It has been 150 years since Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died, and visitors are still bringing flowers — and lemons — to shrines that honor the memory of the Confederate army general.
Jackson was one of the most successful generals in the 1861-1865 US civil war, and according to legend he sucked on lemons as he entered battle.
“Jackson is a hero to some, but strange enough to appeal to a lot of people,” said Beth Parnicza, park historian at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine at Guinea Station, situated 70 miles southeast of Washington.
As Americans flock to battlefields and museums to mark the sesquicentennial of the seminal conflict, Jackson’s life and accidental shooting has attracted renewed interest.
Pilgrims brought roses and small Confederate flags to the Chancellorsville battlefield, 60 miles southeast of the US capital, on May 2 — the day that Jackson was shot there 150 years ago.
He had just led a daring flank attack through thick woods on a much larger Union force and was scouting ahead of his lines after sundown. Confederate soldiers opened fire when they mistook him and his entourage for the enemy.
The battle was a stunning Confederate victory.
Jackson survived the shooting, though doctors amputated an arm. “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm,” said his commander, Robert E. Lee.
Medics took Jackson to Guinea Station, at the time a busy supply depot, to recover, but he died of pneumonia on May 10 in a simple wood building now preserved as a museum.
Jackson was born in 1824 in the backwoods of what is now West Virginia. Orphaned at a young age, he had little formal education, but with luck and determination managed to enter the West Point military academy.
The dour Jackson preferred study over socializing, and made few friends. Years later he faced many of those schoolmates on the battlefield as enemies.
After service in the 1846-1848 war with Mexico, Jackson joined the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington in 1851 to teach artillery tactics.
The future military hero was considered an oddball. He’d sometimes raise one arm to compensate for a supposed body imbalance, eat stale bread to manage his stomach dyspepsia, and wore wet bandages believing it was a cure for most illnesses.
At VMI he earned a reputation as a martinet, and his students nicknamed him “Tom Fool.”
Deeply religious, he also avoided alcohol, was honest to a fault, and was tender to young children.
In 1861 the southern states, fearing the recently-elected Abraham Lincoln would end slavery, began to form the Confederate States of America. Slavery was essential to the south’s agricultural economy and southerners vowed to resist any threat to their “peculiar institution.”
When Virginia seceded and war broke out, Jackson joined the rebel army.
Jackson earned the “Stonewall” sobriquet for his steady role in the Confederate victory at Manassas in July 1861. In the next two years he proved to be an aggressive warrior, key to pivotal rebel victories.
“The doings of this officer are too vividly impressed upon the public mind… to particularize his thousand and one deeds of daring, all of which … were strongly marked by dash, energy, and skill,” read a December 1862 profile of Jackson in the Illustrated London News.
Jackson was “humorless, socially awkward, a control freak, autocratic, rude, secretive and discouraged initiative,” said historian Frank O’Reilly, a civil war expert at the Chancellorsville battlefield.
“And yet, he was adored by his men.”
“Stonewall” died at the height of his popularity and left little in writing — his widow Anna and other southerners shaped his image in the post-war years.
According to Anna, Jackson was a perfect husband and a model Christian, even someone who could reconcile blacks and whites. Others portrayed him as the ultimate self-made man, and as a Christian martyr.
But not all civil war buffs are swept up in the Jackson mania.
“Jackson coldly sent thousands of people to the grave without a second thought, all the while thinking he was doing the Lord’s work,” said a writer named “Miskatonic,” commenting on a story in the New York Times’ civil war blog.
“And for what? So that men of his class could keep their slaves for a few months longer. The man was certainly no hero, and it is odd and disturbing that some continue to treat him has such.”
Yet his popularity endures. Visitors place roses at the grave where Jackson’s arm is buried near the Chancellorsville battlefield, O’Reilly said.
And at the general’s grave in Lexington visitors place roses and lemons year-round, according to Michael Anne Lynn, director of the nearby Stonewall Jackson House.
The lemon myth however is overblown — Lynn says the general also enjoyed other types of fruit.
Dropping off lemons “is sort of cute,” she said, “but I’d prefer that they took the tags off first.”