As a result of the questions visitors have sent this site regarding
the location of Stonewall Jackson's arm, which has been reported to have been
dug up and reburied at Ellwood, several times since 1863 (Once by Union
soldiers during the Wilderness battle and later by a retired Marine in 1921),
we asked the NPS at Fredericksburg for comment. The following remarks are from
John Hennessy, Chief Historian/Chief of Interpretation, Fredericksburg and
[ We greatly appreciate the time and effort that Mr. Hennessy took producing
the following. This pleasant experience is consistent with all of our previous experiences with NPS
Mr. Hennessy wrote:
Few body parts in history have received as much attention or inquiry as
Jackson's arm. The arm has for decades been the object of theories and
rumors. Separating what is truly known from what is commonly believed
will, I think, help address your concerns.
We know three things certainly about Jackson's arm.
- Jackson's chaplain Beverley Tucker Lacy recovered the arm and buried it
at Ellwood (his brother's home) on May 4, 1863.
- Union soldiers dug up the arm during the Battle of the Wilderness in May
1864 and reburied it.
- James Power Smith, one of Jackson's staff officers, who married the
daughter of James Horace Lacy (the wartime owner of Ellwood), placed a
marker for the arm in the Ellwood cemetery in 1903.
Virtually everything else you read or hear about the arm is legend or
speculation, including the famous assertion that Smedley Butler excavated
the arm during USMC maneuvers on the site in 1921, then reburied the arm in
a metal box (more on this below).
When in 1998 the NPS decided to open Ellwood to the public on a limited
basis, we were astonished by the intense interest generated not by the
magnificent house, but by the curiosity of Jackson's arm. Given the
acquisitive nature of the world we live in, we feared that someone might
attempt to loot the arm. So, we decided to prevent digging in the area
around the marker--where we thought the arm to be--by placing a concrete
apron atop what we presumed to be the burial location. Operating on the
assumption that the Smedley Butler story was true and the Smith marker was
accurate, we presumed the arm would be easy to locate (not disturb) and
When our archeologists excavated the site prior to placing the concrete
apron, we discovered no metal box and no evidence of a grave. That may
tempt some to assert that the arm had been stolen, but in fact it led us to
step back and investigate both the Smedley Butler story and reassess the
assumption that the arm would necessarily be buried where the stone was
First, we embarked on an effort to document the supposed excavation of the
arm by Smedley Butler in 1921. The source for that assertion turned out to
be oral only--legend passed down by the family that owned Ellwood during
the 1920s (recorded by a grandson who was living in Richmond at the time of
the event, and who was not present). Moreover, the family testimony makes
no reference to a "metal box." That, apparently, is a detail that's been
added to the story over the years. When we investigated archives and
newspaper accounts relating to the 1921 maneuvers and Smedley Butler, we
could find no evidence that General Butler did indeed excavate the arm and
rebury it. No one at the time recorded it, mentioned it, or even
speculated on it. We can't prove the negative, but we certainly can say
there's no hard evidence to say that reburial occurred. Moreover, the idea
of a US military officer disturbing the remains of a fallen soldier seems
to run against the grain of military culture and honor. It's possible that
the Butler reburial never took place. Our excavation in 1998 certainly
supports that possibility.
The common presumption that the marker in the cemetery indicates the
precise location of the arm may also be incorrect. James Power Smith, one
of Jackson's staff officers, installed the marker in 1903, along with nine
others indicating other sites associated with Lee, Jackson, and other
Confederate luminaries. Several of the markers Smith installed in 1903
are intended only to mark the general area of a significant event or site,
and not the precise location. Whether Smith could have known exactly where
in the cemetery the arm lay, we do not know. We know of no marker on the
site prior to Smith's. Even if Smith intended to mark the site precisely,
it's entirely possible that he missed by a few feet, which would have been
enough for our archeologists to likewise miss. He certainly had no access
to the site until after the war; by then it seems likely that the location
could have been obscured or confused with other military burials in the
Ellwood cemetery (there were several). Again, we simply don't know. It's
certainly a distinct possibility that the marker did not mark the precise
location of the arm. That, too is supported by our 1998 excavation.
There are many other possible scenarios. For example, when Union pioneers
dug up the arm in 1864, did they rebury it in same hole ? We don't know.
Did other Union soldiers excavate the arm after the pioneers and throw the
arm in with other burials going on in the area? Did Smith purposely put
his marker in the wrong place to throw off looters? Has the arm simply
turned to dust?
We have found no evidence to suggest that the arm is not in the cemetery at
Ellwood, but much to suggest the traditional interpretation of the site may
be flawed. In my view, the most logical scenario to extract from all this
- The arm was buried in the cemetery.
- Smith's marker did not and does not (whether intentionally or not) mark
the precise location of the arm.
- The Smedley Butler re-interment may not have happened.
- Today the arm remains in the cemetery, its precise location within the
enclosure unknown--and likely to remain so forever.
I hope this is helpful. Thanks for your interest.
Chief Historian/Chief of Interpretation
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP