Lee-Jackson Day to be celebrated in Georgetown on Friday

Beginning in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century, the state of Virginia set aside a Friday in January as a holiday in remembrance of two Southern Civil War heroes, Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Subsequently, Lee-Jackson Day became part of the landscape in other states, including here in Delaware.

Both Lee and Jackson were Virginians by birth and served as generals in the Confederate army during the four-year war, 1861-1865. This year, the holiday falls on Friday, Jan. 16, in Virginia; however, in Delaware the celebration will take place on Saturday, Jan. 17, from noon to 3 p.m. in Georgetown at the Marvel Carriage Museum.

Lee-Jackson Day, as a holiday, evolved over time in Virginia. It began with observance of Lee’s birthday on Jan. 19 in 1889. Jackson’s remembrance was added to the holiday in 1904. Much later, after Martin Luther King Day became a federal holiday on Jan. 15 in 1983, the two holidays eventually were celebrated on the same weekend, with Lee-Jackson Day on Friday and King’s holiday on the following Monday.

Nearly 150 years since the end of the Civil War, Lee and Jackson are not the household names they were in earlier days. However, over the years, various monuments and memorials have been dedicated to Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia from June 1, 1862, through many fierce battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg, but eventually was forced to surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Lee was known for his brilliant strategy and audacity in combat — particularly during the Seven Days Battle in 1862 and the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

Lee held the distinction of being the only person to be offered the command of two opposing armies. Before the Civil War began, newly-elected President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union army. After considerable soul-searching, however, Lee chose to cast his lot with his home state of Virginia and eventually the Confederate States of America.

Lee is memorialized for his life and military service in a variety of ways. In Richmond, an equestrian monument was unveiled May 29, 1890, on Monument Avenue. Rising high above the street, it faces South, depicting Lee holding the reigns of his bowing horse. Another monument dedicated to Lee is a 60-foot statue of his likeness in New Orleans.

A “shrine” dedicated to Stonewall Jackson is located in Caroline County. This is a small building on a former plantation where Jackson was taken after being mortally wounded during the battle at Chancellorsville. Lingering for six days, Jackson succumbed on May 10, 1863. The restored building is open to the public.

West Virginia’s Stonewall Jackson State Park is also named for the general. He was born in Clarksburg — at the time still part of the state of Virginia.

In Delaware, the Delaware Greys, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Camp 2068, and the Caleb Ross Daughters of Confederate Veterans, #2635, based in Seaford, have been celebrating Lee-Jackson Day for the past 10 years, and are co-sponsoring the event this year. Ceremonies will begin at the Delaware Confederate Veterans Monument on the grounds of the Marvel Carriage Museum at noon (but will take place inside the museum).

Events will include speakers from the membership of Camp 2068 who will honor the lives and accomplishments of Lee and Jackson. In addition, a relic table of original Confederate artifacts will be on display. Refreshments will be served after conclusion of the ceremonies at 3 p.m.

Jeffrey Plummer, commander of SCV Camp 2068, welcomes members of the public to participate in this event. The Marvel Carriage Museum is located at 510 South Bedford Street, Georgetown, DE 19947. For more information, call (302) 381-0785.

Bethany Beach resident Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War” (available at Bethany Beach Books). Contact him at
pennmardel@mchsi.com, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.