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.
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 likely wounded about eighty yards to the northeast, along the Mountain Road.
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.