Posted by: The staff | November 14, 2012

A Little Mystery Solved–the Jackson Rock, and a Little Commercial Crassness


From John Hennessy:

Note:  Donald Pfanz’s new book is out: The Letters of Richard Ewell.

Note 2:  see the bottom of this post for a nifty little update. 

Photo by Donald Pfanz

The last few weeks have been busy ones, leaving little time for mysteries or conundrums in the wash of preps for the Fredericksburg 150th.  But it’s also been uncommonly productive of new things coming in or being learned, including several new images we’ll share soon.

One of the enduring little mysteries that has lingered for decades revolves around what’s known as the “Jackson Rock” at Chancellorsville. Is it the oldest “monument” in the park? When was it placed? Don Pfanz’s extensive and invaluable work on the park’s monuments, never published, could not answer those questions. (Here is his entry on the Jackson Rock, written before the date of the rock could be confirmed.)

Last month I came across a short article in the September 29, 1879 issue of the Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago) that at least answered one of those questions. The piece, with a dateline of “Fredericksburg, Va. Sept. 23″ noted:

Yesterday a large boulder of white quartz rock, from near the Wilderness, was placed to mark the spot where Stonewall Jackson received his death wound. A simple inscription will be put on the stone. The Rev B.F. Lacy, of Missouri, Jackson’s chaplain, originated the project.

Date solved: September 22, 1879. The promised inscription never materialized. Instead, an association of Confederate veterans formed to erect a more elaborate, suitable memorial to Jackson’s wounding. It’s easy to speculate that the ex-Confederates were spurred in their commemorative initiative by the impending placement (by Yankees) of a monument marking the death of Union  general John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania.

In the face of that, Jackson surely needed something more dignified than an unhewn,  blank rock. And so in June 1888, more than 5,000 spectators gathered to dedicate a new memorial, and the Jackson Rock became a footnote, its memorial-esque origins rarely understood and its presence often overlooked. So it remains, though the stone sits just a few dozen yards south of the Chancellorsville Visitor Center.

In the nearly nine years of the rock’s heyday as the sole marker at (or near) the site of Jackson’s wounding, the stone apparently gained some fame. I came across an 1881 article reprinted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (August 12) by a veteran recounting a visit to Chancellorsville. You can read the entire article here. The veteran had some interesting things to say about the Jackson Rock and its environs.

…Moving in the midst of timber for somewhere near a half mile [from the Chancellor house site] we come too a big stone planted steadfastly by the roadside….I learned that this was the spot where the bleeding warrior fell from his horse in the very hour of his crowing triumph. The stone is a rough block of white flint, quarried here in the Wilderness. It stands three feet eight inches high and is two feet ten inches in breath [sic]. Its surface shows dents and scars whereupon loving pilgrims have scaled bits of it as relics, and all around are smaller pieces of hard rock that have been used as hammers with which to crack it. Immediately around the stone the ground is in small undergrowth, huckleberry bushes, chinkapins and the like….Between the stone and the road is a red oak of such size that it must have sprung up thirty years ago. I noticed a dozen or more bullet holes in this oak….

The silent woods are around. The stone is as still as though the bones of a man of fame were beneath. Squirrels skip over it. Bucks and does rub lazily against it…. But even here in the Wilderness romance may be spoiled. Nailed against the red oak is a broad board with the sign:

Thus within hand’s reach of Stonewall’s stone trade leaves its mark and enterprising dealers reap profit from the glances of the reverential passers by. In this way sentiment is lost….

It’s worth noting that even in 1881, this visitor and his guide, “Cato,” understood that the stone did not mark the location of Jackson’s wounding, but rather it’s closer to the spot where he came off his horse. Most modern scholarship supports this.  Jackson was in likely wounded about eighty yards to the northeast, along the Mountain Road.

The rock is visible at left, along the Orange Plank Road sometime after 1888.

The Jackson Rock is unique as a monument in the park in that it bears no expression and has no intrinsic connection to anything historic. Instead, the stone, raw and unshaped still, assumes significance only because of the intentions of those who placed it there in 1879. Is it the oldest monument in the park? Probably. But today, few people pay it much mind, opting instead to cast their eyes on the nearby Jackson monument, carefully crafted (and bigger than John Sedgwick’s).

A post-script.  Our friend Pat Sullivan, who manages the wonderful blog, Spotsylvania Memory (in my view, the best blog of its kind, focused on the history of a particular family), has sent along a receipt from his family papers for a transaction with Willis and Grasty, dated 1882. We can’t help but wonder if Pat’s ancestor was inspired to buy by the sign hammered into the tree next to the Jackson Rock. Thanks to Pat for sending this wonderful item along.   

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Responses

  1. Great piece of detective work.

  2. Thanks for delving into this, John. I have always been curious about the rock’s back story.

  3. I think how fortunate the CW community is to have such dedicated professionals who apparently have such a love of their profession and a willingness to share with us neophytes…thank you and thank you…Frank Trent

    • Frank, thanks very much for your very kind words. John H.

  4. Very very cool!

  5. Great info about the rock. I look forward to seeing Don’s information about the monuments in the park.

  6. Family tradition says my great grandfather was involved with placing the stone, don’t have any dates though. His name was John T. Hawkins, his father was James Harvey Hawkins

    • For those of you not aware, the Hawkins family lived just down the road, and elsewhere in Northern Spotsylvania. The family still owns the farm, which stands in the heart of the land covered by Jackson’s flank attack on May 2, 1863. Thanks Debbie.

      • Thanks John, if Debbie or anyone else would like to have a copy of the Virginia Star article, call me tomorrow at the library, 372-1144,9am to 2pm and I will be glad to make copies and place them at the reference desk to be picked up at their convenience.
        I ,not the newspaper, hit the k button instead of the l in Chancellorsville.
        Barbara

    • The Fred. Virginia Star newspaper ( on microfilm located in Virginiana Room of the Central Regional Rappahannock Library) on Weds. Oct. 1st ran an article “Memorial Stone to Stonewall Jackson”. Quoting from the article,
      ” We take pleasure in stating the facts connected with the placing of a memorial stone to mark the spot where General T.J. Jackson fell on the battlefield of Chancekkorsville. A very remarkable quartz was taken up in the turnpike on the estate of Major J.Horace Lacy. His brother, Rev. B.T. Lacy, the former chaplain of General Jackson, being on a visit at Ellwood, Major Lacy with his ox team and farm hands aided by a carry-log and team, furnished by Messrs. Payne and Hawkins, attended by his brother and family, and Mr. Charles Payne, succeded in moving this immense stone, weighing about three tons, four miles from the Wildernness battle-field and placing it to mark the spot which will ever be sacred and dear to every lover of heroism and christian virtue the world over.”

      • For those of you not from Fredericksburg, Barbara Pratt Willis likely knows more about Fredericksburg history than anyone on earth. She works occasionally in the Virginiana Room at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Thanks very much, Barbara, for sharing this. John

  7. Hey John, any idea, specifically, where the rock originated, besides somewhere in Wilderness?

    • Gregg. See comment from Barbara Willis…. She’s got it.

  8. Is there any evidence the boulder was moved when the visitor center was built?

    • David. So far as we know, it was not moved. The road next to it dropped down about three feet, but the stone itself appears to be in its original location.

  9. wow…this is great stuff

  10. Please allow me to second Frank Trent’s comment. Bravo, park historians! And thank you. … Clint


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