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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lee-Jackson Day 2016 In Lexington, VA.

On Saturday, January 16, I had the honor to attend the annual Lee-Jackson Day Services and Parade in Lexington, Virginia. 

Lee-Jackson Day is a holiday recognized across many US states in the American Southland. The holiday is celebrated in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. In Texas, it is known as "Confederate Heroes Day." Lee-Jackson Day is honored as an official State holiday in the State of Virginia. 

The holiday was originally celebrated in Virginia in 1889 to honor the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee who was born on January 19. 1807. The holiday was put into effect during the administration of Virginia Governor and former Confederate cavalry general Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of the famous American general. In 1904 the holiday was changed to include a tribute to General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson who was born on January 21, 1824.

In 1983, the holiday was merged with the new Federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as Lee-Jackson-King Day in Virginia. In 2000, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore proposed splitting Lee-Jackson-King Day into two separate holidays after debate arose over whether the nature of the holiday which simultaneously celebrated the lives of Confederate generals and a civil rights icon was incongruous. The measure was approved and the two holidays are now celebrated separately.

Lee-Jackson Day has been honored in Lexington since the late 19th century. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) have sponsored events to honor Lee and Jackson in Lexington. It seems only befitting that various celebrations and events have been held to honor the birthdays of the generals in their final home and resting place: Jackson is buried in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery near the Virginia Military Institute where Jackson taught before the War Between The States (1861- 1865) and Lee is buried in a family crypt beneath Lee Memorial Chapel on the grounds of Washington and Lee University. Today the event is held near the state holiday and sponsored by the Stonewall Brigade Camp #1296 Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The trip to Lexington was one long monsoon the whole way from South Carolina. Luckily I had my music CDs and movie soundtracks to keep me occupied the whole trip. Still the sight of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina and Virginia, even in the rain, never fails to marvel this Sandlapper from upstate South Carolina. 

I found a small hotel near Natural Bridge, Virginia a few miles outside of Lexington and stayed the night. Thankfully it stopped raining close to midnight and the temperature did not drop very low as it had in previous visits to Virginia for Lee-Jackson Day. 

The next morning I woke just in time to get an outstanding shot of the sunrise coming over the Appalachians. 

Good Morning Lee-Jackson Day!

Then I made my way to the lovely historic town of Lexington, Virginia where I parked my car in a nearby parking garage. I then put on the Confederate gray uniform that I wear for these occasions out of respect for my Confederate ancestor and made my way to Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.  

There I ran into several friends and fellow Confederate descendants that I know from social media, and others that I had great pleasure in meeting for the first time in person beneath the gravesite of Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson CSA and his family. The annual memorial service and parade draws Confederate descendants from all over the American Southland.

The Lee-Jackson Day service began with a procession of color bearers and living history reenactors marching in and lining up to the left of the Jackson family plot. Following opening prayers and the story of the Jackson grave, members of the Virginia Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), Military Order of the Stars & Bars (MOSB), and Order of the Confederate Rose (OCR) placed over a dozen flowered wreaths at the foot of the grave. 

Following this the Confederate reenactors of the 5th Virginia Infantry fired a three volley salute to Jackson and the other Confederate veterans buried in the cemetery. Then the assembled group sang Dixie and recited in unison the Lord's Prayer, after which there was a closing prayer and the assembled group was dismissed to prepare for the parade through downtown Lexington.

I am pleased to report that this year the number of people who stood to watch the parade and cheer those assembled was double what it was the previous year - in large part due to the somewhat milder weather. Several cadets from the nearby Virginia Military Institute where Jackson once served as a teacher prior to the War Between The States and some students from Washington and Lee University came by to pay respect to their Confederate heritage and Southern identity.  

Overall it was a great trip and I managed to make the nearly 300 mile drive home before sunset. God truly blessed this day with good weather and the living descendants of the Confederate soldier again conducted themselves with honor in the city Lexington. God bless them and the good people of Lexington who likewise conducted themselves with honor.

Till next year, God willing. 

Yours truly standing in uniform with the Army of Norther Virginia battle flag of the type carried by my Confederate ancestor, a member of the 48th Alabama Infantry Regiment. The black rosette ribbon on my right shoulder has a button of the type my great-great-grandfather - on my dad's side - would have worn on his own uniform coat. I am always honored to represent him.
Ariel drone view of the memorial service at Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.
Here is a photo of the front of the Lee-Jackson Day parade provided by my friend Miss Judy Smith. I was nearly halfway in the back on the left side.
The Stonewall Jackson House where he lived while he taught as a professor at VMI.

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