Friday, January 17, 2014

Lee-Jackson Day in Virginia

Today, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state holiday: Lee-Jackson Day.  This, in commemoration of two of the greatest men the Old Dominion has every produced: General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

From the Code of Virginia:
"§ 2.2-3300. Legal holidays.
It is the policy of the Commonwealth to fix and set aside certain days in the calendar year as legal holidays for the people of Virginia. In each year, the following days are designated as legal holidays:

The Friday preceding the third Monday in January - Lee-Jackson Day to honor Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) and Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson (1824-1863), defenders of causes."

File:Robert E Lee in 1863.png

Robert E. Lee was born 19 January 1807 in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

His father a leader in the American Revolution, "Light Horse" Harry Lee, and his mother a member of the distinguished Carter family of Virginia, Lee certainly had notable bloodlines.

More than this, however, was his own talent and character.  Lee's remarkable military career is well known, with his great victories, such as that at Second Manassas and Chancellorsville.  He was loved by his men, feared and respected by his foes, gracious in victory and humble in defeat.

This speaks to his character.  Lee was a devout Episcopalian, who took his faith, and, in particular, his duties, very seriously.  Indeed, just as duty might be said to partly define what a gentleman is, so it defined Robert E. Lee.  There are any number of stories that attest to his great sense of duty and honor.

It was this sense of duty that caused him to remain loyal to his home state of Virginia with the coming of the war, despite the fact that he was no zealot for secession.  When offered command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia, his speech to the Convention at Richmond on 23 April 1861 was brief, but very much in character:
"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the occasion on which I appear before you, and profoundly grateful for the honour conferred upon me, I accept the position your partiality has assigned me, though I would greatly have preferred your choice should have fallen on one more capable.  Trusting to Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow citizens, I will devote myself to the defense and service of my native State, in whose behalf alone would I have ever drawn my sword."

After the war, he would serve as President of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, where he is buried.

Here is a short biography of Lee:

On this anniversary of his taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia, you might be interested in "virtually" visiting a few of the sites associated with General Lee.

He was born at Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia:

He lived for many years with his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, (great-granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington by the first lady's first husband) at the Arlington House, in the county now named for it.  This home is on a magnificent bluff overlooking Washington, DC, and was, of course, seized by the federal government to be used as a cemetery, now Arlington National Cemetery.  The Lee family was later reimbursed for what was determined to be wrongful seizure.  The house itself is now designated as the Robert E. Lee Memorial:

Finally, Robert E. Lee is buried in the chapel of Washington & Lee University:

So much for the "Virginia Gentleman" and one of the most talented and honorable men ever produced by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Robert E. Lee's "right arm" and most trusted lieutenant during his campaigns was another Virginian, General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

Jackson was born in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) on 21 January 1824, of humble bloodlines, and a father who was an attorney in what was a poorer part of the state.  He was accepted at West Point in 1842, though his weak schooling background meant that he had to make an extra effort with his studies -- he finished 17th out of a class of 59.

Stonewall Jackson served during the Mexican War, participating in the Veracruz campaign and the Battle of Chapultepec.  In 1851, he began a position as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.  He was not a popular professor, however, dubbed "Tom fool" by his students.

Here is a link to the Stonewall Jackson House museum:

With the outbreak of the war, he would find himself commanding a Brigade of Virginia infantry from the Shenandoah Valley -- and his stand at the First Battle of Manassas, 21 July 1861, earned him his nickname of "Stonewall."  With the brigades of Generals Bee and Bartow shattered on Matthews Hill, Jackson met their fleeing forces, giving them a unit around which to rally.  It was in that context that General Bernard Bee of South Carolina said: "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians."  The name would stick for both the man and his brigade.

From that point, Stonewall Jackson would demonstrate his military genius with the dazzling Shenandoah Campaign of the Spring of 1862, and end up the "right arm" of Robert E. Lee, serving as a Corps commander in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia until his accidental wounding at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.  He would die of complications of his wounds on 10 May 1863.  His last words: "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."  He is buried in Lexington, Virginia.

Jackson was a notably pious man and not without his eccentricities.  Still, like Lee, he was a man of the highest personal morality and determined sense of duty and reverence for Almighty God.  He is noted for saying: "My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. ... That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave."

For more information, take a look at this splendid site maintained by the Virginia Military Institute:

Live well!

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