Dinosaurs, Leprechans, Gargoyles and Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall JacksonA new fiberglass statue to Stonewall Jackson has recently been added to Lexington, Virginia’s commemorative landscape.  The sculpture by local artist, Mark Cline, is situated on private property just north of Lexington on Rt. 11.  Cline is best known for his fiberglass sculptures of fantasy creatures and dinosaurs that adorn parks across the country.  Among his best known work is a life sized reproduction of Stonehenge made out of Styrofoam. Some of you might be aware of Escape From Dinosaur Kingdom, which is located at Natural Bridge in the Shenandoah Valley and depicts dinosaurs attacking Yankee soldiers.

It is fitting that Cline was given this commission given the larger than life world that Jackson occupies in our collective imagination. I absolutely love it. It’s playful, but somehow still respectful of Jackson.  Unfortunately, I can’t locate a photograph that does justice to it. [see here and here]  Hopefully, we will have access to some better quality photos soon.  Kudos to the SCV chapter in Lexington for their aesthetic judgment.

Oh, For the Presence of Stonewall Jackson

stonewall jackson

Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death.  What follows is a short essay I originally intended for my column at the Atlantic.  Unfortunately, my regular editor is out on maternity leave and there was no way to get it posted in time.  No big deal.  Here it is for your consideration.

The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battle of Chancellorsville (May 1-3, 1863) last week means but one thing: Next stop, Gettysburg!  But before Civil War enthusiasts can shift their attention to what is still commonly referred to as the “High Water Mark” of the Confederacy there is one loose narrative thread from the Chancellorsville campaign that needs to be brought to a conclusion.  Eight days following his accidental wounding at the hands of his own troops in the early evening hours of May 2 General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson died.  News of his death sent the Confederacy into national mourning and for some it raised profound questions about its future and whether God had forsaken their cause.  Jackson’s death left Robert E. Lee without one of his most talented and trusted subordinates.  His final days in battle and on his deathbed have never really diminished in our popular memory of the war.  Continue reading “Oh, For the Presence of Stonewall Jackson”

Let’s Recross that River and Return to Chancellorsville

antietam

Today is the anniversary of one of the bloodiest days of fighting of the entire Civil War.  Those of you who visit Chancellorsville today will enjoy an insightful tour and interpretation of the final day’s fighting at Chancellorsville that took place in the area around the clearing between Hazel Grove, Fairview, and the Chancellor House.  The overwhelming majority of the roughly 30,000 casualties suffered that day between the two armies took place in this area on May 3, 1863.  While Stonewall Jackson’s daring flanking maneuver and its successful assault, which resulted in the collapse of the Eleventh Corps, damaged the Army of the Potomac the day ended with the two wings of Lee’s army split off from one another and facing much larger enemy forces in their respective fronts.  A Federal counterattack was still possible and Lee knew it.  Throughout the morning of May 3, Lee’s army fought to reunite its two dangerously divided wings.

Interestingly, many visitors to Chancellorsville never walk the May 3 ground or if they do they fail to appreciate its significance.  For many, a visit to Chancellorsville begins and ends at the visitors center, whose location reinforces a Jackson-centered narrative that highlights his flanking maneuver, assault, and accidental wounding on the very same ground.  You can replay the series of events that led to Jackson’s wounding at the hands of his own men and imagine to your hearts content those counterfactual scenarios that keep the general alive at least through the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg.  Continue reading “Let’s Recross that River and Return to Chancellorsville”

But For Jackson

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.

Stonewall Jackson’s Black Friend

Update: Richard Williams has decided to respond to this post on his blog. What I find interesting is that he has nothing to say about the content of the post. Instead he takes issue with one of my comments about my characterization of his understanding of the influence of Nat Turner’s Rebellion on race/slavery and religion in Virginia.  Williams declares that many academics are “cynical” about attempts on the part of slaveholders to teach the gospel yet he provides not a single reference.  It is unclear as to why this should matter to begin with. Their attitude is irrelevant.  What matters is the interpretation.  A quick perusal of the bibliography points to an over reliance on relatively few secondary sources, which is why I take issue with his analysis of religion in a slaveholding society.  There simply isn’t much to work with.  I will leave it to you to judge.

Jim Lewis and Jackson in "Gods and Generals".
Jim Lewis and Jackson in “Gods and Generals”.

My recent essay on Confederate camp servants in The Civil War Monitor opens with a reference to an account in Edward Porter Alexander’s Fighting for the Confederacy.  In it he discusses the purchase of a camp servant named Charley and a horse.  Interestingly, Alexander refers to both as an “appendage”.  That reference, I believe, tells us a great deal about race relations in the South as well as the value of enslaved blacks to the Confederate war effort and individual officers who utilized personal servants.  Continue reading “Stonewall Jackson’s Black Friend”