Share This Article

Stonewall Jackson House Goes to VMI

The Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, Virginia, where Thomas J. Jackson resided between 1858 and 1861 with his second wife Anna while he taught at Virginia Military Institute, is expected to become the property of VMI sometime this year. VMI’s Board of Visitors approved the plan this past December.

Built in 1801, the house was used as a hospital for some years, and has belonged to three preservation organizations since the 1950s. The current owner, Stonewall Jackson House Foundation, struggled with a declining number of visitors as well as income in recent years and decided the best move was to transfer it to an institution that could properly care for it. That organization’s board approached VMI about two years ago.

Plans call for the Federal-style home and its collections to be administered by the VMI Museum, which already boasts a star attraction: the mounted body of General Jackson’s beloved war horse, Little Sorrel.

‘Nation’s Attic’ Civil War Treasures From the Smithsonian Institution

The immediate forerunner of the famous Winchester, the 1860 Henry rifle was developed based on the Volcanic firearms system, built around the .44-caliber rimfire cartridge. The rifle and cartridge were both designed by B. Tyler Henry.The weapon’s magazine held 15 cartridges, which could be fired as fast as it took to work the lever and squeeze the trigger— which was seen as a revolutionary development in Civil War service. Only about 14,000 Henrys were made between 1860 and 1866 by the New Haven Arms Company.

The U.S. Ordnance Department purchased 1,731 Henry rifles between 1862 and 1865. Members of two U.S. Army units, the 1st Maine and 1st District of Columbia cavalry regiments, are known to have been issued Henry rifles, but quite a few company-size Union organizations, especially those hailing from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri, carried Henry rifles into combat that the troops purchased at their own expense.

The Smithsonian’s gold-mounted, engraved Henry rifle was presented to President Abraham Lincoln, in hopes that the gift would lead to more orders from the U.S. Army. Only three Henry rifles received this type of elaborate embellishment. Similar weapons were presented to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells.

Chronicling Strife on the Home Front

There’s still time to take in the Sesquicentennial exhibit at Louisiana State University’s Hill Memorial Library, “The Dear Ones at Home, Women’s Letters and Diaries of the Civil War Era,” which explores life on the home front using a collection of manuscripts, books and photos. Included is a copy of the first account ever to be published by a fugitive American female slave (shown above), Harriet A. Jacobs’ The Deeper Wrong, or, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which was printed in London during the war. Jacobs’ remarkable narrative chronicles how she spent seven years hiding in her grandmother’s attic to escape the unwanted sexual attentions of her master, physician James Norcom. On display until April 30, the exhibit also introduces such fiery Southern patriots as New Orleanian Ann Wilkinson Penrose, who—when her father was arrested by Yankees—confided in her diary, “My blood boiled, I felt possessed with fury.”

Teens Research Ohio Captain’s Grave

On the morning of November 16, 1861, U.S. Army Captain John M. Bell and five of his men drowned after their boat capsized on the Kanawha River. Two months later, his body was found floating in the river about two miles north of Charleston, in western Virginia. The troops who recovered his remains first buried him without a coffin, but he was later transported back to his home state, Ohio, where he was reinterred in a metallic coffin at Washington Court House.

Now the students of Paul LaRue’s Research class at Washington High School are attempting to use the latest technology to answer some questions about Bell’s burial, such as: Can his coffin be identified? Does a metal coffin have a distinctive image? Can such an image be used to positively identify the captain’s grave?

Working with archaeologist Jarrod Burks, the high schoolers are using ground-penetrating radar and a magnetometer to study images of the graveyard. The project is being funded by a $2,500 first prize awarded to the class by the History Channel’s Innovation in History contest.

Extra Credit at Fort Macon

Students at Wayne Community College recently built an aluminum cannon carriage (above) for Fort Macon Park, in Atlantic Beach, N.C.—saving the park about $20,000. That meant the fort, on North Carolina’s eastern shore, could afford to purchase a replica cannon to go with it. The 100 or so students who helped with the project planned to be on hand for the cannon’s first firing in late January.

