Thursday, May 12, 2016

Flashback Thursday: Visiting the Stonewall Jackson Shrine

We were on the road having left Fredericksburg
heading to our next stop in Richmond, when I saw the sign for the Stonewall Jackson Shrine. How could I pass that up? I had no idea what it was, but a shrine to a general had to be worth a detour. It actually is quite a detour, maybe 4 or 5 miles of back roads from where I saw the sign on.

We pulled up the long driveway and stopped to read the signs that were posted around the roundabout. I hadn’t really been aware of what an important stop this would turn out to be. The Stonewall Jackson Shrine is the farmhouse where the famous Confederate General died. It is owned by the National Park Service, which I always love because it keeps things more natural.

A graduate of West Point, Thomas Jackson was teaching at the Virginia Military Institute at the beginning of the Civil War. He was made a brigadier general after the first battle at Manassas. It was here that he earned his nickname when General Bee declared, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall.”

His prowess as a general made his fame grow to mythic proportion on both sides. He was loved and feared in equal parts by his men and his enemies. It was one of those horrible turns of fate that saw him be shot by friendly fire on May 2, 1863, at the Battle of Chancellorville. It was as it turned out a major turning point in the war. Hearing of his wound Robert E  Lee stated  "He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm." 

It was not a fatal wound, and he was taken from the battlefield to a safe place to recuperate. His left arm had to be amputated and his severed limb was taken to be buried at the family cemetery of his chaplain, B. Tucker Lacy. Ultimately, it was pneumonia that took his life.

He had been taken to Guinea Station, and the farmhouse where he died was part of Thomas Chandler's plantation. It was an office building that had been used as a doctor's office by one of the sons of the house. This building was chosen over the main house because it was private and quiet and he would be able to rest after the long, hard ambulance ride. It is hard to even imagine today what a horror that ride must have been. His left arm had been amputated at the battlefield hospital, and it was 27 miles in a wagon over rutty dirt roads to the house. That alone would have killed a normal man. He survived for six excruciating days.

About 45 percent of the interior of the house is original. It is very poignant to see the bed and the original blanket that covered the general. His wife, Mary Anna, and his baby daughter, Julia, arrived to on May 7th. The tiny house must have been bursting at the seems with the doctor, the staff, and the family. There are only four or five rooms on the two floors, but still, this is one of the most emotional places we visited on this trip. He was an amazing man and his death was a death blow to the Confederacy. He was also a highly religious man whose last words reflect the duality of his personality.

"A few moments before he died, he cried out in his delirium, 'Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks'—then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, 'Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.'"

Later in our trip, we visited the house he and his wife shared in Lexington while he was a teacher. I wish I had known more about him and his life before I visited the place he died.


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