by Brandon Dorsey
Lee-Jackson Day is a holiday recognized in several States of the American South. The holiday is celebrated in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. In Texas, it is known as "Confederate Heroes Day." In Virginia it is a state holiday which falls on the Friday before the third Monday of January.
The holiday was originally created in 1889 to celebrate the birthday of General Robert E. Lee who was born on January 19, 1807. The holiday was put into effect by Governor Fitzhugh Lee who was a nephew of the general and had been a Confederate general himself. In 1904 the holiday was changed to include a tribute to Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson who was born on January 21, 1824. The change was made under the administration of Governor Andrew Jackson Montague.
During the 1970s, Virginia had commemorated the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. on New Year’s Day, however in 1983 Virginia adopted the Federal commemoration date and combined it with an existing holiday to create Lee-Jackson-King Day. In the year 2000, after much debate about the relevance of having the two holidays combined, the holidays were again separated with Lee-Jackson Day falling on the Friday before the holiday honoring King.
Lee and Jackson in Lexington
Stonewall Jackson came to Lexington in 1851 when he accepted a position as professor of Natural Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery at the Virginia Military Institute. Jackson would marry Elinor Junkin on August 4, 1853 in Lexington. Elinor was the daughter of Dr. George Junkin who served as president of Washington College. Tragically, Elinor passed away from complications of childbirth on October 22, 1854 along with a stillborn son. Jackson would depart from Lexington for a period to travel across Europe to rebuild his spirits and broaden his knowledge. Jackson would return to Lexington full of renewed enthusiasm for his Christian faith. During this period Jackson would create his famed Colored Sunday School which was open to free blacks and slaves in which the pupils would be taught about Christianity and how to read the Bible. Jackson was once threatened with criminal prosecution for teaching slaves to read and write, but the threat was not carried out. On July 16, 1857 Jackson would marry Mary Anna Morrison of Charlotte, North Carolina who was also the daughter of a former college president and minister. The Jackson’s would enjoy a relatively short period of quiet marriage in Lexington before the outbreak of the War Between the States. Jackson was ordered on April 27, 1861 to take the Corp of Cadets from VMI to Richmond at the start of hostilities which began his march to fame as the great “Stonewall.” Jackson was tragically wounded during the battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863 and passed away on May 10th. He was survived by his wife and infant daughter Julia Laura Jackson. Jackson’s body was taken to Richmond where he was laid in state at the Capitol before being buried in Lexington in a cemetery which has been renamed in Jackson’s honor. A fine bronze statue, created by Edward Valentine, depicting the likeness of Jackson on the field of battle stands over his grave. It is interesting to note that the first donations towards erecting the statue came from members of Jackson’s colored Sunday School class, many of whom went on to become prominent leaders in their communities. In 1907, the Mary Custis Lee Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased Jackson’s home from his widow and turned it into a memorial hospital to honor Jackson. In 1979 the home was restored to its appearance as a private residence which is open to visitors.
Robert E. Lee was drawn to Lexington following the collapse of the Confederacy. In 1865, Lee accepted an invitation from the Board of Trustees of Washington College to become the school’s president. Lee had refused to accept several financially lucrative business offers for fear that the ventures would damage his family name. However, Lee believed that this position would allow him to aid the rebuilding of the South through educating the youth while affording him a modest income in the face of financial ruin. Lee was partially drawn to Lexington because the college was the namesake of George Washington who was a hero of Lee. Lee’s father had fought as a general in the Revolution under Washington and his wife was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Lee was also aware that Lexington was the burial spot of his friend and his most successful lieutenant, Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. Lee proved himself to be as adept at turning a struggling college into a successful university as he was in obtaining victories with his outnumbered Confederate forces. Under Lee’s direction the college added a law school and began initiatives which lead to the later additions of the journalism and commerce schools. Lee was a strong advocate for practical education including the sciences. Lee was an active member of the Episcopal Church in Lexington which has since been renamed in his honor. In October 1870, Lee fell ill from what was most likely a stroke. After several tense days, Robert E. Lee passed away surrounded by his family on October 12, 1870. Robert E. Lee was laid to rest in the college chapel which he and his son Custis had designed and built. Following Lee’s death, the school was renamed Washington and Lee University in his honor. In 1883 an addition was added to Lee Chapel to include a statuary chamber on the main level to house the famed recumbent statue of Robert E. Lee created by Edward Valentine. The lower level of the addition became the family crypt where Lee and his immediate family have been relocated.
