Today I received a student scholarship application from our local Lee-Jackson Educational Foundation. They run an annual essay contest and award three $1,000 scholarships as well as an $8,000 award to the public school, private school, or homeschooled student who authors the essay that is judged to be the best in the state. There is much that I like about the contest. On the one hand the judges seek essays that are “well-written and thoroughly researched” and offer a “rigorous defense of a well-reasoned thesis.” They even make it a point to advise students that it is permissible to criticize Lee and Jackson. Perceptive students may inquire as to why such a point needs to be made at all. Although the contest allows students the widest latitude in formulating a topic and thesis, the foundation does offer some suggestions:
General Lee’s or General Jackson’s heritage and their lives at war and at peace.
Lee’s Christian fervor or Jackson’s religious passion
Jackson’s enigmatic personality or Lee’s dedication to gentlemanly virtues
Lee as President of Washington College or possible changes in the course of the Civil War had Jackson not died so early.
There is a slight bit of tension between the insistence that students think broadly about the topic and feel free to “criticize” and the suggested subjects listed above. They are more than suggested topics; rather, they include a number of implicit assumptions that are deeply rooted in our collective memory of these two individuals.
Just returned from an overnight trip with Michaela to Fredericksburg, where we dined with very good friends, who I consider to be the town’s power couple in the local history profession. On our way back we stopped at Elliewood to check out the improvements to the house. Michaela caught me digging up…umm…I mean tending to the ground around the spot that supposedly contains Jackson’s arm. All kidding aside, check out John Hennessy’s two-part post [Part 1 and Part 2] on the history of this particular site. The final installment may include the final word as to whether the arm is actually there.
I also recommend checking out the view from Hazel Grove to the Chancellor House. The NPS has recently cut the trees around Fairview, which offers visitors a much better view of what the battlefield would have looked like in 1863. That area offers the best opportunity to interpret the battle in a way that moves beyond the traditional climax of the story which is centered on Jackson’s wounding. I also noticed that the trees around Salem Church have been cut down along Rt. 3.
This is one of my all-time favorite Western fight scenes. You just gotta love Jack Palance as “Jack Wilson” in the movie, Shane (1953). I know this is no way to mark the day that Stonewall Jackson died on May 10, 1863, but you can just attribute it to the fact that I am a “low down lying Yankee.”
I thought we all deserved a little inspiration at the end of this long week. We should all approach our lives as counterfactual and gain solace in knowing that the world may be much better off had we been accidentally struck down by accident. The message that I took away from this is that had Jackson lived and Lee won at Gettysburg the Confederacy may have succeeded in gaining its independence. In that case slavery would have continued. Jackson’s death clearly served God’s plan: “All is well.” Is that about right?