The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Map was Lee’s reminder of Stonewall’s last battle
Robert E. Lee may not be the “Marble Man” that some historians have portrayed.
But he isn’t known for displaying his emotions, especially during wartime.
That’s part of what makes the artifact newly exhibited at the National Park Service’s Chancellorsville Visitor Center so intriguing and poignant.
This battlefield map is Lee’s last physical link to Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, his most trusted commander and partner in some of his greatest battlefield victories.
“It is certainly the greatest artifact in the park’s collection, and certainly one of the greatest relating to Jackson anywhere,” said John Hennessy, chief historian and chief of interpretation at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
“The suspicion is deep that he and Lee used it to plan May 2 [though we cannot prove that]—that the map served as the basis for their conception of the flank march,” he added in an email Tuesday, on the eve of the battle’s 150th anniversary. “If so, it is not just an artifact of a man, but of a moment—one of the famous moments of the war. Not many of those exist anywhere.”
The small, pencil-drawn map was sketched—presumably on the battlefield—by Jackson during the Chancellorsville campaign in early May 1863, considered by many to be Lee’s shining triumph in the entire American Civil War. It is signed “T.J.J.”
Lee pasted it inside his personal copy of the first biography written on Jackson, published the year that the Confederate hero was mortally wounded doing night reconnaissance in the woods of Chancellorsville.
John Esten Cook, one of cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart’s aides, wrote the biography, initially credited as “By A Virginian.” The 300-odd-page volume, slightly smaller than one of today’s trade paperbacks, is titled “The Life of Stonewall Jackson.”
This was the first copy off the “Illustrated News Steam Presses” of Ayres & Wade in Richmond; the book was swiftly reprinted by Northern publishers, demonstrating the universal interest in Jackson.
Lee also pasted into the book Jackson’s autograph, and signed the title page: “R.E. Lee,” dated May 3, 1867—when Lee was president of what became Washington and Lee University in Lexington. Note the date: May 3, when Lee learned four years earlier of Jackson’s wounding in the tangled wilderness of Spotsylvania County.
“Robert E. Lee kept relatively few mementos from the war, but this is one,” Hennessy said.
Also gripping is that the map is drawn in Jackson’s distinctive, loose hand.
He sketched the battlefields of Chancellorsville from the Rapidan River’s confluence with the Rappahannock all the way downstream beyond Fredericksburg to Hamilton’s Crossing, where Lee’s army spent the winter of 1862–63.
Beth Parnicza, a historian at Chancellorsville, said the park’s historians can’t say definitely when Jackson created the map or how he used it.
“What gets me about both the map and the biography is that they were interacted with,” she said. “Anyone can draw a map. But to know that Jackson was poking at it with his pencil is neat. This was a map he was thinking over.”
To her, the clearly visible pencil jabs indicate that Jackson was using the map to confer with a colleague (Lee?) or colleagues as the battle unfolded.
It is surprisingly accurate, she said. Wilderness Tavern, Chancellorsville, Brock Road and Fredericksburg are almost spot on.
An early article in a local newspaper asserts that Lee and Jackson used the map at their final bivouac on the night of May 1–2. Maybe, maybe not, Hennessy and Parnicza said.
The presence of Fredericksburg, Hamilton’s Crossing, and, especially, Tabernacle Church suggests that Jackson used it early in the campaign, they said. Those places were important to him on April 30 and May 1.
But the map also includes features significant to Jackson’s flank march and May 2 attack—the Brock Road, Wilderness Tavern and the fords on the Rapidan and Rappahannock.
It doesn’t show the road network that carried him to the Brock Road and on to the Union flank. Jackson didn’t have data on those roads until the night of May 1–2.
To Parnicza, what’s most interesting is how the document reveals what Jackson was focused on, and in the post-battle significance that the map and the book held for Lee.
“To know how Lee in his mind is connecting Jackson with Jackson’s last battle, with Jackson’s signature, and putting it all together in the biography, that means a lot,” Parnicza said. “ This is a representation of Lee’s memory of Jackson. And that’s really cool.”
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029