On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville and we are already being subjected to a steady stream of interpretive flights of fancy surrounding the significance of Stonewall Jackson’s death.
Although it was not evident at the time, some historians believe Jackson’s death began the ruin of the Confederacy. The Southern disaster at Gettysburg two months later only confirmed the start of the eclipse. “The road to Appomattox [where the war ended] began on [that] Saturday night” at Chancellorsville, James I. Robertson Jr., Jackson’s best biographer, has said. “With his death, the southern confederacy began to die as well.”
“It was just a tragedy for the South,” Robertson said in an interview, “the greatest personal loss that the South suffered in that war . . . a horrible blow.” Civil War scholar Robert K. Krick said: “It’s hard to imagine the war going the way it did with Jackson present.”
I guess it should come as no surprise that Robertson and Krick are leading the way. Upcoming editorials will likely wax poetic about Jackson’s flank attack on May 2 and his final hours at Guinea Station and ignore or run rough shod over the fighting that took place the following day, which was significantly more important. We do love our stories.
Note: It looks like I did a poor job of reading Eric’s post. For some reason I was under the impression that there were plans to build a new VC. That said, I have heard talk about the possibility of a new location so let’s proceed with that in mind.
The new group blog, Mysteries and Conundrums, authored by NPS historians at Fredericksburg has quickly become my favorite Civil War site. John Hennessy and the gang have done a fantastic job of sharing the challenges associated with interpreting and preserving some of our most important Civil War ground. I particularly enjoyed reading Hennessy’s last post in which he asks readers to consider a name change to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine. Many of the responses reflect deeply held views, but I commend Hennessy for his continued commitment to asking the tough questions.
Eric Mink’s latest post provides some interesting background information on the Chancellorsville Visitor Center; it looks like his next post will let us in on the decision-making process that went into the decision on the location of a new visitor center. [Update: Just as this was published Eric Mink posted his second installment.] I’ve brought students to Chancellorsville for the past 8 years and since I am pretty familiar with the battlefield I thought I would take a shot at suggesting a new location. The best place for a new visitor center would be on ground that covers the fighting that took place on May 3, 1863.
I’ve been bringing students to Chancellorsville for the past eight years and so I am fairly familiar with the ground and have thought quite a bit about how to approach a battlefield tour. We spend about 5-6 hours touring various sites, beginning at the present VC and proceeding to the Zoan Church, Chancellor House, and the final meeting spot between Lee and Jackson. From there we walk a bit of the original road that Jackson used for his flank march and discuss tactics and the difficulties associated with fighting in the Wilderness. We stop at the Flank March spot to discuss ethnicity and the Union 11th Corps along with the effects of Jackson’s attack. From there we drive back where I do a play-by-play of the events that led to Jackson’s wounding; it’s a narrative that closely follows Bob Krick’s brilliant analysis of this important moment in the battle. Finally, we make our way over the Fairview where we eat our lunch and discuss the events of May 3. While there we discuss Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, which helps us to get at issues related to soldier life.