This is the first in a series of blog posts about the statues of Virginia’s Capitol Square, which are a part of the State Art Collection. The State Art Collection includes around 450 works of art exhibited in the Capitol, the Executive Mansion, and state agency buildings. Pieces have entered the collection through donation, purchase, and state commission.
Virginia’s Capitol Square, which houses the State Capitol building and the Executive Mansion, is dotted with statues. While they may fade into the background for many, each of these statues has its own history, arising not only from the story of its subject but from the circumstances of its creation. This post will create an object biography for one of those Capitol Square statues, the piece created by John Henry Foley in 1875 to depict Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. The current debates over Confederate statuary focus mainly on the subject of the statue, while the process by which the statues were conceived, commissioned, created, and erected is overlooked.
Stonewall Jackson, who earned his famous nickname during the First Battle of Manassas in 1861, was one of the Confederacy’s most lauded generals. Jackson died on 10 May 1863 due to an injury sustained at the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the news spread quickly through the United States and abroad. By early June, papers in England reported on a proposal to raise money for a monument to be erected in Richmond. A committee of Englishmen sympathetic to the Confederacy, including several members of Parliament, formed to shepherd the project. Alexander J. Beresford Hope, an M. P. for Cambridge, acted as the main representative and would later write that the subscription “was spontaneously organized in this country among persons who admired the character of that truly great man.” However, there were accusations of underlying political or financial motivation. The London Figaro quipped that the statue’s inscription should read: “This Statue Was Paid For by a Few Englishmen Who Made Money During the Civil War.”
By July 1863, the committee had selected a sculptor, J.H. Foley. Foley was a member of the Royal Academy and one of Britain’s most notable sculptors; his statue of Prince Albert sits atop the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. The committee planned to raise an estimated ₤1500 for the statue, pedestal, and other expenses by subscription. In April 1864, less than a year after Jackson’s death, Governor William Smith wrote to The Honorable James M. Mason of London that he was “agreeably surprised” that “a number of distinguished Gentlemen of England had undertaken to have executed a marble Statue of General Thomas J. (“Stonewall”) Jackson.” Smith assured Mason that “the most appropriate spot in our beautiful grounds shall be selected for the proposed token of a great nation’s appreciation of our illustrious Son.”
However, the defeat of the Confederacy left the statue’s future in doubt. In September 1865, the Staunton Spectator reprinted an earlier article wondering whether the federal government would object to the statue, noting that “the changed circumstances – the altered phases of the times, may operate against the erection of the statue to Virginia’s greatest soldier, upon ground devoted to the assemblies of the people.” Foley returned to his other works, and the question of the Jackson statue was put aside.
The statue came back into public consciousness in the early 1870s, when the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia reached out to the English committee to assure them that it still would be welcomed in Virginia. If the political situation remained unfavorable, they would be happy to take custody of the piece until it could be “delivered to the State whenever our own Government should be restored to our own control.” General Bradley T. Johnson traveled to Europe to meet with Beresford Hope and visit Foley’s studio.
Unfortunately, Johnson felt the artist’s model was an inaccurate depiction of his former comrade, even though Foley used a photograph and description provided by the Confederate government. Johnson sent for what he considered a more representative photograph, as well as examples of appropriate uniform buttons and sword-buckles. He also unsuccessfully attempted to get a copy of a death mask created by sculptor Frederick Volck. Foley began working on the piece again, and it was completed shortly before his own death in August 1874.
When the statue finally went on display, viewers were divided as to its quality as a likeness and as a piece of art. The bronze statue shows Jackson standing in his Confederate general’s uniform, holding his sword in his proper left hand while its point rests on a stack of three stones. The Philadelphia Press praised it as “the highest art of the sculptor,” and a faithful rendition of its subject. On the other hand, a London paper wrote that “we are bound to say that we wish it had been a better work of art,” and the National Republican suggested that the statue “might be taken for almost any general in the Confederate army but Jackson.”
