Stonewall Jackson Statue
Born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson rose to prominence as one of the Confederacy's most successful generals. In 1909, the United Daughters of the Confederacy hired Moses Ezekiel, a Confederate veteran who knew Jackson, to sculpt a bronze state in the general's honor. The state legislature approved placing the statue on capitol grounds, and in 1910 the statue was dedicated to much fanfare. Many onlookers wore "Lily White" buttons during the dedication, which was a campaign to disfranchise African-American voters. In recent years, there have been repeated calls for the monument's removal, but the decision rests with the state legislature.
Backstory and Context
Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson emerged as one of the most well-known and skilled generals of the Confederacy during American Civil War. Yet Jackson hailed from humble roots. He was born on January 20, 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). In his youth, he faced not only the death of his father but had to be given up by his impoverished mother to his firm uncle, who raised him on the Jackson estate near Weston. He grew into a shy and reserved man in an unloving household with his uncle at the helm, but this equanimity would play to his benefit once he entered the West Point U.S. Military Academy in 1842 and graduated 17th in his class of 59 cadets. He was a large man for his time, six foot and 175 pounds, with blue eyes
Assigned to the artillery (reflecting his skill in mathematics) Jackson served in the Mexican War and gained three promotions during the conflict. He first met Robert E. Lee during the siege of Mexico City. After the war, he retired from active military service and taught at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. He quickly became known as a peculiar professor to his students and a devout Presbyterian follower of God by his peers.
Jackson also owned six enslaved persons: Amy, Hetty, George, Cyrus, Albert and Emma. Hetty, George, and Emma took Jackson’s last name after his death and Albert was believed to be given his freedom as well. Jackson opined little on slavery. He gave his slaves a religious education, and indeed, despite concerns from Lexington citizens, Jackson ran a Sunday school for local enslaved blacks. Yet he clearly accepted the institution of slavery and fought for its preservation in the Confederacy. Jackson’s religious views were central to his understanding of slavery: he believed slaves to be human and in need of religious instruction, yet he also viewed slavery acceptable within Christianity.
In 1861, in the wake of Virginia’s secession, Jackson offered his services to the Confederacy and soon found himself back on the battlefield. On July 21, 1861, during the first major land battle of the Civil War at Manassas, Jackson played a pivotal role in securing Confederate victory and earned himself the sobriquet “Stonewall” for his clear and decisive resolve. Throughout the first two years of the Civil War, Jackson proved himself a skilled, confident, and aggressive commander. A well-respected disciplinarian, Jackson rose to prominence during the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Jackson’s forces (dubbed “foot cavalry”) marched more than 650 miles, winning a string of battles along the way. Jackson became a corps commander in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and was Robert E. Lee’s “right hand” man. He led the Second Corps through many engagements, including the Seven Days, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.
Jackson’s career was cut short, however. On May 2, 1863, Jackson enjoyed arguably the best day of his military career as he led an incredibly successful surprise flank attack against the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Hoping to continue the attack into nightfall, Jackson rode ahead of his lines in the darkness and was accidentally wounded by his own men. Taken to the nearby plantation of Guinea Station, Jackson’s left arm was amputated. Compounded with a case of pneumonia, Jackson died on May 10, 1863, just a month prior to the establishment of West Virginia and two months before the Battle of Gettysburg. His final words were, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”
Like a number of other Confederate leaders, Jackson’s legacy and fame only grew in the years following the Civil War. Although West Virginia stood firm to the Union during the Civil War, many West Virginians wanted to link Jackson to his home state. In 1909, the Charleston Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy gained permission to construct a monument to Jackson on the state capitol grounds at their expense; it was the first statue on capitol grounds. The bronze statue was cast in Italy by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a Jewish-American who attended VMI and knew Jackson from his days there. Ezekiel was also a Confederate veteran.
The Jackson statue was unveiled on September 27, 1910 to much fanfare. The city celebrated with a parade, an event attended by 5,000 people. Several members of the United Confederate Veterans spoke, and many UDC members were on hand. The unveiling was not devoid of Jim Crow politics. Many of the attendees, including former veterans, wore "Lily White" campaign buttons. The Lily White movement sought to disenfranchise African-American voters, and the Democratic Party had run on a Lily White platform the two years prior to the monument's unveiling. While Democrats dropped the disenfranchisement platform in hopes of winning over black voters, the reemergence of Lily White buttons at the Jackson monument unveiling derailed their plans. The statue of Jackson was moved to its current location after the original Capitol building burned in 1921. A metal replica of the statue stands in the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.
In recent years, the statue’s existence on capitol grounds has drawn increased protest.
After the infamous 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, about 150 protestors gathered around the statue. The protestors held a vigil for the victims in Charlottesville and called for the removal of the Jackson statue, arguing that it is inappropriate to honor Confederate soldiers at the state’s capital. On June 20, 2019, the 156th anniversary of West Virginia's admission into the Union as a new state, Charleston native Howard Swint stood in front of the Confederate statue and called for its removal citing it as a symbol of hate speech and white supremacy. Swint said other Confederate statues should be removed, as well. Swint suggested the statue be moved to a dark corner of the West Virginia State Museum in the Culture Center and the "12 Years a Slave" film should play in the background to highlight what the Confederacy fought for. He said the statue doesn't represent West Virginian values and those who erected Confederate monuments wanted to divide the nation.
In 2020, in the wake of nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, there were renewed calls for the monument’s removal; one petition demanding its removal gathered over 3,400 signatures. Governor Jim Justice stated, “From the standpoint of my personal beliefs, I don't feel like — that — anyone should feel uncomfortable here. This is our capital. This is our state. This is our people.” Ultimately, the statue’s fate rests with the state legislature.
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