From John Hennessy and Beth Parnicza:
It is perhaps the greatest artifact in the park’s collection, and we’re putting it on display for the Chancellorsville 150th. It’s a map in Jackson’s distinctive hand, showing the battlefield around Chancellorsville, with markings both random (seemingly) and purposeful. We cannot say when Jackson composed this map or how he used it. But there are clues, and questions.
First, some background: Robert E. Lee kept relatively few mementoes from the war, but this is one. After the war, he took the map and mounted it in his first-off-the-press copy of John Esten Cooke’s 1863 biography of Jackson. He also pasted into the book Jackson’s autograph, and then signed the title page himself: R.E. Lee.
The history of the book and the map is unclear, but by the 1890s it was in private hands. It came to the park in 1940, donated by Roland I. Taylor, who bought it an auction in Philadelphia for $750 (isn’t THAT painful to read in 2013?). The book and map (they are inseparable now) were on display at the Chancellorsville Visitor Center for more than four decades, though so unobtrusively that most visitors seemed to miss its importance. We took it off display several years ago, fearful that continued exposure to light would damage it. The book and map are now back on display for the 150th.
An early article about the map asserts it was used by Lee and Jackson at their final bivouac on the night of May 1-2. That may be true, but it’s also clear the map includes a good deal of information that suggests Jackson used earlier in the campaign: Fredericksburg, Hamilton’s Crossing, and, most tellingly, Tabernacle Church are all marked in Jackson’s hand. These places mattered to Jackson on April 30 and May 1.
But, the map also includes features germane to Jackson’s flank march and attack on May 2: the Brock Road (almost perfectly drawn), Wilderness Tavern, and the fords on the Rapidan and Rappahannock (though they are not labeled). Tellingly, it does not include the network of roads that would carry him to the Brock Road on May 2, and ultimately to the Union flank. Information about those roads did not emerge until the night of May 1-2.
A few intriguing marks and symbols appear, their purpose not entirely clear. At first glance, the squiggly line that overlays the Brock Road suggests something special about that feature–and has led some to guess that this is Jackson’s attempt to sketch his intended approach toward the Union right flank. But, look a the Rappahannock: it has the same sort of squiggly line drawn upon it. What does it mean?
Around Tabernacle Church, Jackson places three “x’s.” Also near Ely’s Ford and along the river north of Tabernacle Church. Are they camps? Or are these marks the result of Jackson trying to illustrate something during conversation–something akin to Pictionary?
[Kudos to Beth, by the way, for pointing out to all of us that the modern iteration of Tabernacle Church is NOT on the site of the wartime church, something all of us had long presumed. The original site was about two miles east of the present church].
What can we say about he accuracy of the map? Clearly Jackson drew this from memory; given that, the map is remarkably accurate and proportional. He puts the rivers too far north, and so too the Orange Turnpike leaving Fredericksburg. But the relationship of features to each other is pretty close–Wilderness Tavern, the junction of the Plank Road (Route 621) and the Orange Turnpike (Route 3) near Wilderness Church, U.S, Ford, and the Brock Road. Clearly Thomas J. Jackson has a good understanding of the landscape upon which the battle raged May 1-2, 1863–certainly better than his opponent. Beth has overlaid the modern road network on Jackson’s map, so you can compare yourself.
What do YOU think? What do you see here that we or others might have missed? Comments welcome.