculptor, watched Tuesday as workers uncovered the skull, small bones and old cloth buried beneath molded stone under the monument.
“There was a statement that Hill was buried standing up, but as it turns out that wasn’t the case,” DiPasquale said.
While the statue will be moved to an undisclosed location with 11 other city-owned monuments, Hill’s remains were being moved to a gravesite in Culpeper, purchased by the City of Richmond for $1,000.
Eventually the monuments will be donated to the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, according to city officials.
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Crews prepare a body bag before removing remains thought to be of A.P. Hill from the ground where his statue stood at the intersection of W. Laburnum and Hermitage roads in Richmond, VA on December 13, 2022.
Devin Curtis (left) confronts a man wearing a vest from the Sons of Confederate Veterans Mechanized Cavalry regarding the confederate flags displayed on his vest as crews remove remains thought to be of A.P. Hill from the site where his statue stood at the intersection of W. Laburnum and Hermitage roads in Richmond, VA on December 13, 2022.
John Hill looks over toward protesters as he assists crews in removing remains thought to be of his ancestor, A.P. Hill, from the ground where his statue stood at the intersection of W. Laburnum and Hermitage roads in Richmond, VA on December 13, 2022.