Encouraged by the renewed interest in the statue, Beresford Hope wrote to Governor James L. Kemper in early March 1875 to formally offer the statue. Kemper shared Beresford Hope’s letter with the General Assembly on 18 March, asking for an appropriation to accept the statue and have a suitable pedestal made. He claimed that the statue “revives no animosities of the past [and] wounds the sensibilities of no good man of whatever party or section,” but the appropriation vote would highlight existing tensions over memorializing the recent war.
In 1871 the state had proposed an acquisition of $600 for a portrait of Robert E. Lee to hang in the Capitol. Senator Frank Moss, an African American legislator from Buckingham County, took the floor to object to the appropriation. Moss felt that as “Gen. Lee had fought to keep him in slavery…he couldn’t vote to put his picture on these walls.” While Moss’s opposition made the newspapers, the portrait purchase was approved. By 1875, Moss was serving in the House of Delegates. Together with three white Republican lawmakers—Charles G. Bickings, Godfrey May, and George W. Young—Moss and fellow African American delegates Peter Jacob Carter, Matt Clark, Henry Cox, William Gilliam, James P. Goodwyn, Ross Hamilton, H. Clay Harris, Henry C. Hill, Rufus S. Jones, and Robert H. Whitaker, voted against the Jackson appropriation. They were outnumbered, and the bill was passed.
Kemper wrote to Beresford Hope in April of 1875, copying out the General Assembly’s resolution regarding the statue. The language effusively welcomed the art work and made no mention of any dissent. Kemper also noted in his letter that the General Assembly had approved the appropriation of $10,000 “to meet the expenses of receiving and erecting the Statue.” Further, the resolution appointed commissioners to receive the statue and superintend its location: Captain John L. Eubank, General William B. Taliaferro, and General Jubal A. Early.
Jubal Early, who served in Jackson’s Second Corps in the Confederate army and founded the Southern Historical Society in 1873, corresponded heavily with Governor Kemper regarding the statue, its placement, its inscription, and the ceremony to celebrate its unveiling. He frequently urged Kemper to convene the statue committee to discuss these matters, especially the creation of a pedestal, noting that “what is put on the pedestal will have to go down to posterity and be criticized by future ages.” Kemper requested inscription suggestions from a variety of sources, including Professor Basil Gildersleeve of the University of Virginia, who called the request “a high honor as well as a sacred duty.” One correspondent of Francis H. Smith, the superintendent of VMI, argued that the inscription should call Jackson by “no other given name than that of Stonewall, which had been consecrated to him by a baptism of blood.”
Following an exhibition at the Royal Academy, the statue left England and reached Richmond by steamer on 22 September. On the following afternoon, the boxed statue was covered with British and state flags, placed on a wagon, and dragged by 300 men from 21st and Dock Streets to the Capitol. The Daily Dispatch pointed out that “not a few ex-Union officers and soldiers” joined Confederate veterans in pulling the statue. At the Capitol a large crowd had gathered, and both Kemper and Mayor Keiley gave short speeches describing the statue as a gift of the citizens of Great Britain. By the time of its unveiling, it was generally but incorrectly described as a gift from the government of Great Britain.
On 26 October, the day of the unveiling, the city’s population swelled with visitors arriving on trains, boats from the James River or the canal, vehicles, and by foot. All business was suspended for the day (except, as one correspondent noted, that of tavern-keepers) and throngs of people gathered on rooftops, at windows, and on the streets along the parade route. By the time of the ceremony, a crowd of between 20,000 and 40,000 had gathered in the Capitol area. A massive procession, said to be two miles long, began moving at 11 a.m., crossing below arches and other decorations featuring greenery, portraits, and flags representing Virginia, the Confederacy, and the United Kingdom.
The procession, which featured a large number of military and veteran groups in Confederate uniforms and displaying Confederate flags, reminded many onlookers of the recent war. The Port Tobacco Times and Charles City Advertiser wrote that “The memories of the sorrowful days of ’61 were brought back so forcibly to our minds that for a moment we forgot the cause of the great pageant,” and the National Republican satirically remarked that it was “the first time since the late unpleasantness that Richmond has had an opportunity to get into Confederate uniform on an extensive scale.” In many ways the event served as a grand reunion for former Confederate soldiers. One former member of the “Stonewall Brigade” wrote to Kemper noting that the inauguration of the statue would be “peculiarly appropriate for a re-assembling of old comrades… there would be a gathering from all quarters.”
