Stonewall Jackson’s Arm

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“Well, you know Stonewall was wounded on the night of May second at Chancellorsville, returning from a recon mission when the first day’s battle was almost over. The South had ‘em whipped, and Jackson wanted to attempt a night attack to finish them off. Riding back into the Confederate lines, he was mistaken for Federal cavalry and fired on. He was hit once in the right hand and twice in the left arm. Here and here,” he said, demonstrating on his own arm where the bullets had struck Jackson’s. “Drive down this road, make a right, and you’ll meet up with his flanking march. It follows the highway into Chancellorsville.”

“I came in that way.”

“You see a sign for Wilderness Tavern?”

“Down by the traffic light?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s it,” the ranger said. “Wilderness Tavern is where they cut his arm off. He had no chance of keeping it. The bone was shattered. They amputated it around two in the morning on May third.” I shook my head, thinking about what amputations were like in those days.

“Well, they usually cremated all the arms and legs that were amputated after a battle, but they felt they couldn’t throw Stonewall Jackson’s arm in with the rest of them. So Jackson’s chaplain, Beverly Tucker Lacy, took the mangled arm, and at four o’clock in the morning he walked down the road to his brother’s plantation, banged on the door, and got his brother to help him bury it in the family plot behind the garden.” The way the ranger told it, there was just a glint of grim humor in this family errand.

“The very next year, almost on the same ground, Grant and Lee tangled for the first time. General Warren set up his headquarters at Lacy Plantation, right there with Jackson’s arm out in the back yard. The house was used as a Confederate hospital, too, after Chancellorsville. I guess that’s why the Park Service finally bought it. Lot of history in that place.”

I couldn’t believe it. I had known that Stonewall Jackson’s arm was buried away from the rest of him, but I’d never known where. And now, to not only hear the story but go to the actual place …

The ranger had been scribbling something across my trail map; now he took a paper napkin out of his backpack and started scribbling on that too. When he was finished, he handed me the napkin first.

“Put this on your windshield,” he said. “There’s another ranger that patrols the area, and if he sees your truck parked where I’m gonna tell you to park it, he’ll definitely write you up.”

He unfolded the park map across the picnic table in the lean-to, then pulled out a marker from his shirt pocket and stabbed at it. “Here’s where we are, and here’s where you turn off. It’s tough to find. Looks like somebody’s driveway, but when you pull in, go up a ways and you’ll see it’s all chained off. That’s where you park. Then you gotta hump it the rest of the way.” I glanced to the bottom of the page, trying to find the scale. Driveways in the old South could be lengthy. He continued before I could figure out the distance.

“Here’s your truck. Here’s the house.” He connected them with a dotted line. “There’s an old dirt road that you’ll follow that goes through a soy field and winds up at the house.” He looked up at me. “You with me so far?”

I nodded, still thinking about the napkin on the windshield.

“Walk almost up to the house, then look to the right. You’ll see a gate that leads out through some old landscaping, and then, maybe a hundred yards behind that, you’ll find the cemetery. There’s a couple of large trees right smack in the middle of it. You can’t miss it.”

We looked at each other and shook hands. I knew I’d probably never see him again, and I knew I’d never forget him either.

“Thanks a lot.”

“Come back here if you can’t find it. I’ll be here for another hour or so.”

He returned to his books. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and jumped in my truck, careful not to lose the map or the napkin.

I missed the turnoff only twice, both times thinking, That can’t be the place. But it was just the way the ranger called it. I pulled up to one of the chains that blocked the driveway and shut off the engine. It was eleven-thirty. After securing the parking-permit napkin on the windshield, I unpacked a sandwich and more water, then snagged the half-eaten bag of potato chips off the floor and stuffed them all in my pockets. I envisioned lunch on the veranda of Lacy Plantation.