History of Lee-Jackson Day in Lexington, Virginia
The birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson have been honored in various manners in Lexington since the late 19th century. It seems only befitting that throughout the years various celebrations and events have been held to honor the birthdays of the generals in their final home and resting place. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, United Confederate Veterans, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have sponsored events to honor Lee and Jackson in Lexington. Excerpts from some of the recorded newspaper accounts of Lee-Jackson Day events are below:
The [Richmond] Times-Dispatch
(January 20, 1908)
LEXINGTON, VA., January 19 -. Tomorrow will be approprlatcly observed In Lexington as Lee-Jackson Day by the Confederate organizations of the town and county. The members of the Lee-Jackson Camp of Confederate Veterans of Lexington, and other Confederate veterans of Rockbridge, will be entertained at dinner by the members
of Camp Frank Paxton, Sons of Confederates [Veterans]. Commandant E. L. Graham,
of tho Sons, will act as toastmaster, and Commander J. Preston Moore, of Lee-Jackson Camp, will acknowledge appreciation on the part of the veterans. Mr. Greenlee D. Letcher will speak on tho subject, "Robert E. Lee as a Citizen of Rockbridge," and Mr. William T. Shields will speak on "John Letcher, Virginia's War Governor."
The Lexington Gazette
(January 21, 1938)
Lee-Jackson Dinner Held on Wednesday
Dr. W.G. Bean Gives Paper Dealing With Causes of Secession.
The annual dinner meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was held at the Robert E. Lee hotel on Wednesday, January 19- Lee’s birthday.
The room was tastefully decorated with Confederate flags and candles. The invocation was pronounced by Dr. James Murray, chaplain of Camp Frank Paxton. Music was furnished by a quartet composed of Mr. And Mrs. George Irwin, Mrs. Lloyd McClung, and Lewis Jones. Violin numbers were played by Mr. Shaw, with Miss Gladys Copper at the piano. One of the selections naturally was “Dixie,” and the whole company sang it standing.
Dr. E.P. Tompkins, commandant [sp. commander] of Camp Frank Paxton, called the meeting to order, and in a short talk explained the purport of this annual affair--to keep green n memory the deeds and valor done by the soldiers, the equally brave part taken by the women of the Confederacy.
He then introduced Mrs. B.B. Glover, president of the Mary Custis Lee chapter of the Daughters, who made a four-minute talk in somewhat the same vein. The presiding officer then introduced one who is a Rockbridge man, but much of whose life has been spent elsewhere--a man of attainment as statesman, diplomat, jurist, author -- former Senator Miles Poindexter. He responded with a word of greeting, which was attentively heard.
Next on the program was the address, or rather paper, of Dr. W.G. Bean, head of the history department of Washington and Lee university. Dr. Bean gave a scholarly interpretation of certain phases of American history, dealing principally with causes leading up to secession, and the war which followed.
Some seventy-five covers were laid, and many expressed the opinion that this was one of the best of these annual affairs. The exercises were closed by all joining in singing Auld Lang Syne.
The U.D.C. committee which assisted in arrangements was composed of Mrs. B.B. Glover, Mrs. James S. Moffatt, and Mrs. H.M. Quisenberry.
The Lexington Gazette
Lee-Jackson Day Dinner January 18
At a recent join meeting of committees of the Mary Custis Lee Chapter, U.D.C., and the Frank Paxton Camp, S.C.V., it was decided to hold the Lee-Jackson Dinner this year as usual. Miss Ellen Anderson, President of the Mary Custis Lee Chapter, Mrs. Herbert Hamric, Mrs. James Moffatt, Dr. E.P. Tompkins, Mr. E.T. Robinson, and Dr. James Moffatt were appointed a committee to make arrangements for the dinner music, and to secure a speaker.
