On Monument Avenue

On Monument Avenue | “Killed at Chancellorsville”?: And Other Devils in the Details of the Stonewall Jackson Monument


When Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was killed at the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, he was not just the Confederacy’s military idol, but an international military celebrity. Immediately upon learning of his death, English friends of the Confederacy began raising funds for a statue to him.

But wait: was Jackson killed at Chancellorsville? We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Let’s get back to the English friends of the Confederacy. In 1875, Irish sculptor John H. Foley’s statue of a standing Stonewall Jackson was dedicated in Richmond’s Capitol Square. It was the first representational Confederate monument in the former Confederate capital city.

Thirty-six years later, the landscape of Civil War commemoration had changed. Impressive equestrian statues of military leaders, North and South, proliferated in the nation’s capital and in the former Confederate capital on Monument Avenue.

Former Confederates and United Daughters of the Confederacy leaders convened a mass meeting in Richmond on November 29, 1911 and formed the Jackson Monument Corporation. In February 1912, it issued an appeal “To the People of the South and to the Admirers of ‘Stonewall’ Jackson Everywhere.”

The appeal noted that Foley’s Capitol Square statue testified to “the exalted opinion in which he was held by people of foreign lands,” but it was no substitute for a proper equestrian statue erected by the people of the South. The time was “now ripe for the performance of this patriotic duty – a duty which we owe alike to ourselves and to those who come after us.”

The Jackson Monument Corporation enlisted public support for its “patriotic work.” It secured a $10,000 appropriation from the state and the promise of an equal amount from the City of Richmond.

To “the Teachers and Scholars of Virginia, and the Admirers of Stonewall Jackson Everywhere,” it issued a follow-up appeal, designating May 10, 1912 “(the 49th anniversary of General Jackson’s death)” as “‘Jackson’s Statue Memorial Day,’” and requesting “that each child in the schools of the South” contribute ten cents toward the monument.

With statues of Lee, Stuart, and Davis already clustered within six long blocks of Monument Avenue, there was no thought of locating Jackson anywhere else. Deflecting a suggestion to place Jackson on Roseneath Rd. on the city’s western edge (where the Arthur Ashe statue was built 72 years later), the Corporation in 1914 requested and received the major intersection of Monument Ave. and the Boulevard. There, on June 3, 1915 – as part of the United Confederate Veterans’ national reunion – the cornerstone was laid.

Choosing a sculptor and statue to build on that cornerstone proved more complicated. After two design competitions failed to yield a model of both rider and horse on which everyone could agree, they awarded the job to local sculptor Frederick William Sievers. 

The Corporation suggested to Sievers a new model for the horse (not Jackson’s own “Little Sorrel”). Sievers, in turn, convinced the Corporation to lower the pedestal by several feet, arguing that “all statues of like character were being made lower, the object being to get a more accurate view of the features of the rider.”

Which way should Jackson and his horse face? Contrary to the common tourist assumption that there are consistent rules to determine such things, the Jackson Monument Corporation debated the issue in April 1918.

The “consensus” was to face the statue north because “all of the operations of General Jackson were north and west….” Against this avowedly “sentimental” position ran a pragmatic argument “the view of the monument would be very much better and visitors would have the advantage of seeing the monument in riding north on the Boulevard if the head pointed south.” At a special called meeting on April 15, the northward facing argument won on a 10-3 vote.

Whether or not drivers should be treated to a view of Jackson’s horse’s tail was something that could be compromised; historical accuracy could not. The debate over another monument detail spilled over into the wider world of Confederate interest groups and could not be quelled by a majority vote.

In June 1918, the statue’s pedestal was placed at the intersection of Monument and Boulevard. It included several inscriptions: “STONEWALL JACKSON” on the west and east sides and, on the north side: “BORN 1824 / KILLED AT CHANCELLORSVILLE / 1863.” (Jackson had died more than a week after his wounding 25 miles from the battlefield.)

The Confederate Memorial Literary Society (parent organization of The Museum of the Confederacy) reacted immediately. On June 26, 1918, CMLS leaders passed resolutions declaring that “Thomas Jonathan (“Stonewall”) Jackson was not killed and furthermore did not die at Chancellorsville,” and that “Confederate History should be correctly recorded, at least by those who love the South,” and urging that the inscription be altered.

The women of the CMLS and of the United Daughters of the Confederacy took their case to the court of public opinion. When the Jackson Monument Corporation took up the question in February 1919, it approved a resolution “That this Board of Directors approve the inscription on the monument as entirely correct.” The only negative vote was that of CMLS and UDC powerhouse Janet Weaver Randolph. Subsequent protests from the national UDC swayed some members, but the board again sustained the inscription, 9-3.

The Corporation’s president, Rev. James Power Smith, who had been a member of Jackson’s staff and was with him at Chancellorsville, published a small pamphlet defending the inscription. After providing numerous quotes from authorities referring to “Jackson’s death at Chancellorsville,” Smith concluded with an analogy:

“When history tells that an English officer was killed at Waterloo, one does not think of the small Belgian village of that name, but of the great battle of many miles around. And when the inscription tells that Jackson was killed at Chancellorsville, it is not the locality of the Chancellor farm that is meant, but the great battle in which the life of our great heroic leader came to its end.”

The controversial inscription remained on the pedestal when Sievers’ bronze figure of Jackson and his horse arrived from the Gorham Foundry of Providence, Rhode Island, and was unveiled on October 11, 1919. Robert E. Lee III, grandson of Jackson’s commander, delivered the oration.

Describing Jackson as “Virginia’s flawless knight” and his grandfather’s “right arm,” Lee emphasized Jackson’s military leadership and campaigns. “There would have been no surrender at Appomattox if Jackson had lived and been spared from death at the hands of his own men at Chancellorsville,” Lee insisted, taking the Civil War’s most popular “what if?” question to new heights.

Neither Lee’s oration nor James Power Smith’s “historical sketch” highlighted the orphaned Thomas Jonathan Jackson’s impoverished childhood; the studious West Point cadet who became a Mexican War hero; the quirky professor at Virginia Military Institute, “Tom Fool” Jackson; the Christian soldier; “the black man’s friend,” or any of the other identities that Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson has acquired in our own time.  

James Power Smith and the other monument builders were content with Jackson the consummate soldier with erect bearing and stern gaze, the man who might have carried the Confederacy to victory if he had not been killed (or was he mortally wounded?) at Chancellorsville.