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Posted June 1, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Honored hero

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The cover of "Stonewall Jackson and Winchester, Virginia," by Jerry W. Holsworth, is shown. — Josette Keelor/Daily

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Jerry Holsworth holds his new book, “Stonewall Jackson and Winchester, Virginia,” in front of Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters museum in Winchester. — Josette Keelor/Daily

Book about 'Stonewall' Jackson to benefit historical society

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson is remembered for many things -- his bravery and success in defending the Shenandoah Valley from invading Union troops, and his liberation of Winchester in 1862 in what local author and historian Jerry W. Holsworth calls "the most spectacular date in the history of this town."

He's also remembered for being an oddball.

Last year, in his first book, "Civil War Winchester," Holsworth brought to light a little-celebrated topic: Winchester's personal experience during the war that devastated its land and people.

His new book, "Stonewall Jackson and Winchester, Virginia," would seem to follow a similar theme, but Holsworth says the book isn't about the Civil War. It's about a man who became a hero to the people of his home state.

"This book is about two things, it's about Stonewall Jackson's opinion of Winchester, Virginia, and Winchester, Virginia's opinion of Stonewall Jackson," Holsworth says.

Holsworth says he wrote the book so it could be sold at Stonewall Jackson's Headquarters museum on N. Braddock Street in Winchester. The museum isn't about the Civil War either, he says. It's about remembering and honoring Jackson.

Jackson, a seemingly impenetrable force in American history, wasn't who people think he was, Holsworth says. A lot has been said about the Confederate general, but a lot of it isn't true.

"Jackson personally is caricatured as an eccentric, odd character," Holsworth says.

His feet were large and his horse was small, Holsworth says. Jackson was about 5'11, which was tall back then. Still, "The girls in town thought that he was terribly good looking," Holsworth says.

One public occurrence of sucking on a lemon has branded Jackson with a 150-year-long reputation as an extremist who couldn't get enough of the sour fruit. There was only one account of this happening, Holsworth says, but because several people recounted the same event, it later appeared to be a trend.

"Like most [people], Jackson preferred peaches to lemons to eat raw," Holsworth says.

His religious views also have been considered obsessive, but Holsworth says Jackson was no more fanatical than anyone else in the Shenandoah Valley.

"The rest of the country did not see Christianity the same way that these people here did," Holsworth says.

Jackson refused to write letters on Sundays. "In the country as a whole, yes that would have been unusual, but we're talking about the Shenandoah Valley."

Jackson's beliefs did, however, perpetuate his obsessions and fears, Holsworth says. After his first wife Elinor Junkin died during childbirth and later his child with his second wife Mary Anna Morrison also died, Jackson became desperate for children but equally desperate not to have them, for fear they too would die.

His second wife successfully gave birth after the war started, and Jackson met his daughter twice before he succumbed to pneumonia. His daughter, who grew up in North Carolina with her mother, died of typhoid fever at the age of 26 after having two children.

Holsworth's book talks in detail about Jackson's personal life, but it also highlights the man that an entire community viewed as their protector during the war -- their only hope of survival.

Jackson said, "If the valley is lost, Virginia is lost," Holsworth says, because the valley produced the majority of Virginia's food, and indeed, when the North succeeded in taking the valley, the war in Virginia lasted only four more months.

"To the people of Winchester and [the] Shenandoah Valley ... they believed if Jackson was lost, the valley was lost," Holsworth says. "He wasn't only a great soldier, he was one of them."

John Brown's attack on the valley in 1859 discolored people's view of war, Holsworth says. Valley residents were mostly unionist; they wanted to keep Virginia in the union.

But, "This was about defending the valley, not the Confederacy," Holsworth says. "And it's the centerpiece of the book too."

On May 25, 1862, Jackson liberated Winchester from a Union army against overwhelming odds, Holsworth says, in what was the highpoint of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

All royalties from the book's sales will go to helping the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, Holsworth says. He credits the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives at the Handley Regional Library as well as the private collection of fellow historian Ben Ritter with making the book possible.

"In many ways, in most ways, this book is ... my taking dictation from them, from those two sources," Holsworth says. "I'm the writer, but [librarian] Becky Ebert and Ben Ritter are the ones who have spent decades digging up the information."

Holsworth's book is about "How Winchester remembers Jackson even up to the present day and how he transcends the Civil War."


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