Keeping the memory of Lee’s Forgotten General alive
by markus schmidt (staff writer)
April 2, 2010
PETERSBURG – At noon today, a man who strikingly resembles Ambrose Powell Hill will ride along the same site on the Petersburg Battlefield where the Confederate general was mortally wounded 145 years ago today.
For the 11th consecutive year, the man in the red shirt and confederate uniform will hold a special memorial ceremony, remembering Hill, who is often called "Lee’s forgotten General" by his admirers.
But who is the man behind the thick brown beard, with the long, wavy hair, who portrays Hill every year on the anniversary of his death?
It is actor Patrick Falci, a New York native with an unmatched passion for the Confederate hero who died in action at age 39, only seven days away from the end of the gruesome Civil War.
To many history buffs, Falci is known for playing Hill in the 1992 Hollywood epic movie "Gettysburg," in which he walked with the same dignity and pace as he does every year on the Petersburg Battlefield since the year 2000.
Falci, 57, admits that it’s rather strange that a Yankee from Queens would find a lifelong fascination with a "rebel" general. "I think that romance has a lot to do with it," Falci said, laughing.
When he was 8 years old, his parents gave him a copy of the "American Heritage Golden Book" about the Civil War. But instead of admiring Union generals like Ulysses Grant or William Tecumseh Sherman, Falci was immediately drawn to Southern heroes like Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
"My parents didn’t have a problem with my love for Confederate generals," Falci said. "They always told me to do what’s in my heart."
At age 10, Falci visited the Gettysburg Battlefield. "I grew up around the centennial of the War between the States, and this was the first time I’d been to a real battlefield," he said. "It was fascinating."
Back home, Falci continued to read, read, read. When other children of his age went out to play baseball or, later, took girls to the movies, Falci traveled back in time, re-living the glorious battles of the Civil War.
And two of the great Confederate heroes – Lee and Jackon – shared a special connection with the little known lieutenant general from Culpeper, Va.
"Right before Jackson died in 1863, he called for A.P. Hill to prepare for action," Falci said. Lee is also said to have uttered similar words on his deathbed – "Tell Hill he must come up," Lee allegedly said.
To Falci, that was more than enough reason to find out more about A.P. Hill. "He was a very proactive soldier," Falci said. "He didn’t own slaves, his parents were merchants. He didn’t support slavery, but he decided to fight for Virginia because it was his home," he said.
Falci enjoys telling the story about the little ham bone that Hill’s mother had given him before he went off to West Point when he was just 16. "He kept his ham bone with him all his life, so I got myself a little ham bone myself that I carry with me," Falci said. "That is my special connection to him."
Falci became a Civil War re-enactor in 1979, but he did not get to portray Hill until he met director and screenwriter Ron Maxwell. "We met in 1988 in Gettysburg," Falci said. "We both lived in New York, and we immediately connected because of our mutual interest in the War Between the States," Falci said.
In the early 1990s, Maxwell began preparing his epic movie "Gettysburg," and Falci became his adviser. "We spent many nights at his apartment, working on the screenplay, and we made many trips to the original battlefield together," he said.
At one of those trips, Falci, who had grown a long beard to look more like Hill, finally asked the director for the role. "I knew that the major roles like Lee and Jackson would be played by more famous actors," Falci said. "But I wanted to play Hill."
At first, Maxwell didn’t give him an answer. But Falci kept pushing him. "Later that day, he got in the car and gave me a shirt with Hill’s face on it," Falci said. "That’s when I knew I had the job. I must have been a real pain."
"Gettysburg" opened more doors for Falci’s acting career. After the movie’s release, Tom Berenger, who played Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, got Falci a role in "Rough Rider," for which he had to shave off his beard and cut his long hair. "Many people don’t know that I’m in that movie, because they don’t recognize me," Falci said.
After "Rough Rider," Falci grew the hair and beard back out and started portraying Hill at numerous re-enactments in the country. "Lee’s forgotten general" had become his mission. Today, he is a lifetime member of the Civil War Preservation Trust, because he had helped to raise funds for Hill’s 13th Virginia regimental flag. Falci was also president of the Civil War Round Table of New York, and he is an honorary member of the Virginia Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Today, Falci will lay a wreath at Hill’s monument at Laburnum Avenue and Heritage Road in Richmond. Then he be at the ceremony on the site of Hill’s death. "There is something very special to being here, at the very place where he paid the ultimate price," Falci said.
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