Mr. Granville Johnston, Commander of the Frank Paxton Camp, will preside at the dinner. Mrs. E.F. Hamilton will direct a quartet in the presentation of appropriate patriotic songs. The quartet consists of E.F. Hamilton, Hugh Davis, Peter DeBoer, and Matthew Clark.
The dinner this year will be held on Saturday, January 18, in the private dinning room of the Virginia Café, at one o’clock. The price per plate will be $1.25. Citizens of Lexington, Buena Vista, and of Rockbridge County and vicinity, are cordially invited to attend.
Mrs. W.A. Adair has charge of the sale of tickets at the office of the County Treasurer in the Court House. All those intending to be present at the dinner are urged to secure tickets from Mrs. Adair at least three days in advance of the day of the dinner so that an adequate number of plates may be provided.
The Lexington Gazette
(January 9, 1952)
B.G. Locher to Speak At Lee-Jackson Day Dinner January 19
Business Meeting of Camp Frank Paxton To Be Held at C.H.
The annual Lee-Jackson dinner, sponsored by the Frank Paxton Camp, SCV, and the Mary Custis Lee Chapter, UDC, will be held as previously announced, on Saturday, January 19th at one o’clock at the Dutch Inn. Tickets for the dinner, at a cost per plate of $1.50, should be purchased at least three days in advance of January 19th from the Dutch Inn or from the Peoples Bank in Buena Vista.
Hon. B.G. Locher, representative from Rockbridge county in the state legislature, will make the main address at the dinner. Mr. Locher will discuss important measures before the current session of the state legislature.
An important item on the program for the dinner will be the award to General Richard J. Marshall, Superintendent of Virginia Military Institute, of the War Cross of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and of Major-General’s Commission in the honorary staff of the United Confederate Veterans.
Music at the dinner, consisting of traditional Southern songs, will be furnished by a quartet selected from members of the Glee Club of Washington and Lee University.
On the morning of January 19, preceding the dinner, the annual meeting of Camp Frank Paxton, S.C.V., will be held….
According to the last commander of the Rockbridge Artillery Camp #1296, James Earehart, (another former chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans), Lee-Jackson Day was continually sponsored in some manner by the S.C.V. until the camp disbanded in 1975. The Rockbridge Artillery Camp would annually hold a program where they would be assisted by cadets from VMI in placing wreaths at the grave of Stonewall Jackson and inside Lee Chapel. Although the birthdays of Lee and Jackson were never forgotten in Lexington, with the departure of the SCV the commemoration of Lee-Jackson Day was practically neglected. VMI would continue to honor Jackson’s birthday by placing a wreath at his grave on January 21st, the Stonewall Jackson House would commemorate the date, and Lee’s birthday would receive some notice at Washington and Lee University. The Rockbridge Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, would continue the tradition of a Lee-Jackson Day dinner on Lee’s birthday, but even that event received little recognition.
In the late 1990’s, the discussion on the separation of the Lee-Jackson and Martin Luther King, Jr. holidays created a renewed interest in Lee-Jackson Day in Lexington. For the first time in nearly 25 years a large scale celebration of Lee-Jackson Day would be held on January 15, 2000. The event would feature a service at the grave of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, followed by a parade through Lexington ending at Lee Chapel with a memorial service held inside. The finale of the event included a dinner at the historic Willson-Walker House in downtown Lexington. The renewed event was sponsored by the Hupp-Deyerle-McCausland Chapter of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars.
Also in the year 2000, the Sons of Confederate Veterans was to be reborn in the Lexington area with the reformation of camp #1296 which was renamed The Stonewall Brigade. The organizing camp took part in this inaugural Lee-Jackson Day event and was desirous to see the event continue. With the approval of the Hupp-Deyerle-McCausland Chapter M.O.S.&B., The Stonewall Brigade, S.C.V. became the organizing body and primary sponsor of the event which has followed the same basic format as the originating event.
Lee-Jackson Day 2007 was a particularly notable event as 2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Lee. The event was attended by approximately 500 participants. The event included the normal services, parade, and a luncheon at historic Col Alto, but concluded with the grand Robert E. Lee Ball.
