Cover Story

Beyond The Arm

In the annals of American history, this centuries-old structure is more than just a resting spot for a soldier's severed limb. 

 

by Lee Woolf

Ellwood House. 

Thurston Howes Photo.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published by The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg. Lee Woolf is a longtime reporter and editor with the newspaper. He lives in Spotsylvania County. 

More than 3,000 visitors will stroll down the lane at Ellwood this year. Most have traveled some distance to satisfy their curiosity about “the arm.”

And it’s a fact that the amputated arm of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson is buried in the Jones–Lacy family cemetery about a quarter-mile walk from the house.

But the 200-plus years of history witnessed by the two-story frame home on the Spotsylvania/Orange county line about 15 miles west of Fredericksburg includes much more than Jackson’s severed limb.

And that longevity is part of the message being delivered by the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield in a fundraising campaign to restore the most historic rooms in the house.

“Ellwood has spanned the history of our nation,” said Carolyn Elstner, who has family ties to the property and is head of the fundraising committee.

“Just the fact it’s still standing makes it unique. And it needs to be preserved to tell its story to the children of today and to future generations.”

The cast of characters who have played a role in Ellwood’s dramatic tale include the Marquis de Lafayette; Gen. Robert E. Lee and his father, “Light Horse Harry” Lee; Union generals Gouverneur K. Warren, Ambrose Burnside, Ulysses S. Grant and George Meade; legendary Marine Gen. Smedley Butler; and President Warren G. Harding.

And if military history is not to visitors’ liking, perhaps they will be intrigued by the story of the home’s original owner, William Jones. Five years after losing his first wife in 1823, the 78-year-old Jones created a stir in the family by marrying his former spouse’s 16-year-old grandniece. Today, Jones and both wives are in the family burial ground, not far from Jackson’s arm.

 Ellwood is part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. The entrance to the house is a gravel road off State Route 20 less than a mile southwest of its intersection with State Route 3.

The house is open on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day through the end of October. The house is also open the first weekend in May to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness. The battle’s 142nd birthday will fall on May 5–7, 2006. Access to the grounds at other times of the year can be arranged at the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center on Route 3.

Elstner has a special reason for wanting to see Ellwood restored. She is the grandniece of Hugh Willis, a law professor who purchased the property in 1907.

Ellwood passed into the hands of Elstner’s grandparents, Blanche and Leo Jones, in 1931. She remembers spending many Sunday afternoons as a child playing on the grounds with her brother and sister.

Confederate general "Stonewall" Jackson's arm is buried in the family cemetery at Ellwood House. Out of respect for Jackson, the chaplain of his corps recovered the arm from a pile of amputated limbs and brought it to Ellwood for burial. Alan Zirkle photo.

It was Elstner’s father, Dr. Gordon W. Jones, a longtime Fredericksburg obstetrician, who sold Ellwood and 97 acres to the National Park Service in 1971 for $159,000. He donated more land so that the site now consists of 180 acres, much of which is leased for farming.

By the 1980s, the house was in bad shape with deteriorating walls and severe insect damage. The National Park Service stabilized the structure and restored the exterior to the way it appeared during the Civil War. But no funds were available for further restoration.

In 1998, the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, in partnership with the park service, opened the house to the public. The group, which has 250 members nationwide, maintains the grounds and provides tour guides to interpret Ellwood’s history.

The first phase of the fundraising campaign exceeded expectations. Most of the $155,000 from the capital campaign came from private donors. Elstner says that many donations came from visitors to Ellwood seeking knowledge about ancestors who fought in the Civil War.

Elstner says the top priority is restoring and furnishing as many downstairs rooms as possible, including the parlor — or Warren Room — and the entrance hall. A second round of fundraising will begin this fall.

Elstner says the original wood floors will be restored, the woodwork will be repaired, and the walls and ceiling will be plastered and painted. In addition, the rooms will be furnished with antiques or period pieces.

“I know this is exactly what my family wanted,” says Elstner. “It’s very gratifying to be a part of making this happen.”

Ellwood was completed about 1790, so its history coincides with the nation’s independence. “The place was made of materials from the environment,” says Elstner, looking at the hand-hewn beams in the ceiling of the Warren Room. “No doubt done by slave labor from timber prepared on the farm and with bricks fired here.”

