In Shenandoah, Stonewall Jackson is present in spirit Civil War general's horse, prayer book, uniform and grave are in valley

August 13, 1998|By Paula Crouch Thrasher | Paula Crouch Thrasher,COX NEWS SERVICE

In the Shenandoah Valley, Va. - After visiting endless Civil War museums, battlefields and memorials, you figure you've seen all there is to see of Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson.

You've already beheld his burial place, a separate grave for his amputated left arm, his prayer book, a scrap of his gray Confederate uniform, even his razor. But then, halfway through a tour of the Virginia Military Institute Museum in Lexington, you come across the general's horse.

It's Little Sorrel, all right - stuffed, of course - standing proudly in a battlefield diorama, saddled and poised to bear his master into yet another skirmish.

Jackson hasn't set foot in this great green valley for well over a century, yet vestiges of the man are everywhere. He takes on mythic proportions in this much-visited region nestled between the ancient ranges of the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge and gently scored by the meandering Shenandoah River.

Legacy pervasive

Jackson's legacy is pervasive - from Winchester to the north, where he was headquartered briefly during his victorious Valley Campaign of 1862, and south to his final resting place in Lexington, after he was accidentally shot by his own men in 1863, had his arm removed and developed pneumonia, dying when he was but 39.

During a visit to the valley visitors needn't tarry long before encountering the spirit of "Old Jack," the nickname bestowed upon Jackson by cadets at Virginia Military Institute, where he taught until the Civil War erupted.

There's Rebel's Tattoo Studio on East Stonewall Drive in Front Royal and Stonewall Tavern and Grill in Winchester.

In Staunton, an important supply depot during the Civil War, the Stonewall Brigade Band plays to picnicking crowds in Gypsy Hill Park on Monday nights in summer. Staunton's once grand but now decrepit Stonewall Jackson Hotel, built in 1925, remains the town's tallest building.

Stonewall Country Properties is a real estate firm in Lexington and Rockbridge County, also home to Stonewall Jackson Hospital.

Defender of the valley

As the great-grandson of a Scotch-Irish immigrant, the tenacious Jackson was a likely hero of the people whose Ulster Scot, English and German ancestors turned wilderness into farms in the mid-18th century. He was determined to defend the bountiful "breadbasket of the Confederacy" against Union domination.

It is easy to understand Jackson's passion for the Shenandoah.

To this day, the sweeping valley, nearly 200 miles long, remains a fertile land dotted by silver silos and red barns on a patchwork of green farmland and vineyards that produce award-winning wines. Its sparkling steams lure fishermen. Canoeists and kayakers paddle its rivers. Horseback riders and hikers roam its ridges and hollows.

Late spring's blooming of pink and white mountain laurel, rhododendron and wild azalea draws nature lovers from around the world to Shenandoah National Park.

In summer, green reigns.

Then, in October, visitors witness a fiery fall display of maples, oaks and poplars. You can relish stunning panoramic views of the valley and the Allegheny Mountains to the west from overlooks along the 105-mile Skyline Drive, which snakes atop the Blue Ridge from Front Royal to Afton Mountain.

In winter, skiers hit Massanutten Mountain's slopes in the center of the valley.

The valley's limestone caverns beckon tourists into the cool, damp underground world of stalactites and stalagmites.

At majestic Luray Caverns, visitors hum along as the familiar strains of the folk song "Shenandoah" played on the Great Stalacpipe Organ.

Up and down the Old Valley Pike - an 18th-century wagon road, now busy U.S. 11 - antique collectors drive in search of pieces of the past, stopping at the "kustard" stands you find in almost every little town.

Six times a year, area residents and visitors go elbow to elbow at Green Valley Book Fair as half a million new books are sold at sharp discounts in barnlike warehouses at an old farmstead east of Mount Crawford.

No matter what attracts you to the valley, a visit offers a rich and varied experience - like traveling through a history book with page after page of wonderful discoveries. Not the least of which may be a gentle steed that died 112 years ago.

Visiting the valley

In the early 18th century, the Shenandoah Valley was still wilderness - America's western frontier. Its earliest settlers were farmers from Germany, Northern Ireland and England who came in search of religious freedom and land to call their own.

* The Museum of American Frontier Culture tells the story of the earliest European settlers. A walking tour through this remarkable outdoor living history museum takes visitors to the three European farms and finally to the American frontier farm that represents the melding of the Old World traditions of these three ethnic groups.

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