Other Historical Events in Virginia
Online historical newspaper accounts are available on these links:
by Brandon Dorsey
Robert Edward Lee was born January 19, 1807 to Revolutionary War hero Henry *Light Horse Harry* Lee and Anne Carter Lee at Stratford Hall. He was an exemplary youth who later graduated second in his class from West Point without receiving a single demerit. On June 30, 1831, at Arlington, Lee married Mary Ann Randolph Custis, the great granddaughter of Martha and George Washington. Lee served in the U.S. Army for nearly 32 years and was offered the command of the Union Army at the outset of the War Between the States, but would chose to link his fate to his native State. Lee would command the famed Army of Northern Virginia, leading it to many victories until succumbing to bitter defeat. Following the collapse of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee became the president of Washington College where he strove to instruct its youth by his example and devotion to God. Robert E. Lee died on October 12, 1870 and lies at rest in Lee Chapel.
Thomas Johnathan 'Stonewall' Jackson was born January 21, 1824 in Clarksburg [West] Virginia. His father and mother passed away while he was young which devastated him. His mother's dying plea to him was that he become a good Christian. Jackson was able to attend West Point almost by divine intervention when another cadet dropped out. Jackson participated in the Mexican War and later came to Lexington as a professor at VMI in 1851 where he fell in love with his first wife Elinor Junkin only to endure her death in childbirth which devastated him. It was during this period that his Christian faith and reliance on God no matter what the circumstances developed which gave him the assurance that he was as safe on a battlefield as in bed if he remained in God's will. Jackson died on May 10, 1864 following his accidental wounding during his greatest battle, Chancellorsville. He was survived by his second wife Mary Anna [Morrison] Jackson and an infant daughter named Julia.
The most important factor in the lives of Lee and Jackson was their Christian faith as the hope for mankind. Both men were great warriors, but they realized that war was the result of human sin. Jesus Christ changed these men and He can change you. This life is just an opportunity to make change for either good or ill. Jesus first taught us to live, then He died upon the cross of Calvary to pay for the sins of everyone who will recognize their evil nature, ask His forgiveness, and from then on seek to serve him in truth and righteous living. Through Christ you will begin to understand the greatness of their character and why they stood against tyranny to defend their God-given rights in the face of overwhelming opposition. These men are not to be worshipped, but to be admired in the light of their savior.
Below you will find media reports on additional Lee-Jackson Day events of the late 19th and early 20th century as they are researched and discovered
The Lexington Gazette - Jan. 10, 1934
Lee-Jackson Fete Is To Be Revived
Sons Of Confederate Veterans Plan For Revival Of Traditional Affair
After abandoning the traditional Lee-Jackson banquet, annually held on January 19, Robert E. Lee's birthday anniversary, for several years, members of the Frank Paxton Camp of Sons of Confederate Veterans met yesterday evening at the court house and decided to revive the historic affair this year.
The banquet had been abandoned because for several years there were no veterans of the Civil War able to attend.
While plans were not perfected at yesterday's meeting, it was suggested that the dinner be held this year in an informal fashion and that sons and daughters of Confederate veterans and all others interested be invited to attend the "Dutch treat affair." The occasion will be devoted to the Confederate memories, keeping so to speak, an altar-fire alive with the glorious thoughts and recollections of southern heroes, soldiers and officers. It was suggested that at this year's banquet informal talks be made or papers read by those present. A part of the program also will be the singing of Confederate songs. It was the opinion of those present at yesterday's meeting that the occasion would well repay the time and slight expense involved in the hour of worship and love offering.
The plans for revival of the banquet were also approved by the local chapter of the United Daughter's of the Confederacy yesterday.
Details as to the place, time, price and program will be announced at an early date. In the meantime, all those interested are asked to communicate with E. T. Robinson at the county clerk's office.
Rockbridge County News - Jan. 11, 1940
Lee-Jackson Day Speaker Is Rev. I. D. Terrell
Rev. Irby D. Terrell, pastor of the Presbyterian church of Buena Vista will deliver the address at the Lee-Jackson Memorial dinner here on January 19, accordin to an announcement this week by Dr. James S. Moffatt, commandant of Camp Frank Paxton, Sons of Confederate Veterans. The dinner sponsored by the Sons and the Mary Custis Lee chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, is an annual event.
