Perched on a knoll overlooking the Wilderness Run tributary and surrounded by rolling farmland, the 5,000-acre Ellwood Manor estate has more than its share of history.
The estate, bisected by the Spotsylvania and Orange county line, dates to the Revolutionary War era. It also played a role in the Civil War, serving as a field hospital and a place of respite for wounded soldiers.
But of all the history tied to Ellwood, a left arm appears to be its real claim to fame.
That arm once belonged to Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, a Mexican War hero and commander of Confederate infantry in the Civil War.
Jackson had reached virtual mythical status when he was mistakenly shot by his own troops during a nighttime reconnoiter on May 2, 1863, in the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Jackson was moved to a field hospital near Wilderness Tavern, where his arm was amputated, according to National Park Service historians. Jackson was then taken by wagon to recover behind the lines at distant Guinea Station, where he developed pneumonia and died May 10.
The general was buried in Lexington, but his amputated arm remained in Spotsylvania.
To this day, the story of Jackson’s arm remains as much a mystery as it is an oddity, and it draws many of the visitors who stop by Ellwood.
“About 75 percent of the visitors know about the arm,” Jim Hattaway, a volunteer with Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, said on a recent sunny afternoon at the site.
A short stroll from the Ellwood Manor house, past a giant black walnut tree and an herb garden, a gravel path leads to the Jones–Lacy family cemetery in the middle of a wheat field.
A clutch of cedar trees provide shade for the small, fenced-in graveyard. Only one marker stands there—for Jackson’s arm.
Jackson’s chaplain, Beverly Tucker Lacy, found the “wrapped” arm beside the entry to the tent the morning after the surgery. The chaplain sought a proper burial for the appendage and found it at Ellwood, a plantation owned by his brother, J. Horace Lacy.
There, the arm was interred at the family cemetery, along with two other Confederate officers. One of them, Capt. James Keith Boswell, was killed in the friendly fire that wounded Jackson. The bodies of both soldiers later were reinterred in Fredericksburg.
The question of why Jackson’s arm was not moved to Fredericksburg remains a mystery, according to a Park Service blog post about the arm.
That his arm was buried somewhere in the cemetery seems to be the only fact the historians are comfortable with.
Much of the story about the arm is steeped in possible truths and “internet rumors,” said John Hennessy, chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Regardless of the facts, the story of Jackson’s arm is a magnet for visitors.
“It’s one of the most popular markers in the region,” noted Hennessy, who co-authored the blog post with fellow NPS historian Eric Mink.
The spring following Jackson’s death, as the Union army marched into the Wilderness area, a colonel noted in his diary that the arm had been “dug up by some pioneers” and reburied, according to the blog.
The marker appears to have originated under the direction of one of Jackson’s officers in 1903. James Power Smith placed 10 markers in the region, including at the family cemetery at Ellwood.
Smith was with Jackson the night the general was shot. He also was married to Agnes Lacy, the daughter of J. Horace Lacy and Beverly Tucker Lacy’s niece.
While Smith likely knew more about the arm than anyone else in 1903, the Park Service has “no idea” how he determined to mark the arm’s burial spot, or if he intended to mark the location exactly at all.
But the marker became known over time as the location of the buried arm. In more recent times, what the Park Service deems the “most bizarre” story surrounding the arm appeared.
In a recollection written in 1986, Dr. Gordon Jones, grandson of a onetime owner of Ellwood, claimed his grandfather told him that during 1921 maneuvers on the farm, an incredulous Marine Gen. Smedley Butler dug up the spot.
The story goes that an arm bone was found in a metal box and reburied. A plaque was placed on the stone, which is now in the park’s collection.
The Park Service notes that no other reports of the Butler incident exist, even though media covered the Marine maneuvers.
In 1998, the Park Service used a magnetometer in an attempt to locate the metal box containing the arm, but found nothing. The spot was then excavated and turned up “no evidence that there had ever been a grave shaft dug near the monument … or if one had been dug, it was very shallow,” according to the historians blog post.
Following that search, an internet rumor spread that the Park Service dug up the arm and secreted it away to its collection. The agency and Hennessy panned the rumor.
While unanswered questions remain about the arm, the one thing the Park Service sticks to is that the arm is somewhere in the Ellwood cemetery.
Hennessy echoed that conclusion.
“We have no reason to doubt the story that the arm is buried there,” he said.