The last time I was in Lexington, Virginia, we were getting soundly thrashed in a baseball game by Washington and Lee University. Lyndon Johnson was president, nobody had walked on the moon and my little brother was preparing for a tour of Viet Nam.
I was back now to see the home, and final resting place, of Thomas J. Jackson…….or, at least, where most of him is buried. I know he was a famous Civil War General and I appreciate his skills but that is not why I was here. He was by all accounts a wonderful husband, a devout Christian and a leading citizen of Lexington. I wasn’t interested in that.
He organized and taught an African-American Sunday School class in the 1850’s which, of course, was strictly illegal at the time. I found that intriguing but it was not why I made the nine hundred mile trip.
General Jackson believed that one arm was heavier than the other. He thought some of his internal organs were shifted slightly out of place. To counter balance these maladies he would stand ramrod straight for hours and lean slightly to one side so his internal parts could slide closer to their proper positions. He would raise his “heavy” arm for long periods so the blood could flow down to his body and lighten the offending appendage.
He ate very little. Mostly bread and buttermilk and the simple vegetables he grew out in his back yard. He took cold baths each morning, followed by a long brisk walk, rain or shine. He never leaned back in a chair or slouched. That rushed too many bad elements to his stomach area. If he had a sore throat, he was convinced the problem originated in his liver. He didn’t take black pepper on anything because that added weight to his “heavy” leg.
How could you not drive a few miles out of the way to find out more about a fellow like this?
I don’t know for a fact but at the first Battle of Manassas it has been reported that as the Yankees approached up Henry House Hill Jackson had one arm high in the air seeking balance. His troops thought it meant stop backing up, stand here and fight, so they did. Confederate General Bernard Bee, taking all this in, rallied his troops by shouting “look at Jackson standing like a stone wall.”
The name stuck. And so did the legend.
Jackson was a West Pointer. He was a veteran of the Mexican War, where he served with distinction. He found his way to Lexington in 1851, accepting a position at the Virginia Military Institute. He became Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy….. ye gads! Those poor cadets!
He turned a chair to the wall each night in his house on East Washington Street and sat laboriously studying the next day’s lesson; then he recited it verbatim the following morning to the disinterested students. If one of them asked a question, he started at the top and recited the entire lesson again. There were few questions.
He taught Artillery in the afternoon with a little more success. When the Civil War broke out he was ordered to march the VMI Cadets to Richmond to help train the young southern recruits. Jackson turned out to be a better General than he was a school teacher.
I decided to follow his 1862 trail up the Shenandoah Valley. I know he lost his left arm in the fighting at Chancellorsville and I was wondering if I could find where it was buried and if it was the “heavy” one and if the war might have turned out differently if he hadn’t been accidently shot by his own men when I saw the Patsy Cline sign.
I slid the car to a halt right in the middle of the Interstate—and backed that thing up to make sure I’d read it right. We were coming into Winchester, Virginia, and the billboard proclaimed it to be the hometown of the one and only PATSY CLINE! The sign directed us to the next exit where you could visit her girlhood home.
Man, I had to see where she went “Walkin’ After Midnight!” It was a four room house smaller than Stonewall Jackson’s place. No plumbing, no facilities, not hardly enough room to turn around…..it could drive you “Crazy” or make you “Fall to Pieces.”
I got to telling the guide about Patsy’s childhood and her first husband and how she got on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show in 1957 and how Willie Nelson wouldn’t even go into her house and her friendship with Loretta Lynn and about the terrible plane crash near Camden, Tennessee, that took her life. The lady asked if I would stay and explain all of this to the next tour.
“I’m sorry ma’am. I can’t, I’ve got to get going. I’m looking for an arm.”