Stonewall Jackson’s Last Map

From John Hennessy and Beth Parnicza:

Jackson's map.1080

Jackson’s map. See the bottom of the post for a version with the modern landscape overlaid upon it.

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.

Overlay by Beth Parnicza. Click to enlarge.

Overlay by Beth Parnicza. Click to enlarge.




10 thoughts on “Stonewall Jackson’s Last Map

  1. Does FSNMP have any information on the original site of Tabernacle Church? Many years ago I was told that the church was not salvageable after being used as a hospital during the war and was burned down. Tabernacle was rebuilt at the site of the present building, a mile west on Old Plank Road.

  2. Wow! Having returned last night from a 3-day tour with Will Greene, Frank O’Reilly and Gary Gallagher, I was stunned by my first contact with your blog. This is ‘great stuff’ that will get all my 73 y.o. peers out to put boots on the ground at FSNMP.
    Warm Wishes for continued success,

  3. Hi, this is amazing! I’m flying from the UK tomorrow to Virginia, heading to Richmond, Petersburg and Fredericksburg, could you please let me know the address of the visitor center where I can see the map up close? I’ll be heading your way! Thanks, Julia

  4. I’m thinking that Jackson may have discussed with Lee that if they routed the Yankees flank as badly as they thought the could, then he might be able to get across one of the fords and into the rear of the entire army and bag them all. It would certainly fit the audacious nature of both Jackson and Lee.

  5. The one set of X’s appears more to be U.S. ford rather than Ely’s ford. Its one of the areas Jackson’s own dimensions diverge from actual but from left to right you can see the sharp curl on the Rapidan right before it joins the Rappahannock, then where the two rivers join, and then the set of X’s which would be consistent with U.S. rather than Ely’s. Unless this is what was meant and I simply misunderstood you.

    • I too believe the prominent X’s on the river were Jackson’s attempt to label US Ford . They sit just to the east of the river confluence as did the AOP pontoon bridges at US Ford. Just like Jackson to try and pinpoint his enemy’s communication jugular. In fact his last orders to Gen. AP Hill on the night he was wounded included cutting ‘them off from US Ford’. Interesting to ponder.

  6. I suspect the x’s over near Tabernacle Church may be the entrenchments Anderson’s Division threw up on April 30. As for the pair of X’s in the northwest quadrant, maybe Jackson intended it to be Ely’s Ford and just showed it a little too far to the east. Blind Ford is over there also, but not of enough significance to be noted.

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