The bizarre shrine to Stonewall Jackson's arm
If you happen to wander off the I-95, just north of Thornburg, Va., you could find yourself on a quiet road that leads to an even quieter field. This is where a small marble monument marks the bizarre shrine to one of the confederacies most revered General, Stonewall Jackson.
On the night of May 2, 1863, while his men rested and held the line at the battle of Chancellorsville, Va., Jackson decided to ride his horse down the lines of battle in order to reconnaissance the ahead ahead of the next days fighting. The night was pitch black and the area densely covered in vegetation, and as he made his way back towards his own front lines, he found himself engulfed in gunfire.
The spooked 33rd North Carolina infantry that was holding the line and who had only just hours before skirmished with Union soldiers trying to infiltrate their positions, had saw the Generals entourage and thought it another clever yankee ruse, and after calling out for them to identify themselves, opened fire on the General. He would be struck multiple times throughout his hand and arm, and taken to a nearby field hospital for surgery, where he would succumb to his wounds and die on May 10, 1863.
The marker, which has been in place since May 3, 1863, was the idea of Reverend Tucker Lacy, who served as Jackson's unofficial chaplain during the war and who was with him at the time of his death. Lacy, who held Jackson in the highest regard, felt that simply tossing the General's arm in a rubbish pit was far too undignified for a man of his caliber. Instead, he wrapped it in a field blanket and buried it in his families cemetery, located not far from where the fighting took place.
Confederate monuments are certainly not something new, but many of them probably came to fruition a lot sooner than you are imagine. Like most Americans, you'd wrongly assume that many of the statues honoring the Confederate dead were built shortly after the war. In fact, many were erected in the 1960s, as white America passive-aggressively battled back against the Civil Rights movement.
Monuments began to pop up left and right, and funny enough, often in places that never supported the south with troops during the war to begin with. A recent VICE News article pointedly laughed at this absurdity, highlighting a Confederate monument in Montana dedicated to their “honored Confederate dead” when Montana didn't even become a state until nearly 24 years after the Civil War ended in the first place.
With all these monuments become breeding grounds for the hateful southern sympathizers, surely one as old and revered as General Stonewall Jackson's would attract a fair amount of pilgrims from across the south and beyond.
I knew there was only going to be one way to find out, and that was to speak to the person charged with protecting the south's sacred stone, the National Park Service Rangers (NPS). I spoke with the parks head ranger, who oversees both Chancellorsville battlefield and park as well as the Stonewall Jackson arm memorial. I cut straight to the point, “How often do you end up having to run off trouble at the monument?”
She laughed for a moment before answering my question. “I think what you're asking is do we get lost cause sympathizers,” she quipped. “The answer is yes. While we have had vandalism from those angry at what the monument represents, we have also had those who have congregated here because they support the Confederacy and consider themselves apart of the lost cause.”
The “Lost Cause” or “Lost Cause Sympathizers” are an ideological group of people who believe that the south heroically fought to the end against a well equipped northern invader, and who will one day see justice for the destruction of the pure and heroic antebellum south. They dedicate themselves to the remembrance of what is often historically incorrect views of pre-war chivalry and southern rights, eschewing any historical evidence that doesn't paint the South in a positive light.
They also ardently argue that the south never fought to keep slaves, although that has been disproven time and time again.
“So far none of these [lost cause] visitors have gotten to the point where we needed them to be removed by law enforcement,” said the park ranger. “Oftentimes they keep quietly to themselves, but most times they will want to tell you why they support the memorial, and give you their version of the history or talk politics. And sometimes it's hard to tell if they are a lost causer or not. They are not always wearing something or saying something to give you any indication.”
The NPS has gone to great lengths to protect the memorial since it stands on Federal land. Local law enforcement routinely patrols the area on foot, chasing away prying teenagers or would be monument vandals, of which there have been many.
“At the end of the day, we do the best we can to keep the area safe for our visitors,” she assured. I think back to the odd relic, and couldn't help but wonder if the original owner would have ever imagined the controversy that would surround his detached arm, nearly 250 years to the day it was removed.