The Richmond History Podcast

Monday, March 25, 2013

Little Sorrel's Travels

Stonewall Jackson on Monument Ave, photo by Jeff Majer

Monument Ave’s Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson monument was unveiled on Oct 11, 1919 with a huge to do including a parade with The National Guard, cadets from John Marshall High School, cadets from VMI, and new fangled motor vehicles carrying Governor Westmoreland and members of Jacksons family.1  After the main speaker, Colonel Robert E Lee, the grandson of THE Robert E Lee finished, Anna Jackson Preston, Jackson’s granddaughter and William Siever, the son of the sculptor, pulled two cords to reveal the new statue…and…uh…um…nothing happened.  The cords were tangled so workman scaled the statue to remove the covering while the anxious crowds waited below.1

Little Sorrel

That wasn’t the only surprise.  Onlookers were shocked to see Jackson sitting on a tall, scrawny horse that most said wouldn't have survived the war.1  Jackson's horse, Little Sorrel or Old Sorrel, was well know, and pretty important to his fame.  The horse was described by a staff officer as "Stocky, well made, round barreled, close coupled, good shouldered, excellent legs and feet, not fourteen hands high, (less then 56 inches). The horse was known as a natural pacer but was lacking in style.  Sorrel had vast endurance and would eat what ever was offered him, whether hay or corncobs."2  Jackson was given other horses including a "magnificent stallion", but he let his black servant Jim ride him.2

Thomas became a legend and earned his famous nickname "Stonewall" at the Battle of Manassas.  It was said he sat on his horse like a stonewall with bullets zinging just past him.  The key is he was on his horse, which also stood there in the same situation with no allegiance to either side or notion of honor.  As a horse, he should have turned tail and ran but he stood there like the base of a stonewall.  Little Sorrel was with Jackson through out the war only missing two of Jackson’s significant Civil War events.  During the Sharpsburg campaign, Little Sorrel had been stolen, but returned a few days later.2 Little Sorrel did finally run off and got captured by a Union soldier when Jackson was mortally shot by his own men and fell from the saddle after the Battle of Chancellorsville so the horse missed Jackson's funeral.  A few weeks later the Confederates recaptured him.2

After Jackson's death, Little Sorrel went to live with Jackson's wife on her father's land in Lincoln County, NC2 and became a celebrity and symbol of southern pride3 yet he was pulling a buggy and was a saddle horse.2   Jackson's wife hit some financial troubles, so in 1883, while in his 30’s (pretty old for a horse) Little Sorrel was sent to VMI where Jackson had served as Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy & Instructor of Artillery for about a decade before the Civil War.4  The VMI cadets looked after him.3   After the aging horse was controversially sent to New Orleans for the Worlds Fair, Mrs. Jackson suggested he be transferred to the RE Lee Camp Number 1, also known as The Home for Confederate Veterans in Richmond in 1885.2

The Virginia Historical Society, The United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the VMFA now stand where The Home for Confederate Veteran’s once stood.  It was 36 acres and was confined by Boulevard, Grove, Shepard, and Kensington from 1885 (two years after LS went to VMI) until 19415 where he was a hit attraction.  Southern women would cut bits of his mane to make bracelets and rings.3

Little Sorrel

By this point he was too old and crippled to stand on his own so veterans made a makeshift sling to hoist to him to his feet to greet visitors.3   In 1886, only a year after moving to RVA the sling slipped, dropping Little Sorrel, breaking his back.3  But this injury, which ended Little Sorrel’s life, did not end his work living in Confederate memory.  CSA vets had him stuffed so he could continue standing at attention at the Confederate Veterans Home, a few blocks from where the statue stands on Monument.  He stayed there until the 1940’s.3  The sculptor could have used the actual horse as his model or at least the part of Little Sorrel anyone would see.  His hide was standing at attention.  You would be hard pressed to find a better model.  The horse the sculpture did use was moving and alive and named Superior, an area race horse loaned to the sculptor.1  

If you want to see Little Sorrel today, he still stand in the basement of The VMI Museum, along with Jackson's raincoat showing the bullet hole he received the last time he saw Little Sorrel.6  It was moved there when the Confederate Veterans Home closed.

That’s not the only postmortem travels for Little Sorrel. The taxidermist who mounted him, took the bones as partial payment.6  He sent Little Sorrel back into Yankee hands at The Carnegie Museum in Pittsburg irritating many southerners.6  The bones stayed there until July 20, 1997, 136 years after the Battle of Manassas.2  They were then cremated and buried at the base of the life sized statue of Jackson on the parade grounds at VMI.6

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