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Stonewall Jackson Camp Stool

Warm and sunny, April 21st, 1861 was a typical Spring Sunday. The events that would unfold that day were anything but typical.

Virginia had seceded from the Union four days earlier. The Governor had ordered the VMI Corps of Cadets to the camp of instruction at Ft. Lee in Richmond. The cadets were to be drill instructors for the thousands of green troops pouring into the city. Major Thomas J. Jackson would take the cadets to the capital city.

Normally Thomas and his wife Mary Anna would be attending the Presbyterian Church in Lexington and preparing for the black Sunday school class held later in the day. This particular Sunday brought a flurry of last minute preparations for the long march to Richmond. Before leaving his home on Washington Street, Thomas and Mary Anna prayed together one last time.

Jackson arrived at the Institute just before noon. The 176 members of the VMI Corps were already formed up in front of Barracks facing the great bronze statue of George Washington. It must have appeared that Washington himself, America’s first Citizen-Soldier, was seeing the cadets off to war.

Jackson met requests to depart early with a curt reminder that military men adhere to schedules and orders. Orders stated that the unit was to depart at 12:30 no earlier, no later. Jackson requested that a stool be brought up from the mess hall.

He placed the stool in the shadow of Washington’s statue and waited for the Barrack’s clock to strike half past noon.

Finally the clock struck. Jackson arose, went to the front of the cadet formation, and gave his first order of the Civil War: “Attention Battalion! Right Face! By the file left, March!” The mess hall stool was thrown into Jackson’s baggage wagon.

The original stool was most likely made by the Lexington furniture makers Varner and Pole.

The old pine stool became a fixture around the Jackson camp. Like the officer’s desk he brought from his classroom and the uniform he had worn at the Institute, the stool was a weathered reminder of home. Lt. William Williamson took the time to sketch the unassuming piece of furniture when he visited Jackson camp in 1862. Jed Hotchkiss, Jackson’s famed map maker, thought that the stool might have come from a hotel in Harpers Ferry, but Williamson recognized it as a VMI piece.

From Manassas, through the Valley Campaign, Antietam and Chancellorsville, the mess hall stool served Stonewall. The stool was in Stonewall’s tent on May 10, 1863, when word arrived that the general had died from an accidental wounding eight days earlier. The general’s Adjutant, Colonel Sandie Pendleton, took possession of the VMI souvenir. Like Jackson, Pendleton was also from Lexington.

Colonel Pendleton continued to use the now famous stool in his tent until he too was mortally wounded on September 22, 1864. Initially buried near the battlefield, his body was exhumed and returned to his family in Lexington. He was interred near Stonewall Jackson on October 24, 1864.

Following the death of his son, General William Pendleton inherited the stool. Pendleton, an Episcopal clergyman in Lexington before the war, served as General R. E. Lee’s Chief of Artillery, Army of Northern Virginia. In the summer of 1865 he returned to the pulpit of Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington.

The stool remained in the Pendleton family until 1932, when General Pendleton’s granddaughters presented it to the VMI Museum.

The sturdy, yet humble old mess hall stool—witness to so much history—shares an exhibit case with Jackson’s VMI officer’s desk used throughout the war, the uniform jacket he was wearing at First Manassas and his favorite war horse, Little Sorrell.

The replica, solid cherry reproduction stool (pictured at top) is hand-crafted by master craftsman Joe Cress by exclusive permission of the VMI Museum.

$245.00 plus shipping

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