No visit to Lexington would be complete for a history enthusiast without first visiting the Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University. Lee Chapel was built shortly after the Civil War while General Robert E. Lee was President of Washington College. The chapel originally served as a place of worship and for college functions, General Lee's office was in the basement, and even the local YMCA used it. You can still visit Lee's office which was kept just as he left it. An addition to the chapel houses the Lee memorial featuring the famous recumbent statue of Robert E. Lee sculpted by Edward Valentine. Below the statue chamber is the resting place for Lee's family including his wife, children, and father Henry 'Light Horse Harry' Lee who commanded George Washington's cavalry during the American Revolution. The basement also houses a museum which focuses primarily on the Washington and Lee families. Just outside the museum door you will find the burial site of Lee's famous warhorse Traveler. The Chapel is still used for university functions on occasion, but is generally open for visitors.
Hours of operation: April 1-Oct. 31; Mon-Sat. 9-5, Sun. 1-5 Nov. 1-March 31: Mon-Sat. 9-4, Sun. 1-4 For more Information: Click Here
Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery is the burial ground of some of the most notable figures of the Confederacy, including that of its namesake, General Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson who's grave is marked by the famous heroic statue by Edward Valentine. Other notable people who lay at rest here include John Letcher, Governor of Virginia who railed against Lincoln for inaugurating a civil war; Margaret Junkin Preston, a sister-in-law of Stonewall who became known as the Poet Laurette of the South and her husband Col J.T.L. Preston, one of the co-founders of VMI; General William Nelson Pendleton, Lee's Chief of Artillery and his son Alexander (Sandie) Pendleton
The Institute will be heard from today ~ Stonewall Jackson on the eve of Chancellorsville(Above: The old barracks at VMI with the statue of Gen. 'Stonewall' Jackson by Sir Moses Ezekiel with the "Four Gospels" or the old cadet battery of guns that were with Jackson at the battle of Manassas)
A trip to Lexington would not be complete without a visit to the Virginia Military Institute. VMI is the nation's oldest state supported military college. The VMI Museum in Jackson Memorial Hall houses many exciting artifacts and exhibits for the Civil War enthusiast including Jackson's raincoat which he was wounded in, his forage hat, camp desk, and stool. Jackson's famous war-horse "Little Sorrel" was mounted and is on display in the museum as well. The museum of course includes many items specific to VMI including cadet uniforms and equipment throughout history. The Henry Stewart collection of historical firearms is housed in the VMI Museum.
Jackson was joined on the battlefield by many officers who were trained at VMI. The VMI Archives are an excellent research depository on the War Between the States. The VMI post is also dotted with many historical plaques, statues, and artifacts such as period cannons.
On April 21, 1861, Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson was placed in command of conducting the VMI cadet corp. to Richmond where they would serve in training the forces for the defense of Virginia. In May of 1863, Jackson's body was returned to Lexington to lay in state following his death after the battle of Chancellorsville from complications.
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(Above: 'Virginia Mourning Her Dead' by Sir Moses Ezekiel at VMI at the graves of the New Market dead)
The Stonewall Jackson House was the only private residence ever owned by Thomas Jonathan 'Stonewall' Jackson. The Jackson House is now operated as part of the VMI Museum system. Stonewall and his wife Mary Anna Jackson purchased the house in 1858. Mrs. Jackson donated the house to the United Daughters of the Confederacy which utilized the home as a memorial hospital. In 1954 the home was turned into a museum and was restored in 1979 to its original appearance. Guided tours are given daily during the tourist season. The house has a nice gift shop and the garden surrounding the house is accessible without charge. The Jackson House is closed in January and February with the exception of Jackson's birthday and Lee-Jackson Day.
A number of historic residences are on the Washington & Lee University campus. These residences are closed to the public, but you can view them and the grounds while walking across the Washington & Lee University campus
The Lee House was built for the Lee family when Robert E. Lee assumed the presidency of Washington College. Mrs. Lee required the use of a rolling-chair as her health had deteriorated by this time. Since the Lees occupied the home, it has remained the residence for the presidents of the university.
The Lee-Jackson House was the previous residence used by the president of the college. When Dr. George Junkin was president of Washington College, his daughter Elinor became the first wife of VMI professor Thomas J. Jackson (Stonewall) in 1854. The young couple lived with the President Junkin in this house. Unfortunately, their happiness was cut short when "Ellie" died from complications of child birth along with her baby boy. This was a sharp blow to Jackson who had dealt all too frequently with tragic loss. Although they never developed a romantic relationship, Jackson became close to his sister-in-law Margaret, who later married VMI co-founder J.T.L. Preston. Margaret was known as the 'Poet Laurete of the South.'
