Friday, April 17, 2015

Still standing like a stone wall

Little Sorrel was Stonewall Jackson's favorite horse. Briefly captured during 
Stoneman's Raid, he lived until 1886 and is now displayed at Virginia Military Institute.
     Stoneman's 1st Brigade was encamped April 17 in Lincoln County, of all places, when a Confederate messenger brought the alarming news that President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated two nights earlier. 
     Over the previous three weeks, Stoneman's troops had encountered plenty of Union sympathizers across western North Carolina, but this was not the time nor place to expect them. One Union soldier described Lincolnton as a pretty town but "extremely rebelliousbitterly so. They have hardly felt the ravages of war, and we are the first 'Yankee invaders to pollute their soil.'"
     Tensions were already high when soldiers overheard a Lincolnton lawyer utter "Sic semper tyrannis" (Latin for "thus always to tyrants")the same words John Wilkes Booth swore in Ford Theater after he shot Lincoln. One of the Yankees drew his pistol and ordered the lawyer to apologize. 
     Our war correspondent, Capt. Henry Weand of Pennsylvania, wrote in his journal:
It is safe to say, that if any citizen of Lincolnton had expressed himself in sympathy with the assassins, it might have resulted in the destruction of the town and many of its inhabitants.
     Even though Lee had already surrendered and the war was all but over, Lincolnton was not ready to accept defeat. After all, six Confederate generals had roots here. Three of them were born in Lincoln County, and three more, including Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, had married the daughters of a prominent Lincoln County minister who had been the founding president of Davidson College. 
     Stonewall and Stoneman wound up on opposite sides of the Civil War, but back in 1844 they had been roommates at the U.S. Military Academy. Overcoming their underprivileged backgrounds, Jackson graduated 17th and Stoneman 33rd among the 59 cadets in the Class of 1846.
Mary Anna Jackson wore black for over
50 years in mourning for her husband,
Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. They
were married in 1857 at her family
home in Lincoln County NC, and their
daughter Julia was born in 1862. 
      Their careers intersected again in 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire and Stoneman was scapegoated for the Union defeat.
      After Gen. Jackson died, his 31-year-old widow, Mary Anna, took their baby Julia and her husband's horse and moved from Virginia back to Lincoln County, where her father had a plantation called Cottage Home. 
     Stoneman's cavalry was forever in need of fresh mounts, so when they were in Lincoln County it was inevitable that troops would raid Cottage Home and seize all the horses and mules.
     Mrs. Jackson was indignant, and she sent a young man to appeal directly to Stoneman. The general was already on his way back to Tennessee, so her messenger was ushered to Col. William Palmer, the commander of the 1st Brigade. A Quaker from Pennsylvania who had a heart for charity, Palmer was probably the best man among Stoneman's officers to handle such a sensitive situation.
     James Robertson's biography of Jackson includes this quote from Mrs. Jackson's emissary:
     I asked for General Stoneman and was told he was not with the raid, that Colonel somebody else was in command, and to go to a certain tent and present my note. The note was sent in and the Colonel came out, really excited.
     He asked me if I would know the horses and I told him that of course I would, as I had ridden them many times. We walked over together to a temporary corral and there I saw Fancy at once. 
     Not only did Palmer allow the young man to reclaim Fancy and a few mules, but he also sent Mrs. Jackson a note of apology, a U.S. Cavalry bridle as a gift, and three guards to ensure the safety of the family at Cottage Home.
     Fancy was none other than Little Sorrel, the same horse Gen. Jackson was riding when he was shot at Chancellorsville.
     Jackson had named the little gelding Fancy in 1861 when he purchased him as a gift for Mary Anna. But the general liked Fancy's gait, stamina, and courage so much that he kept him and renamed him Little Sorrel. (Sorrel is a description of a reddish or chestnut-colored horse.)
     After the war, Mrs. Jackson, Julia, and Little Sorrel returned to Lexington, Virginia, where the horse became a favorite of cadets at Virginia Military Institute. He spent his last days at the Confederate Soldiers' Home in Richmond, where veterans devised a sling to help the old horse stand. 
     When Little Sorrel died in 1886 at the age of 36, the college hired a taxidermist to preserve his hide and mount it on a plaster model. You can see him today at VMI—still standing like a stone wall.

NEXT: The Bee behind Stonewall's nickname

This eyewitness account of Stoneman's Raid in Lincolnton was written 70 years later by Rev. William Lander Sherrill. He has confused Union Col. William Palmer with a different Yankee officer, Gen. John Palmer, who later became a presidential candidate. The tragic story of Sherrill's father-in-law is one of my favorite profiles in the Stoneman Gazette.

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