Cemeteries. I think they are interesting places to explore, but I know that’s not everyone’s opinion. I’ve refrained from dragging you through all the wonderful old cemeteries on this virtual road trip until today.
The Presbyterian Cemetery – renamed Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery – in Lexington, Virginia, is a good one to visit. It has wonderful, old headstones to read, is well maintained, and doesn’t have the dark, gloomy feeling that sometimes hangs around old burial grounds even in the day. Let’s stop and take a look…
If you’re at the Jackson House Museum, it’s a nice walk or short drive to the cemetery. (Just getting into town? Use a map or GPS as your guide.)
Walking: Head west on Washington Street and go left on South Main Street. The Cemetery will be on your left in about three blocks.
Driving: Lexington has some one-way streets so it’s a slightly different route to drive. Head west on Washington Street, then turn left on South Jefferson Street (the next cross street after Main Street). When Jefferson “Ts”, go left on White Street, followed by a quick left on Route 11. You should see the cemetery ahead of you while turning on Route 11/Main Street. It will be on your right after the turn. There is usually street parking available.
- 316 S Main St, Lexington, VA 24450
- Open daily from dawn to dusk
- Public area, free to enter
- First, be cautious. In recent years, some of the old trees in the cemetery have been dropping branches, and there are even signs warning about this exploring hazard. And watch your step; low gravestones or corners of the larger ones protrude and can create tripping hazards.
- Inquire at the visitor center for a printed map of the cemetery. If wandering isn’t your favorite, this can help you find specific graves more quickly.
Let’s Talk History
In 1789 – the same year George Washington became president – the Presbyterians of Lexington started using this burial ground. While the major of the interred were of that denomination, people of other faiths were buried here in later decades.
Lexington grew and flourished in the early 19th Century, especially with the additions of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) and Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Well-educated men arrived to teach at the colleges and helped build and expand the community. During the American Civil War, Lexington’s fame grew as the home of “Stonewall” Jackson. Many of Lexington’s men served in the Confederacy.
Here are a few of the famous people buried in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery:
Thomas J. Jackson (and family) – called “Stonewall,” Jackson led the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. His defense of the Shenandoah Valley in 1862 propelled him to fame and legendary status, followed by other victories with Robert E. Lee. Jackson died in May 1863, succumbing to pneumonia after being injured by friendly fire. At his request, he was buried in Lexington.
Margaret J. Preston – called the “Civil War Poet Laureate of the South”, Mrs. Preston spent most of her life in Lexington. She wrote hundreds of poems and a few novels. Her work was published in southern magazines and even Harper’s Weekly. She married a VMI professor prior to the Civil War. (Her stepson Willie Preston died at the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862 and his gravestone is near hers.)
John Letcher – served the district’s representative in Congress in the 1850’s and Virginia’s governor during the Civil War. Known for his integrity and hatred of corruption, his nickname was “Honest John.”
James McDowell – another governor of Virginia, led the state in 1840’s before being chosen to serve in the U.S. Congress. He died in 1851 – a decade prior to the Civil War.
Francis H. Smith – the first superintendent of Virginia Military Institute (serving from 1839 to 1889), Smith had a significant influence on the lives of many state and national leaders. He witnessed the destruction of VMI during the war and oversaw its rebuilding. Smith also authored several education books.
The Pendletons – William Nelson Pendleton, an Episcopalian minister and Confederate artillery officer, lived in the Lexington community for a couple of decades; he was an educator and author, in addition to performing his religious duties. William’s only son – Alexander S. Pendleton – served as adjutant general and chief of staff for Confederate generals Jackson, Ewell, and Early before losing his life at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill.
What We’re Looking At
The cemetery is laid out similar to a cross with intersecting paths. At the center, stands Jackson’s grave and memorial statue. It should be noted that this was not Jackson’s first resting place. As you enter the cemetery from Main Street and walk toward the large statue, on the left, you’ll walk by Jackson’s first grave – the statue came a few decades after the war.
This burial ground follows tradition and has family plots. Some are enclosed, other are not. For example, the Pendleton Family plot is just to right as you enter from Main Street. Father, son, grandson, and a few other family members are buried there.
Most of the Confederate soldier and officer graves are marked by a small metal cross in front which can be helpful for identification.
If you walked up Main Street (or will be driving down it), notice the white pillared church near the intersection of Nelson Street. This is where Jackson and many other Lexington residents went to church in the pre and post-war days.