In the world of horses, very few ever become household names. To the ranks of Secretariat and Seabiscuit, you can add the names of a select few war-horses. Two such horses are buried in Lexington. 'Stonewall' Jackson's 'Little Sorrel' is buried on the VMI grounds and his hide was mounted and is on display in the VMI Museum. Robert E. Lee's famous war-horse 'Traveler' was named for George Washington's horse. Traveler survived the war and retired to Lexington with Lee where the two enjoyed daily rides through the nearby countryside which was no doubt therapeutic for both. When the new president's house was completed for Lee, Traveler also got a new stable adjoining the house. Traveler survived Lee and upon his death was buried on the backside of campus. Traveler's hide was not save and mounted like Little Sorrel who well outlived Traveler as a pet and mascot at the Old Soldier's Home in Richmond.
(Above: Traveler's grave outside Lee Chapel)
The current Lexington Presbyterian Church building was constructed in 1845. Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson who had wandered from one Christian denomination to another in his early life finally took refuge in the Presbyterian sect while in Lexington. Jackson became a most ardent devoted follower of Christ in the old Calvanist mold. With its strong "predestination" message, Jackson said he felt as safe in battle as he did in bed. God had fixed the time of his death and the heat of battle could not harm him until that date. Jackson joined the Lexington Presbyterian Church in 1851 when he became a professor at VMI. It was at this church that taught his noted Sunday School for the town's Black residents. Jackson believed that everyone should know how to read the scriptures and so he instructed free and enslaved blacks how to read and write despite once being threatened with prosecution for doing so.
Lexington Presbyterian Church was nearly destroyed by a fire in 2000. Although the building was extensively damaged, a complete restoration was completed in 2003 restoring the appearance and function of the building.
Robert E. Lee was taught the Episcopalian faith early in life by his mother. Many of the Old Virginia families of English descent had naturally been of the Anglican faith and thus gravitated to the Episcopal Church when it was forced to re-organize after the American Revolution. Lee was not confirmed into the church until age 46. Following the War Between the States, Lee came to Lexington partly under the influence of Rev. William N. Pendleton, who had served as Lee's Chief-of-Artillery. Lee joined Grace Episcopal church where he became a Senior Warden and at times served as a lay reader. On September 28, 1870 Lee suffered a stroke following a vestry meeting and eventually passed away on October 12, 1870. Grace Episcopal Church was renamed R.E. Lee Memorial Church in honor of the general. The church is situated in front of Washington & Lee University.
No topic is more hotly contended over than the role of slavery and Black Confederates during the Civil War. There is no doubt that many slaves were used against their will in during the contest, but there are plenty of examples of others who voluntarily served or at least looked at their service fondly post-war. Lexington was located in the more mountainous region of Virginia and was therefore not heavily populated with slaves. In fact, the region was moderately abolitionist, however, just like the rest of Virginia, when Lincoln called for an armed invasion of the South, the area voted to secede from the Union. When the local troops marched off to war, a number of free and enslaved blacks accompanied them. Among those were the likes of Jim Lewis, James Humbles, Levi Miller, and Jefferson Shields. You will find their graves at Lexington's historically Black Cemetery, Evergreen with the exception of those buried prior to the 1880's in the Old Colored Cemetery which was obliterated by a housing development in 1945.
Charles H. Wesley, a distinguished black historian who lived from 1891 to 1987, wrote "The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army," in the Journal of Negro History (1919). He says, "Seventy free blacks enlisted in the Confederate Army in Lynchburg, Virginia. Sixteen companies (1,600) of free men of color marched through Augusta, Georgia on their way to fight in Virginia." according to (Dr. Walter E. Williams)
Jefferson Shields was well photographed after the Civil War and enjoyed attending many of Confederate reunions. He no doubt was influenced by Stonewall Jackson and others in the Lexington area who sought to bring the area's Black's to Christ. "Uncle Jeff" as he was affectionately known became a co-founder and Trustee of the First African Baptist Church which organized in 1867. It is worthy to note that these individuals and their descendents held 'Stonewall' Jackson in such high regard that they were the first to donate towards the statue of him which now stands at his grave.