Shaping Chancellorsville: The first reenactment and ‘The Last Meeting’

part five in a series

The director of the CCC gets an orientation from a park historian at the new Chancellorsville contact station
The director of the CCC gets an orientation from a park historian at the new Chancellorsville contact station

In 1933, administration of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park was turned over to the National Park Service, and shortly thereafter, the NPS invited the Civilian Conservation Corps to come in to the park to do restoration and preservation work. Among their projects at Chancellorsville, they installed a visitor contact station near the Jackson Monument. It was a mutually supportive arrangement for both monument and contact station.

Consider the implications on the overall story of the battlefield: the one place on the battlefield important enough to place a park ranger, the one place on the battlefield that already drew the most visitors, was the Jackson Monument. It is a key example of the way the “martyrdom of Jackson” storyline drove the development of the battlefield and would have implications down the road.

In 1935, the NPS hosted a re-enactment of the Battle of Chancellorsville. The brochure for the event featured a sketch of Lee and Jackson based off Everett Julio’s 1869 painting The Last Meeting. Inside, the map situated the Chancellorsville intersection neatly in the middle of the overall battlefield, which depicts a bucolic park-like setting.


Over two days, events included an opening ceremony at the Bivouac Site, a “narrative address” by Robert E. Lee biographer Douglas Southall Freeman, a recreation of Jackson’s Flank March, a program at the Chancellorsville intersection, a re-enactment of the battle that focused on the assaults by the Stonewall Brigade, and a machine-gun demonstration at Fairview by the 3rd U.S. cavalry, present because it had served as the cavalry for the re-enactment. The bulk of the programming, then, had a heavy Confederate bias, with particular emphasis on Jackson-related events.

Freeman, Douglas.3156Freeman’s participation, in particular, meant a very specific kind of interpretation. Freeman, who had a “veneration for the Confederate cause,” helped develop the park’s earliest interpretive materials.[1] “Freeman devoted his career to perpetuating Lost Cause tradition…” Zenzen notes.[2]

It’s no wonder the Lost Cause was “hymned and mourned” during the re-enactment ceremonies—so said the local newspaper—and that the Stars and Bars of the Confederate flag “waved proudly.”[3] American flags flew, too, and the presence of both suggests a strong tip of the hat to the Reconciliation memory. As Gallagher has suggested, though, the Reconciliation memory, to an extent, played into the Lost Cause memory, which is built on the notion of Confederate valor and, therefore, given de-facto validation by any paeans to mutual valor—as flags-a-flying on equal par demonstrate.

The battle summary in the re-enactment program, too, emphasized a Lost Cause memory by focusing on events related to the “Lee’s greatest victory” narrative. The program devoted its largest paragraph, 177 words long, to the planning and execution of the Flank March. In contrast, the bloody fighting of May 3 and the collapse of the Federal position got only 41 words. Even Salem Church, which usually gets overlooked in summaries of the battle, gets more coverage—59 words—than the May 3 fighting around the Chancellorsville intersection. Virtually ignored was the fighting on May 1.

The Flank March was of particular importance. The park began work that year acquiring the necessary land to recreate the route of the march. The cadet corps of the Virginia Military Institute, where Stonewall Jackson taught prior to the war, re-traced the route of Jackson’s corps as part of the re-enactment festivities, calling attention to the land acquisition project. “It is a feature of the park for serious visitors,” Happel later noted.[4] Final work on the road would not wrap up until 1942. “The opportunity to recreate the mood of the battle period adds much to the student’s education and enjoyment,” Happel said.[5]

The re-enactment also represented a greater rise to prominence for the Lee-Jackson Bivouac Site. On the initial park map, the site, located at the intersection of the Orange Plank Road and McLaws Drive/Furnace Road, did not merit its own label. But when the park published its map for the 1935 re-enactment, the site did get identified. Whether that’s because the first event of the re-enactment—Freeman’s speech—took place there, thus giving it extra prominence, or whether Freeman’s speech took place there because it had been identified as a prominent spot, it’s unclear to tell by records. The regular park brochure published around that time also labels the site, and it makes specific mention of “a campfire conference on the night might of May 1, the last between Lee and Jackson.”[6]

Lee-Jackson Bivouac.988The Bivouac Site holds a particularly important place in Lost Cause mythology because of the iconic image of Lee and Jackson seated by the campfire for their so-called Crackerbox Meeting on the evening of May 1. The image ties in with both the “greatest victory” and “martyrdom of Jackson” motifs. Furthermore, the intersection is the location of the final meeting between Lee and Jackson the following morning. That, too, has become a key moment in Lost Cause iconography, thanks in particular to Julio’s highly symbolic The Last Meeting.

