Lee-Jackson Day 2013

This entry is part 14 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life
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Robert E. Lee in dress uniformIn the pantheon of Confederate heroes the most revered are Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Today is Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday in Virginia that celebrates these two soldiers.

In 1889 the Commonwealth of Virginia created a holiday to celebrate the birth of their favorite son, General Robert E. Lee. In 1904 Jackson was added and thus was born Lee-Jackson Day.

Typical events include a wreath laying ceremony with military honors, a Civil War themed parade, symposia and a gala ball. State offices are closed for the holiday.

Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807 at Stratford Hall, the son of Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III and his wife Anne Carter Lee. The elder Lee was a Revolutionary War hero. He was a daring cavalry commander under fellow Virginian General George Washington. He also served as Governor of Virginia. He gave the famous eulogy at Washington’s funeral: “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

The younger Lee was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1829. He served in a variety of positions as both a combat engineer and a combat commander. In 1861 Lee choose to resign from the United States Army and follow his beloved Virginia out of the Union.

Initially, he was unsuccessful as a combat commander and was relegated to staff positions. However, after General Joseph E. Johnston was severely wounded at Seven Pines, Lee was given command of the Army of Northern Virginia, a post that he never relinquished. After he surrendered his army to General Grant at Appomattox Lee returned to his home in Richmond.

Shortly after Lee accepted the offer to be president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, and served from October 1865 until his death on October 12, 1870. His last words on the day of his death, were “Tell Hill he must come up. Strike the tent.” (There is some dispute about this.) He was buried underneath Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University.

Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was born on January 21, 1824 in Clarksburg in what is now West Virginia. By the age of seven Jackson was an Thomas J. Jackson, Winchester 1862orphan and eventually was sent to be raised by his paternal uncle, Cummins Jackson at his grist mill in Jackson’s Mill (near present-day Weston in Lewis County in central West Virginia).

Jackson was accepted at the United States Military Academy in 1842. Due to his inadequate schooling he began at the bottom of his class but by the time he graduated in June 1846 he was ranked 17th out of 59. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment.

He was sent to fight in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. He served at the Siege of Veracruz and the battles of ContrerasChapultepec, and Mexico City, eventually earning two brevet promotions, and the regular army rank of first lieutenant. It was in Mexico that Thomas Jackson first met Robert E. Lee.

In 1851 Jackson accepted a newly created position at the Virginia Military Institute. He became Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery. Parts of Jackson’s curriculum are still taught at VMI. He is a revered figure at the Lexington, Virginia school.

In 1861, as the Civil War broke out, Jackson became a drill master for some of the many new recruits in the Confederate Army. On April 27, 1861, Virginia Governor John Letcher ordered Colonel Jackson to take command at Harpers Ferry, where he would assemble and command the famous “Stonewall Brigade“, consisting of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia Infantry regiments.

All of these units were from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, where Jackson located his headquarters throughout the first two years of the war. Jackson became known for his relentless drilling of his troops; he believed discipline was vital to success on the battlefield. Following raids on the B&O Railroad on May 24, he was promoted to brigadier general on June 17.

Jackson gained his famous nickname at the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run) when Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr., exhorted his own troops to re-form by shouting, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!” Despite the controversy surrounding the events the nickname stuck. Both Jackson and the brigade that he commanded became know as “Stonewall”.

In the early spring of 1862 Jackson, who had been given command of the Shenandoah Valley District, conducted one of the most daring and intrepid campaigns in American history. Over the course of 48 days his army marched 646 miles and fought seven battles, winning six, with a force of about 17,000 against a combined force of 60,000 Union troops. Jackson suddenly was the most famous soldier in the South.

Jackson’s troops were called to join the Army of Northern Virginia on the Peninsula. Jackson’s troops served well under Lee in the series of battles known as the Seven Days Battles, but Jackson’s own performance in those battles is generally considered to be poor.

However Jackson retrieved his reputation at Second Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Fredericksburg and culminated his brilliant leadership at Chancellorsville where he conceived and led the famous “Flank Attack” that routed the Union forces.

Unfortunately, on the night of May 2, 1862, he was mistakenly shot by his own troops while reconnoitering the front lines. He had left arm amputated and experienced a rough ride to Guinea Station which was about 18 miles away. In the meantime he contracted pneumonia. On May 10th the great “Stonewall” breathed his last breath. According to his physician Dr. Hunter McGuire related his last words.

A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks”—then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

“Stonewall” Jackson is the only general buried in two places. His amputated arm was and still is buried at the J. Horace Lacy house, “Ellwood”, in the Wilderness of Orange County, near the field hospital. His body was interred at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.

Both men are celebrated throughout their native state with statues and schools named in their honor. In my town, Charlottesville, there is a statue of each of them. The Jackson statue is considered one of the top three equestrian statues in the country.

Robert E. Lee Statue

Stonewall Jackson statue

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