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Hull Of Packet Boat That Carried Jackson's Body Is Protected

Deborah Fitts

- (January 2007) LYNCHBURG, Va. - The long-neglected remnants of a canal boat that carried the body of Stonewall Jackson to his burial place have been preserved and protected thanks to the Lynchburg Historical Foundation.

The packet boat Marshall was pressed into service May 13, 1863, as Jackson's body made its way from Guinea Station, where he died on May 10, to his home in Lexington. The Marshall carried Jackson on the final leg of the journey, up the James River from Lynchburg to Lexington.

Nothing was left of the Marshall but its iron hull when it was dug out of the mud and brought to Riverside Park in 1936, as a project of Lynchburg's sesquicentennial. Several years ago Sally Schneider, executive director of the Lynchburg Historical Foundation, discovered that it was rusting, unprotected from the weather, and fast deteriorating.

"I saw it in the park and said, goodness sakes, this is part of the history of Virginia," recalled Schneider.

The foundation and Lynchburg's Parks and Recreation Department joined forces to save the Marshall. Last year the city asked the foundation to manage the project and provided $40,000 in funding to get things started.

A September ribbon-cutting celebrated completion of a new building to house the Marshall. The entire project will eventually total well over $100,000, said Schneider, including the installation of lighting and interpretive signage in the next couple of years.

Meanwhile, the foundation still has $20,000 to raise to cover the $75,000 cost of the new building.

The Marshall was built in 1861 as a packet boat to ply the James River and Kanawha Canal, which extended westward along the shore of the James River from the fall line at Richmond. The vessel measured 14 feet in width, to accommodate the canal, but was 90 feet long. Horses or mules walking the towpath provided the power, with typical progress at about 4 miles an hour.

The Marshall carried passengers, mail and other freight three times a week from Richmond to Lynchburg and back. Passengers were charged $8 for the 33-hour trip. A cook saw to their needs, and there was separate berthing for men and women. Boasting a lush interior of Dominican mahogany, the Marshall was dubbed the Queen of the James.

Jackson's body lay in state in Richmond on May 12, with a funeral following on the 13th. His body then traveled by railroad to Lynchburg, arriving at 6:30 that night. The mayor had stores closed in mourning, and bells around the city tolled at 5 p.m.

The body was transferred to the Marshall, along with Jackson's wife Mary, family and friends, according to Schneider. The packet set out along the canal the night of the 13th and arrived at Jordan's Point in Lexington the afternoon of the 14th, completing the most significant delivery of the boat's career.

The following year the Marshall was partially burned during Union Gen. David Hunter's depredations through the area. Repaired, it resumed service the following spring. On occasion Robert E. Lee was a passenger.

In 1880 the Richmond & Allegheny Railroad bought out the canal company, signaling the demise of the water route first laid out by George Washington a century earlier.

The Marshall survived a couple of floods on the James, but the second one left her beached at Lynchburg in 1877, according to Schneider. Around the turn of the century a man named Corbin Spencer purchased the wreck, and he and his sister lived in it, high and dry, for a dozen years or more.

A devastating flood on the James in 1913 struck the packet once again, this time tearing off the superstructure, nearly killing the Corbins, and leaving the 3/16th-inch, hand-formed iron hull under the river mud. There it lay for two decades, until it was salvaged as part of Lynchburg's 150th anniversary celebrations in 1936. It was unveiled that October in Riverside Park.

Eventually, neglect and the elements took their toll. "Chunks were missing. It rusted," Schneider said. "Tree limbs have dropped on it. But a pretty big piece of the hull is still there. You can envision the boat by looking at it.

"Our biggest project was to put a protective cover over it," added Schneider. "You can imagine how large it had to be for a hull 90 feet long."

The foundation designed a period-style building with a shingled roof. It is open except at the back, where a wall protects the hull from "the weather coming up from the James River," Schneider said. Wrought-iron fencing in front allows for public viewing while providing protection.

Schneider hailed the donation of services by Lynchburg Restoration, which cleaned and repaired the hull and applied a protective coating. The work was valued at $15,000, she said. Also, Dixie Outfitters of nearby Madison Heights has donated marketing expertise.

The foundation is hosting a first-ever event May 12 focused around the Marshall. Reenactors will camp in downtown Lynchburg and march in a funeral procession honoring Jackson that will start at 1 p.m. There will be sutlers, period music, children's activities, tours of Lynchburg Civil War sites and more, all of which Schneider said will be detailed on the foundation's Web site (lynchburghistoricalfoundation.org) after the first of the year.

Meanwhile, Schneider noted that the project is now entering its fourth year and still has a ways to go. "This was important enough in 1936," she said. "It's a piece of Lynchburg's history. We just persevered."

Historical Publications Inc.
234 Monarch Hill Rd.
Tunbridge VT 05077


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