BivouacMarkers-smIn 1937, on October 23, to commemorate the park’s tenth anniversary, FSNMP opened its new visitor center and museum in Fredericksburg; at Chancellorsville, park employees planted a pair of cedar trees to “commemorate the last conference of Lee and Jackson,” according to the bronze plaque installed between the cedars. The trees and plaque joined a granite-block marker installed at the plot by James Power Smith in 1903. “Lee-Jackson Bivouac Site,” the marker reads. It’s one of ten such markers Smith installed to commemorate key events (from the Confederate perspective) on the area’s battlefields.[7]

Following the tree-planting, staff members and dignitaries, including the acting Secretary of the Interior, Charles West, followed the route of Jackson’s ambulance from the Wilderness field hospital where his left arm had been amputated to the former Confederate rail depot some twenty-seven miles away in Guinea Station and the small office building-turned-makeshift hospital where Jackson died. The building had since been preserved by Jackson admirers and operated as a tourist attraction, called The Jackson Shrine. The ladies memorial organization that owned the Shrine donated it to the NPS, which took possession as part of the anniversary festivities.[8]

The tandem of events at Chancellorsville and Guinea Station represented continued codification of the “martyrdom of Jackson” memory onto the park landscape even as the landscape determined what memories were being codified.

Julio-smHowever, the Park Service has not always exploited the events of the Bivouac Site for their iconic power as attention grabbers. For instance, a park booklet covering all four battlefields, published in 1951, featured a version of the Julio painting on the cover, but beyond that, Lost Cause evocations in the publication was almost nonexistent. Although the Battle of Chancellorsville gets its own section, the straightforward narrative is situated within the context of a narrative that covers all four battlefields in the park. As such, the account does not have to stand alone and, therefore, doesn’t need a narrative hook (a function the memory motifs serve particularly well). The narrative mentions that “Jackson was mortally wounded by the mistaken fire of his own men,” and the second-to-last paragraph mentions the death of “the irreplaceable Jackson,” but that’s as close as it gets to the “martyrdom of Jackson” motif, and the neutral language throughout completely steers clear of any “Lee’s greatest victory” references. It does conclude by saying “The campaign ended with Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg on July 1-3,” an explicit use of the Gettysburg motif.[9]

C-villeSealPerhaps the brochure represents the exception that proves the rule, though. For most of its history, FSNMP has employed the Bivouac Site’s iconic power as an effective attention-grabber. In the mid-50s when FSNMP developed its first driving tour, it adopted logo-like seals for each of its four battlefields; for Chancellorsville, park administration chose to depict the Crackerbox Meeting. The seals appeared on aluminum roadside markers that offered narrative details about the battle (the battlefield’s aluminum maps and identification and place markers were installed at that same time). The seals eventually made their way onto park merchandise, as well.

Both iconic moments—the Crackerbox Meeting and the Last Meeting—are depicted at the Bivouac Site today on wayside signs.


This raises an important consideration, though: As key players in the drama, it’s impossible to talk about Chancellorsville without talking about Lee and Jackson, but because the Lost Cause memory has so completed co-opted these events, at what point can they be “merely” narrative events and at what point do they serve the particular political agenda of a specific memory? Do they carry too much “luggage”? Can they be recognized as important events in their own right in the larger narrative of the battle? How much emphasis is too much? How much is enough?

I’ll revisit these questions later in the series….

[1] Zenzen, 86.

[2] Ibid, 98.

[3] As quoted by Zenzen, 88.

[4] Happel, 58.

[5] Ibid, 68.

[6] NPS brochure, circa 1935. FSNMP collection. The brochure features a sketch of “remains of infantry trenches” at Fredericksburg, and it identifies NPS Director Arno Cammerer and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. Based on the tenure of service of those two men, both of whom began their respective jobs in 1933, and Cammerer’s retirement in 1940, the brochure date can be narrowed down.

[7] Smith’s other markers: In Fredericksburg, at Prospect Hill, marking “Jackson on the field”; the location of Lee’s HQ during the battle on modern Lee Hill and his HQ during the subsequent winter along Mine Road; the location of Pelham’s artillery assault south of the modern Slaughter Pen Farm. Another marker remembers the Battle of Salem Church. In the Wilderness, a marker sits in Widow Tapp Field marking the so-called “Lee to the Rear” incident. One sits at Spotsylvania, in the village by the courthouse, to mark Lee’s presence in the area during the two-week battle. One marker sits in the cemetery at Ellwood, marking the burial location of Jackson’s amputated left arm. The last one sits at the Jackson Shrine.

[8] The story of the Shrine gets extensive treatment in the last few chapters of my book The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson, co-authored with Kris White. I leave it out of the discussion here because of its geographical separation from the battlefield and because, as a symbol of Jackson’s martyrdom, it seems obvious.

[9] NPS brochure, 1951. reprint 1954.

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