Sesquicentennial in the News

South Carolinians celebrated the 150th anniversary of their state’s 1860 withdrawal from the Union on December 20, 2010, with a Secession Ball in Charleston, organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust and sponsored by the Sons of Confederates. Highlights of the evening—attended by many in 19th century dress—included a play about the signing of the Ordinance of Secession and music (including “Dixie”) by the band Unreconstructed.

Marching outside the ballroom that evening was a sizable group of protestors, including South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph, who announced, “This is nothing more than a celebration of slavery.” Coming in April: a 10-day long Reenactment of the Confederate Encampment at Fort Sumter.

Philadelphia offers a variety of  exhibits on the war’s earliest events. Visit the Rosenbach Museum & Library to take in “The Civil War Begins,” which explores the conflict’s origins through letters and documents, drawings and newspaper accounts, and will be on display through July 17. The museum is also sponsoring a blog, “Today in the Civil War,” launched last November and set to run until April 2015 (see Another Sesquicentennial attraction, “The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation,” opened last December in Independence National Historical Park. Erected on the site of a mansion occupied by George Washington and John Adams, the exhibit traces the spread of slavery. Its goal is reportedly to expose “the core contradiction at the founding of this nation: enshrinement of liberty and the institution of slavery.”

Virginia’s Secession Convention is the subject of an exhibit that opened in December and runs through October 29, 2011, at the Library of Virginia. “Union or Secession” incorporates letters, journals, newspapers, documents, maps and newspaper broadsides (above) to explore Virginians’ attitudes toward the controversy and chronicle the debate at the convention.

Harrisburg, Pa.’s National Civil War Museum plans a series of exhibits for each year of the war, opening each January through 2015. The current display focuses on Lincoln’s inauguration, secession and the 1861 Baltimore riots. For more, see

The fifth annual Gathering of Civil War Eagles, planned for June 3-5 at the Old Court House Civil War Museum in Winchester, Va., will focus on the “Gathering Storm,” featuring impressionists of leaders from North and South. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, for example, will give their inauguration addresses, and they’ll be joined by the likes of James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, J.E.B. Stuart and photographer Mathew Brady. See or to find out more about the event.

Research Room Orders! Orders!

A major part of the conflict’s rich military documentation at the National Archives is in the form of written orders. A few are famous, and some could be called infamous. On the Confederate side are Robert E. Lee’s Special Order 191 (the “Lost Orders”) and his General Order No. 9 (his so-called Farewell Address). For the Federals there are Benjamin F. Butler’s General Order No. 28 (the “Woman Order”) and Thomas Ewing’s General Order No. 11, which became the inspiration for artist George Caleb Bingham’s chilling painting by that name, portraying the expulsion of residents of four Missouri counties after the August 1863 Lawrence Massacre.

Some background on the way orders were designated is useful for anyone researching the war. The system of issuances by North and South was the same, because both sides looked to the antebellum U.S. Army for procedural models. There were three main types:

General Orders, intended to convey whatever information needed to be known by an entire command. These might distribute praise or blame; state whatever was prohibited or required to be done; announce laws or regulations; make known promotions or appointments; or specify anything else important to those subject to the issuing headquarters.

Special Orders, dealing with matters that were not of general concern, but related instead to a particular corps, regiment or individual. Such orders might create a temporary post; indicate the march of units; detail or detach an officer or soldier; or grant a request—anything, in short, too specific for a general order.

Unnumbered circulars, which were issued from time to time to advise officers of things that they all needed to take into account in the course of their duties.

—Mike Musick

New Life for Vicksburg’s Shirley House

The only house at the Vicksburg battlefield dating from the war is expected to reopen in March or April after an extensive restoration of floors, staircases and interior walls. The Shirley House received rough treatment by the Union Army and also park officials. The 45th Illinois Infantry used it as headquarters, surrounding it with bombproof shelters, and it became a smallpox hospital in 1864. Starting in 1902, it became a visitor center, and was abandoned in the 1960s. In 2009 $1.9 million in stimulus funds were set aside to restore the building, but period furnishings will have to wait for additional funding.


Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.