The trail and tale of Stonewall Jackson’s arm–Part 1: burying and re-burying

From Hennessy and Mink (click for part 2 and part 3):

Few body parts in history have received as much attention or inquiry as Stonewall Jackson’s arm (a Google search on “Stonewall Jackson’s arm” returns 43,000 listings). The arm, buried in the Jones-Lacy family cemetery at Ellwood, has for decades been the object of theories and rumors–some of them curious, like one several years ago that claimed the NPS had secretly disinterred Jackson’s arm and put it into museum storage (the NPS did not). When confronted with that theory, we were inspired to take a hard look at exactly what we do know about Stonewall Jackson’s arm. We’ll share the results of that work here in a three-part post. The first will convey what we know about the arm and its meanderings during the Civil War; the second will untangle what we know about it since 1865, including a purported effort to dig it up in 1921 and the 1998 archeology at the site intended to locate the burial so it could be protected.

Jackson was wounded on the evening of May 2, 1863, along the Mountain Road, near the modern Chancellorsville Visitor Center (see Eric Mink’s very interesting series of posts about the location of that visitor center here). Put in an ambulance, he was transported back almost exactly 4 miles to a tented field hospital near Wilderness Tavern, along the Orange Turnpike (modern Route 3). There, famously, Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire amputated Jackson’s left arm. The arm, according to Jackson’s chaplain Beverly Tucker Lacy, was “wrapped” and laid beside the doorway to the tent. The next morning Lacy found it there.

The environs of Ellwood and Wilderness Tavern. Field hospital site at upper right, Jones-Lacy cemetery at lower left. The intersection of Routes 20 and 3 is just off the top edge of the image.

Determined that the arm should have a proper burial, Lacy had access to a convenient spot.  Rev. Lacy’s brother, J. Horace Lacy, owned nearby Ellwood, and so the reverend decided to take the arm there and bury it in the family cemetery. We know nothing of any ceremony that might have attended this, and he does not tell us where in the cemetery he buried it. We only know that he did. At about the same time, two other Confederate officers killed at Chancellorsville were buried in the Jones-Lacy Cemetery– Captain James Keith Boswell, killed in the same volley that caused Jackson’s mortal wound, and Major Joshua Stover of the 10th Virginia.

The Jones-Lacy cemetery today

We have found no reference to the arm again until the following spring, when the Union army marched into the Wilderness. From the May 6 diary entry of Colonel Charles Phelps of the 7th Maryland comes this cryptic but ghoulish notation.

… 200 yds from here where S. Jackson died. His arm dug up by some pioneers + re-buried.

The apparent precision with which the pioneers dug up Jackson’s arm certainly suggests it must have been marked at the time. But we are also left to wonder:  did the pioneers rebury the arm in the same place they found it? Did they remove whatever marker might have been there?

They may well have. Union engineer Wesley Brainerd also recorded visiting the site (though without digging it) on May 7, 1864. In his masterful memoir, he interpreted what he saw not as the grave of Jackson’s arm, but of Stonewall Jackson in his entirety. Significantly, Brainerd recorded that the site was “unmarked by stone or board”–which of course would help account for his mistake. He lingered for a time “beside the lonely grave” with its “little mound of earth” that hid “all that was mortal of the man whose deeds had filled the world with wonder an amazement.” His profound reflections were misplaced; what Brainerd saw was probably the grave of either Boswell or Major Stover. In any event, clearly by May 7, 1864, at least, it would seem that there was no marker on the grave of Jackson’s arm.

With that reference to May 7, 1864, Jackson’s arm disappears from the historical record until 1903 (at least so far as we know). In one respect, the absence is curious. In 1867, the Ladies Memorial Association of Fredericksburg dedicated the new Confederate Cemetery in Fredericksburg–the product of their efforts to have the Confederate dead from Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Wilderness gathered for proper burial. Among those re-interred in Fredericksburg were Captain James Keith Boswell and Major Joshua Stover, the two officers buried in the Jones-Lacy cemetery after Chancellorsville. We do not know why the LMA did not rebury Jackson’s arm–it was certainly the most famous burial in the Fredericksburg region at the time. Did they not know it was there? Did they know it was there, but could not locate it? Or, did they simply not accord the burial the same significance later generations of Southerners did (and do) and decide to leave it?

In our next  post, we’ll look at the evolution of the site over time, Smedley Butler’s apparent curiosity about the arm in 1921, and the persistent question, “Where is Jackson’s arm?”

4 thoughts on “The trail and tale of Stonewall Jackson’s arm–Part 1: burying and re-burying

  1. The monument was very interesting to see. I think its kind of interesting how Jackson is in a way spread out across the country. He was shot at Chancellorsville, his arm was amputated outside the wilderness, his arm is buried at Ellwood, and he himself is buried in Lexington.

    • Anna: Jackson is the only person I know who actually has three graves: the arm, his original burial site in Lexington (which is still marked as such), and his final resting place under the great statue of him in the middle of the Lexington Cemetery. Thanks for reading…..
      John H.

  2. Wonderful article. I visited Ellwood in 2007 and have had a great interest in the whereabouts of Jackson’s arm ever since. I am relieved that you have dispelled much of the myth and conjecture regarding the arm’s final resting place, except, unfortunately, for the $64 question.

    You offer little detail of the nature of the archaeological investigation(s). Has ground penetrating radar ever been used to attempt to locate Jackson’s arm, or has it all been shovel and sieve?

    Napoleon Bonaparte also has three graves, but two of his hold nothing but memories. He originally was buried on St. Helena, then his body was exhumed, moved to Paris and entombed in in the chapel of Les Invalides, an old soldier’s home. Later his original grave was excavated, too, and moved to a small plot just outside the chapel’s western wall. And the original gave on St. Helena was recreated (minus the Emperor, of course).

  3. Tom – Good thought. The NPS archaeologist did employ the use of a magnetometer, but the results weren’t fruitful. I don’t know how well ground pentrating radar might work in the small confines of the Ellwood cemetery. Between the other graves and the damage done by groundhogs, I suspect GPR might have a difficult time. – Eric

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