Elstner says Ellwood had eight rooms at a time when most Spotsylvania houses had two or three.

William Jones or his descendants owned the property for more than a century. At the time of his death in 1845, the estate consisted of 5,000 acres. In many ways it was a typical, midsize antebellum farm.

Cattle and sheep grazed in the pastures and crops of mostly wheat, oats and corn filled the clearings. Outbuildings included stables, barns, a kitchen, icehouse, dairy, smokehouse and slave quarters. Elstner says Jones owned 107 slaves in 1820.

A Distinguished Guest List

The Marquis de Lafayette stopped at Ellwood for breakfast in 1825 after a visit to Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Orange County.

Elstner says that since Ellwood served as a private coach stop, it’s likely that both Madison and James Monroe stopped at the house during their travels to and from Fredericksburg.

It also is likely that Lafayette stopped by the property in 1781 during the Revolutionary War, when his troops passed through the area. Elstner says there are records showing that William Jones sold meat to Lafayette’s army.

“Light Horse Harry” Lee is said to have written part of his memoirs in an upstairs bedroom at Ellwood. Lee, a hero during the Revolution, suffered financially after the war and briefly served time in debtors’ prison in Spotsylvania County. The Jones family may have helped in his release during the winter of 1809-’10.

Elstner says Lee was a friend of William Jones’ brother, Churchill, who lived in Orange County. Since Lee was required to stay within the borders of Spotsylvania, he resided at Ellwood for a period of time.

William Jones and his second wife, Lucinda, had a daughter — Betty Churchill Jones — who was born in 1829. After Jones died and Lucinda remarried, Ellwood became the property of 19-year-old Betty, who in 1848 became the bride of J. Horace Lacy, a lawyer and educator.

The couple lived at Ellwood until 1857, when they purchased Chatham Manor in southern Stafford County and moved there. They continued to use Ellwood as a summer home until the outbreak of the Civil War, when Lacy, an ardent secessionist, joined the Confederate army.

Robert E. Lee’s visit to the property dates to 1863 when he stopped at the Confederate hospital at Ellwood after the Battle of Chancellorsville, on his way to Gettysburg.

After “Stonewall” Jackson was wounded by friendly fire on May 2, 1863, during the Battle of Chancellorsville, he was taken to a field hospital near Ellwood. His left arm was amputated and tossed on a pile of limbs.

Beverley Tucker Lacy, the chaplain of Jackson’s corps and the brother of J. Horace Lacy, was present at the hospital. Out of respect for Jackson, Beverley Lacy wrapped the arm in a blanket and took it to Ellwood for burial in the family cemetery.

In 1903, James Power Smith, a Fredericksburg minister and former member of Jackson’s staff who married into the Lacy family, placed a small stone monument to mark the burial spot of Jackson’s arm.

The only time the arm has been disturbed is when Gen. Butler directed a group of Marines from Quantico in a mock battle near Ellwood in 1921. To satisfy his curiosity, he ordered a dig at the site — and sure enough, he found an arm and reburied it. Also present that day was President Harding.

But Jackson’s arm is just part of the Civil War history associated with the property.

Ellwood’s Unique Distinction

“Ellwood is very unique because it relates to two campaigns,” says Greg Mertz, the supervisory historian for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

“It stood in the rear of the Confederate army at Chancellorsville. And it stood at the rear of the Union army at the Wilderness.”

It was during the Wilderness campaign in May 1864 that Warren and Burnside, two Union corps commanders, made their headquarters at Ellwood. Grant and Meade resided nearby and attended several meetings in the house.

A contemporary account describes the scene at Warren’s headquarters in vivid detail, with busy orderlies, clerks, teamsters and cooks going about their duties and soldiers relaxing in twos and threes by campfires.

After three days of heavy fighting, the armies moved on to Spotsylvania Court House. Ellwood was left with blood-stained floors, but at least it had survived.

“There aren’t many standing structures within the park boundaries,” says Mertz. “Ellwood  is special because there is something tangible there. And that’s a great commodity. It stands witness to what occurred there.”

Ellwood House is open 11 am - 5 pm weekends and holidays from Memorial Day weekend through October. To donate to the restoration, make checks payable to Friends of Wilderness Battlefield -- Ellwood, P.O. Box 576, Locust Grove, VA 22508. For more info and directions: www.fowb.org.

 

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