In early 1887, as fans of Union General John Sedgwick prepared to raise a monument to him at the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield, local residents got to wondering about erecting a monument of their own to a fallen Southern general. Of course, the natural candidate was Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, mortally wounded during the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.
A monument of sorts already stood in the vicinity of Jackson’s wounding: a quartz boulder the size of a rectangular wrecking ball. Members of Jackson’s staff had placed the boulder next to the Orange Plank Road so passers-by would be able to take easy note.
But the committee of citizens, who eventually became the Stonewall Jackson Monument Association, wanted something more formal for the martyred hero of the Confederacy.
Under the helm of former Jackson staff officer James Power Smith—who had since become a Presbyterian minister in Fredericksburg—the committee began plans for a memorial column that would be placed near the quartz bolder. Local landowner William N. Wyeth donated 1.5 acres of land just a few yards away and also along the Orange Plank Road.
The exact origins of the Jackson Rock, as it’s now called, have been lost. The ersatz monument dates back to at least 1883 and perhaps as far back as 1876. If the earlier date holds true, that would make the Jackson Rock the oldest monument on any of the Fredericksburg area’s four battlefields. It was placed on the field by Jackson’s pastor, Beverly Tucker Lacy, and Lacy’s brother, James Horace Lacy, owner of the nearby Ellwood plantation—which is where the quartz bolder was quarried from.
The Jackson monument, however, has a well-documented origin. On June 13, 1888, some five thousand spectators turned out for the dedication, including Governor Fitzhugh Lee. “The idea of the monument originated on a local level, but enthusiasm for the project spread state-wide before its completion,” explained historian Eric J. Mink in the 2006 issue of Fredericksburg History & Biography. (Mink’s essay provides an excellent account of the dedication ceremony and more background about the monument’s construction.)
The monument inaccurately claims to mark the exact spot of Jackson’s wounding: “On this spot fell mortally wounded Thomas J. Jackson, Lt. Gen. C.S.A.” It’s not the only iffy thing about the monument’s text. Jackson’s final words have been immortalized as “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees,” but the monument offers a slightly different translation: “Let us pass over the river and rest under the shade of the trees” (emphasis added). The monument also offers another famous Jackson-related quote, this one by Bernard Bee: “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall.” (The Jackson monument at Manassas says “There stands Jackson like a stone wall.”)
When the National Park Service eventually took possession of the monuments and the property it stands on, it enhanced the grounds with one of the most unique memorials to ever appear on the area’s battlefields: the Jackson Memorial Wild Flower Preserve. The two-acre wildflower garden contained some 175 varieties of native flowers, with a trail winding through them and a bridge that crossed small wetlands.
According to the administrative history of Fredericksburg Spotsylvania National Military Park, written by historian Joan Zenzen, Superintendent Branch Spaulding considered the flowers
“silent witnesses” to the “unintentional blow which felled a mighty warrior” whom Spaulding compared to Beowulf. There flowers, “beautiful in sentiment and substance” possibly served as a more fitting memorial than a bronze or granite monument because they were “to the taste of the dimple and devout figure” they commemorated. Spaulding saw the wildflower preserve as an interpretive device, but he also seems to have had a soft spot for Jackson.
Perhaps the least recognized but perhaps most impactful monument to Jackson is the Chancellorsville Visitor Center (CVC) itself. Built in 1963 for the Centennial as part of the National Park Service’s “Mission 66” initiative to update facilities and visitor services across the country, CVC stands as a monument to Jackson because one of the central philosophies of the initiative was to place visitor centers as close to key events as possible. (See the Manassas Visitor Center on Henry House Hill as another example.)
As with previous monuments, the road played a major role in CVC’s placement. “Route 3 was a well-traveled major state highway, and the Jackson Monument had long been a drawing card for visitors,” Zenzen wrote in the park’s administrative history. Park historians argued that “from the point of view of . . . strong visitor interest, the visitor center should stand near the Jackson wounding site,” which was “the dramatic point which people want to see and walk around.” (For more on CVC’s location as it relates to the Stonewall Jackson story, see my April 29, 2013 blog post “Shaping Chancellorsville: CVC.”)
Jackson’s wounding has captured the Civil War public’s imagination for more the 150 years. The marks of that attention remain on the landscape.