The cost of the dinner which will 'be held at 1 o'clock in the Robert E. Lee hotel Friday, January 19, will be $1 per plate. Attendance is not to be limited to the Sons and Daughters, but anyone interested may secure a ticket upon application to the ticket committee.
The following committees on arrangement have been appointed: Dr. E. Pendleton Tompkins, E. T. Robinson, W. A. Adair, Mrs. Harry M. Quisenberry, ticket committee; Mrs. James S. Moffatt, Mrs. B.B. Glover, menu and decorations; Earl K. Paxton, Captain Greenlee D. Letcher, music.
Those who are planning to attend the dinner are urged to reserve a ticket from some member of the ticket committee at least four days in advance of January 19 so that I
some idea may be obtained by the ticket committee about the number of plates that will be needed.
Rockbridge County News - Jan. 25, 1940
Lee-Jackson Day Is Celebrated By Annual Dinner
"Devotion to duty was the keynote of the life of General Robert E. Lee," said Rev. I. D. Terrell, guest speaker at the Lee-Jackson dinner Friday at the Robert E. Lee hotel.
The dining room of the hotel was attractively decorated with Confederate colors. On the speaker's table were red candles and a large bowl of red roses and Confederate flags were grouped as a background. On each of the smaller tables were red roses and candles and a bit of green pine. As a favor, each guest was given a tiny Confederate flag with red and white ribbons.
Dr. James S. Moffatt, commander of Camp Frank Paxton, Sons of Confederate Veterans, presided. Dr. James J. Murray, the chaplain, delivered the invocation and also introduced the speaker. I
Mr. Terrell enumerated a number of instances of General Lee's devotion to duty. It was duty which compelled him to decline the leadership of the United States Army in 1861 and to uphold the ideals of his state. It was his duty to surrender the Confederate forces at Appomattox in 1865. He felt it his duty, Mr. Terrell continued, to come to Lexington and work with the students of Washington College instead of accepting positions of greater financial reward. His duty to his church was an outstanding part of his life, Mr. Terrell said, and his last active afternoon was spent in the church presiding over a vestry meeting. His sense of duty always had a forward outlook, extending beyond his everyday tasks.
"The fact that General Lee and General Jackson both lived in Lexington," stated Mr. Terrell, "should exert a noble influence and should I make true patriotism and noble character easier to find a place in the hearts of the people. It should I make selfishness and dishonor harder to find such a place."
Southern songs, featuring those by Stephen Foster, were sung by a quartet composed of Dr. and Mrs. Lee K. Bailey, Miss Albertina Ravenhorst, and Henry Ravenhorst. Mrs. Frederick M. P. Pearse, who was in charge of the musical program, accompanied the quartet and also played several selections on the piano.
Mrs. Claude W. Crist, president of the Mary Custis Lee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, presented two crosses on behalf of the Daughters, the World War cross to William Washington Goforth, and the Spanish-American War cross to Charles Perry Lackey, both descendants of Confederate soldiers. Mrs. Herbert Hamric, custodian of the crosses, made the awards.
The Lee-Jackson Day dinner is sponsored annually by the Camp Frank Paxton, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Mary Custis Lee chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, in honor of the two great Southern chieftians.
THE LEXINGTON GAZETTE Oct. 2, 1946 [News from 75 Years ago]
GEN. LEE AND THE WAR - In his lecture at New Orleans, Gen. Pendleton, of Lexington, Va. said: A few hours before the closing scene at Appomattox Court-house, Gen. Lee sent for Gen. Pendleton to have a private conference on the desperate conditions of affairs. In that conference Gen. Lee stated that "from the first - taking into consideration the limited means at our command and the unlimited resources of the power that opposes us - I have never believed we could succeed, unless under Providence some foreign Power should lend us assistance. I knew it was to the interest of foreign Powers to do so. I believed it was their duty, while realizing fully the tremendous odds against us. I, felt there were great principles to be maintained, a holy cause to be defended, and determined upon my course."