By Chris Mackowski & Kristopher D. White
Editor’s note: Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born at Clarksburg, [West] Virginia, on January 21, 1824, the third child of Jonathan Jackson and Julia Beckwith Neal Jackson. In 1842, he was barely accepted into the Military Academy at West Point, as he had difficulty with the entrance examinations. After graduating in 1846, he served in the Mexican-American War, then taught at the Virginia Military Institute.
Upon the outbreak of the Civil War he was commissioned as a colonel in the Confederate forces of Virginia and dispatched to Harpers Ferry where he was active in organizing the raw recruits. During his service, Jackson was quickly recognized for his innovation, leadership skills, and bravery and receiving several quick promotions, he was made a Brigadier General on June 17, 1861. He led a number of campaigns and battles during the Civil War, including the Valley Campaign, first and second battles of Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg. It was during the Battle of Bull Run when Jackson assumed his nickname, when Brigadier-General Barnard E. Bee stated, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall.” He died on May 10, 1863 after being shot by “friendly fire” at the Battle of Chancellorsville. A Southern hero, military historians consider him to be one of the most gifted tactical commanders in U.S. history.
While Stonewall Jackson was buried in his hometown of Lexington, Virginia, his amputated left arm remained in a burial plot of its own, one hundred miles to the east, just beyond the Chancellorsville battlefield, where it had been laid to rest on May 3 by Rev. [Beverly Tucker] Lacy.
Lacy had come that day to visit Jackson as soon as he had heard about the general’s wounding. When he arrived at the field hospital, he broke into tears when he saw the extent of Jackson’s injury. “Oh, General, what a calamity,” he cried.
Lacy and Jackson had formed a close bond during their six months of service together. The two had known each other in Lexington before the war, although for the four years prior to the conflict, Lacy had been the pastor for the Presbyterian congregation in Frankfort, Kentucky. In 1862, he had moved to Fredericksburg, then to Orange Court House, where he served wounded soldiers. In January of 1863, Jackson asked Lacy to oversee the chaplain service of the entire Second Corps.
Lacy was ideally suited for the position. Born in 1819 to a clergyman father in Prince Edward County, Virginia, Lacy eventually went on to Washington College and Union Theological Society. Mary Anna called him a true “spiritual comforter.”
But on the morning of May 3, it was Jackson providing the comfort, meager as it was in his weakened condition. He consoled his friend, and when the time finally came for Lacy to depart, they parted on an optimistic note. Lacy would spend a great deal of time with Jackson over the next seven days, and he would serve as the principal messenger bringing communications from Lee. It would be Lacy to whom Lee would say, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.”
As it happened, that left arm was much on Lacy’s mind. He found it wrapped in a cloth outside Jackson’s tent, where the doctors had placed it following the operation. Worried that it would end up as one of many on a pile of amputated limbs eventually destined for a mass, unmarked grave, and convinced that it deserved a better fate, Lacy collected Jackson’s arm and determined to dispose of it in a more fitting manner.
Lacy set out northeast across the fields toward the nearby home of his brother, J. Horace Lacy. Lacy’s home, called Ellwood, had been built around 1790. Lacy assumed ownership in 1848 when he married the daughter of the building’s original owner. The plantation grew corn, wheat, and oats, tended by several dozen slaves. However, the Lacys primarily used Ellwood as a summer home; they also owned a larger home in Fredericksburg, Chatham, which overlooked the Rappahannock River.
Rev. Lacy laid Jackson’s arm to rest in the family cemetery.
Later, Mary Anna was asked if she wanted the arm exhumed and buried with her husband in Lexington. “Was it given a Christian burial?” she asked. Assured that it was, she consented to let the arm remain at Ellwood.
Not that the arm necessarily rested in peace. When Union forces occupied the area in May of 1864, they dug up the arm and, satisfied that it was really there, reburied it.
A Union engineer, Wesley Brainerd of New York, also took a moment amidst the cacophony of battle sometime on May 7 to visit the spot, mistakenly believing Jackson himself was buried there, not just the arm. In his journal, he wrote:
I was much interested and impressed on approaching a common looking farm house situated in an opening in the woods, to learn that Stonewall Jackson was buried near by.
His grave was situated in the heart of the Wilderness on a knoll, unmarked by stone or board. It was hard to realize, as I stood beside that lonely grave, that the little mound of earth before me hid from view all that was mortal of the man whose great deeds had filled the world with wonder and amazement . . . . I lingered for a long time at the grave of that wonderful and eccentric man.
Nor could I leave the spot without having experienced those peculiar feelings of awe and respect for the memory of the genius which, though that of an enemy, possessed the faculty which inspired his Soldiers with a religious enthusiasm, resulting in most wonderful victories and made his name a terror to ourselves.