The dawn of a legend: “There stands Jackson like a stone wall…”
When the National Park Service accepted the battlefield property from the Manassas Battlefield Confederate Park, Inc., and the Sons of Confederate Veterans in March of 1938, a provision on the land grant stipulated that the Commonwealth of Virginia would be given permission to erect a monument on the battlefield in honor of Stonewall Jackson.
Artists across America submitted some eighty plaster models to a competition sponsored by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The winning statue, the one eventually cast in bronze and dedicated on the battlefield on August 31, 1940, is the work of New York sculptor Joseph Pollia.
The Park Service, in its inventory of Manassas’s park monuments, officially describes Pollia’s statue thus: “Bronze equestrian sculpture of horse and rider mounted on a polished black granite pedestal (concrete core).”
“Since school days the name of ‘Stonewall’ Jackson has carried an idea to me of all the good, strong work the man did,” Pollia told a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1939. “I wanted to make my model show that was unmovable, a type of character that stood still and had force, solid force.”
The description fails to include anything about the statue’s mystique, though, even though the “Stonewall mystique” was a major source of inspiration for the sculptor.
The description also fails to include anything about the statue’s physique, although Park Service personnel typically describe it as “Stonewall on steroids.”
“It perfectly embodies Virginians’ image of Jackson,” one former colleague once said, “and the degree to which they have transformed him from mortal to god.”