The city of Richmond, Virginia, witnessed military funerals regularly during the American Civil War, but in journals, memoirs, and newspapers the city’s mourning for Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson emerging as a pivotal event in 1863.
That’s not to say the citizens didn’t mourn other fallen officers. Far from it. The city had a tradition of elaborate funerals and memorial days going to back to days of mourning for the founding fathers. In 1862, there was even a public funeral for former president John Tyler.
I know that recently some blog readers have expressed concern about articles on the history surrounding Jackson’s wounding and death. Like it or not, Jackson’s death had far-reaching impact on the military situation, morale, society, legends, and memory. To understand how some of those legends and memory challenges began, I think it’s important to understand the influence this general wielding in the minds and hearts of Southerners. An illustration of that can be found in the reaction to his death and the public funeral in the streets of Richmond.
Joining the list historic moments to explore in Richmond’s 1863 war history: Jackson’s Funeral.
In Their Words
Sallie B. Putnam’s remembrances of Jackson funeral May 11-13, 1863, in Richmond are similar to many other eyewitness accounts:
His body was conveyed to Richmond, where a great and solemn pageant attested the feeling of universal loss in the death of hero-idol of the South. His body was embalmed and laid in a metallic coffin in the reception room at the Governor’s House [in Richmond]… The coffin was draped with the snow-white banner of the Confederate States… Alas! it was the first use to which was devoted this, the new banner…
On the next morning at the appointed hour, the coffin was borne to the hearse, a signal gun was fired from near the equestrian statue of Washington on the Capitol Square, and the great procession began to move to the solemn strains of the Dead March in Saul. the hearse was preceded by two regiments of General Pickett’s division, with arms reversed, General Pickett and staff, the Fayette Artillery, and Warren’s company of cavalry. The carriage which bore the body came slowly, mournfully on, the mourning plumes nodding dark and gloomily, and casting long shadows over the flower-covered ensign… Then, led by a groom, came the war-horse of the dead soldier, caparisoned for battle, and bearing across the saddle the boots last worn by the rider now still in death. Then followed, with saddened mien, and hearts crushed with heavy sorrow, the staff officers of the departed hero; then, more sadly still, the remaining members of the Stonewall Brigade, invalids and wounded, with downcast looks and sad forebodings… Then, a vast array of officials, President Davis, the members of his cabinet, Generals Longstreet, Elzey, Winan, Kemper, Garnett, Corse, Commodore Forrest, and other officers of the Confederate Navy, the Mayor and city authorities of Richmond, and a long cavalcade of carriages bearing the heart-broken friends of the deceased.
The procession, nearly a mile in length, proceeded down Governor street, and thence up to the head of Main street, when it returned to the western gate of the Capitol Square, where a dense throng, of countless numbers awaited to see it enter.
Business had been suspended in the city, and all along the route of the procession were seen the saddened countenances of weeping friends and admirers, as they gazed on the mighty pageant that commemorated the death of Stonewall Jackson. The hearse moved on to the steps of the Capitol, the band playing a mournful dirge, and lifting the coffin, the pall-bearers…bore it into the Hall of the House o Representatives, where it was deposited on an altar covered with white linen, and looped with bows of crape, in front of the Speaker’s chair. The crowd was then admitted. So densely were the multitude packed in the vestibules and halls that opened into the legislative chambers of the Capitol, that only one at a time could be admitted to view the remains of the man who had won so dear a place in the hearts of the people. Slowly and patiently they remained, regardless of the sweltering heat which oppressed them, until a fortunate moment placed them at the door of the hall…and then a moments glance at the loved form, no more to be witnessed until the last trump shall sound the awakening note to the resurrection of the just. A momentarily glace, a single tear on the lid of the coffin, and they passed away to give place to others in waiting. All day, and until a late hour of the night, this continued, and it is computed that more than twenty thousand persons came thus to gaze on the form…to pay this last tribute of admiration to the body of General Stonewall Jackson…
[The next day] from the Capitol the remains of General Jackson were conveyed to Lexington, where so many years of his life had been spent in the tranquil quiet of domestic life, according to the murmured wish of his last moments: “Bury me in Lexington, in the Valley of Virginia.”
Sallie B. Putnam (pages 223-225)
Jackson’s Memory & Richmond
Jackson’s death and funeral cast a deep shadow over Richmond. Through the previous year, this general’s victories had thrilled Southerners. Though a humble man, Jackson unwillingly and often unknowingly held power over the minds and morale of his troops and Southern civilians.
Despite his death, morale (after the grief) remained quite high as the Confederate troops prepared for the next invasion of the North. Many of his staff, officers, and soldiers felt “inspired” by the memory of Jackson.
Though the remaining war years and well beyond the conflict, Jackson retained that power in popular opinion, legend, and myth. Richmond – having celebrated his battlefield successes and witnessed his largest public funeral – held fast to the idea of “Stonewall,” often bypassing the real history of the man, in favor of their perceptions.
For better or worse, Jackson was linked to the Confederate capital through his visits, victories, and funeral. His death marked a solemn moment in Richmond’s history – end public end of a warrior’s life and the birth of legends and ideas that would gain monumental proportions as the years passed.
P.S. Stay tuned – next week, we’ll have an article about Union prisoners celebrating Fourth of July…in Confederate controlled Richmond!