On May 10, 1863, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died after being mortally wounded by his own men on May 2nd at the Battle of Chancellorsville. North and South Carolina reserve May 10 as Confederate Memorial Day in his honor. (Many Southern states have a Confederate Memorial Day — it varies from state to state.)
Now I’m not related to Stonewall by blood, but he did wander through my family history from time to time.
Before the Civil War, he taught at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington and he lived with his wife in a house on 8 East Washington Street, not far from where some of my ancestors lived.
When the Civil War broke out, he served the Confederacy. He earned his nickname “Stonewall” at the First Battle of Bull Run. My second-great-grandfather James Donald served under him as part of “Stonewall Brigade” for a time before he moved over to cavalry.
Jackson was eventually buried at what was then known as the Presbyterian Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia, later renamed Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. At least five generations of my family are buried here.
When I visit the cemetery I start at the bottom of the hill, stopping at various family member graves working my way up the hill to Stonewall Jackson’s memorial. From there I take a sharp left and end up at the grave of my great-grandparents Wyatt Paul and Laura Donald Gillespie. They owned a house at 108 Houston street that right next to that cemetery. As a boy, my grandfather, now also buried there, used to scare the neighbors by using lanterns in creative ways to make it appear as if ghosts were in the cemetery.
From 1906 to 1954, Jackson’s house on East Washington Street was converted to Hospital. If you were born there during that time, you were eligible to belong to the Stonewall Jackson House Birthday Club. My father, his brother and his two sisters were all eligible for membership.
We all love to talk about the famous ancestors in our tree whether they are in our direct lines or very distant cousins. But even if these larger than life characters aren’t part of your tree, they may have been part of your ancestors’ lives and part of your family history.
Who has walked through your family history?