At the unveiling ceremony, the speeches balanced the theme of reconciliation with the language of the “Lost Cause.” Bishop D.S. Doggett prayed “that all bitterness and strife may cease between [the states],” while Kemper invoked Jackson’s reputation to assure listeners that his Virginian comrades would honor their paroles and to object to any pressure to “repent, in order to be forgiven, of such deeds and achievements as heroes rejoice to perform, and such as the admiration of mankind in every age has covered with glory.” Dr. Moses D. Hoge, who delivered the oration, spoke of a “new era” for the United States but also of “the principles in the defense of which Jackson imperilled and lost his life.” At the conclusion of Dr. Hoge’s speech, the statue was unveiled and a salute fired over it. The celebrations ended with the illumination of houses and stores from 7 p.m. onwards, although a planned fireworks display was rained out.
The push to imagine the statue as a symbol of reconciliation helped obscure some of the continuing issues surrounding it. In the lead up to the unveiling, a few minor controversies erupted, over the timing of the funeral ceremonies of General George Pickett and over the possible inclusion of African American regiments in the procession for the statue unveiling. George Pickett, who had died on 30 July 1875, was originally interred in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Norfolk. However, plans were made to have him reinterred at Hollywood Cemetery. In September, Early wrote to Governor Kemper complaining that Pickett’s friends had a plan “for taking advantage of the assemblage in Richmond at the inauguration of the Jackson statue…to have the funeral of General Pickett. I think a funeral would be rather incongruous with the other proceedings, and would be in bad taste.” Kemper then wrote to the association of ladies organizing Pickett’s funeral, advising them that the ceremonies on 26 October were “intended to be specially and conspicuously in memory of Stonewall Jackson – the day having been set apart by authority of law to the honor of his name.” Ultimately, Pickett’s funeral was held on 24 October instead and included a procession of some 5,000 people, with more than 40,000 spectators.
Early wrote another letter to Kemper in October after seeing newspaper accounts stating that African American militia companies would be a part of the statue’s inauguration procession. Early protested what he called “an indignity to the memory of Jackson and an insult to all Confederates who shall attend the inauguration of the statue, and in fact to all who cannot attend.” He complained that given the size of the African American population in the city, their attendance to cheer on their own companies would upset the former Confederate men and women present in Capitol Square. Early threatened to wash his hands of the business if the rumors turned out to be true, saying that “the sun shall not shine on me in Richmond on the day when such an outrage shall be committed.” The Lynchburg Virginian wrote that “It was surely quite enough that the friends of the dead leader, who had fought under and with him, assigned any place in the procession, to those who insult them by parade and banners on every anniversary of the surrender of General Lee, or of the Emancipation Proclamation.” Interestingly, the Green Mountain Freeman, a Vermont anti-slavery newspaper, noted that Mary Anna Jackson, Stonewall’s widow, actually “wanted the colored [sic] organizations assigned an honorable position in the procession at the unveiling of her husband’s statue.” However, in the end they did not participate in the procession.
After the statue had been erected, Kemper learned that the committee of English donors had a balance of ₤243.15.10 (about $1,344.53.) He decided to invest the money in the State Bank of Virginia and create a set of medals to be awarded to the top two graduates at the Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson had been a lackluster professor but was now a beloved figure. He and Smith decided to include the name of Beresford Hope as a representative of the “English gentlemen” who had provided the funds. Kemper hoped the medals would inspire “future Stonewall Jacksons…to illustrate the annals of this Commonwealth.” In fact, the Jackson-Hope medal is still presented as VMI’s highest award for scholastic achievement, and a Jackson Hope monument was created in 2003 to honor the recipients of the medal.
– Meghan Townes, Visual Studies Collection Registrar, and Claire Radcliffe, State Records Archivist