Thursday, June 2, 2016

Visit to 'Stonewall' Jackson Shrine, where he came to rest under the shade of the trees

A Jackson staff member placed this monument in 1903.

I made a brief visit on Tuesday afternoon to the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield and the “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine south of Fredericksburg, Va.

It had been years since I had seen where Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson died in a small farm building at Guinea Station. He was wounded by his own men on May 2, 1863, at Chancellorsville, the site of his greatest success -- a sweeping flank attack that rolled back the Federal right.

The shrine was a peaceful place, with only a couple weekday visitors present.

I learned that the Confederate general got to know the Chandler family who owned the farm just a year before, during the Fredericksburg campaign. Now, Robert E. Lee wanted his lieutenant to recuperate at a spot well behind enemy lines. Jackson was taken by ambulance to Guinea Station.

Jackson died in this bed. (Picket photos)

According to the National Park Service: “Although offered the use of the Chandler house, Jackson's doctor and staff officers chose the quiet and private outbuilding as the best place for Jackson to rest after his long ambulance ride. If all went well, the general would soon board a train at Guinea Station and resume his trip to Richmond and the medical expertise available there.”

Five physicians tended to Jackson, who had his left arm amputated after his wounding. The general’s wife, Mary Anna, arrived with their infant daughter and spent most of her time at his bedside or an office in the next room.

Jackson had contracted pneumonia, perhaps before he was wounded, and his condition worsened within days. He expressed a wish to die on a Sunday, and that occurred on May 10.

Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire recorded his famous 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.’” (Jackson was buried in Lexington, Va.)

I asked the ranger to describe the continued attention to Jackson. He spoke of poetry and postwar stories told about Confederate leaders during the rise of the “Lost Cause” narrative.

He pointed to a copy of a famous painting of Lee and Jackson’s last meeting (above). A couple from Northern Ireland had previously visited and said they had a copy hanging in their bedroom.

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