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The State of Virginia celebrates Lee-Jackson Day, a memorial to the two famous Confederate Generals
Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson were both natives of Virginia. Lee, born at Stratford Hall on January 19 1807, and Jackson, who was born on the 21st day of the same month in 1824 in what is now Clarksburg, West Virginia, were from different backgrounds. Lee was from an aristocratic family and lived a relatively comfortable upbringing. His father, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, was a famous cavalry officer during the American Revolution and later went on to be Virginia's governor. Jackson came up in a poor environment, with both parents dying before he was the age of ten. Despite their upbringings, both managed to gain entry into West Point Military Academy when they came of age, joined the U.S. Army and rose to national prominence.
Prior to the American Civil War, both men fought gallantly in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. After this conflict, Lee remained in the public spotlight, becoming Superintendent of West Point Military Academy in 1852, and later commanding the troops that captured John Brown and his raiders at Harper's Ferry in 1859. Jackson became an instructor at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, VA in 1851. He would still be in this position when war broke out in 1861.
Both men joined the Confederate cause in 1861 to defend their home state of Virginia. The Civil War put both Lee and Jackson in the national spotlight. In July of 1861 at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), Jackson gained his nickname "Stonewall" for his decisive leadership in that pivotal first major battle, a Confederate victory, of the war. Lee started the war with a less than stellar performance leading troops in modern day West Virginia, before going on to take over the main Confederate army at Richmond during the late spring of 1862. Jackson, who had went on to lead a successful campaign against the Federal forces in the Shenandoah Valley during 1862, joined Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Richmond in June of that year, and together they defeated the Union army threatening the capital. This successful partnership between the two generals helped to win many victories against the Union army, which culminated in the decisive Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863. Unfortunately Jackson was wounded by his own troops during this engagement and would later die.
Lee went on to lead the army in large scale and famous battles at places such as Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the siege of Petersburg. Lee finally was forced to surrender in April 1865 to Ulysses Grant and his army at Appomattox Courthouse. After the war, Lee pushed for the country to reunite. He became president of Washington College in October of 1865, now Washington and Lee University in Lexington, and served until his death in 1870.
Virginia started observing Lee's birthday of January 19 as a state holiday in 1889 in honor of his sacrifices to the Commonwealth. Jackson's remembrance was added to the holiday in 1904. The holiday continued to be held on Lee's birthday and was called Lee-Jackson Day until 1983. In that year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a Federal holiday. Since the two events were close, Virginia combined the two holidays into one, and the exact date varied by year. From 1983 until 2000, the memorial was known as Lee-Jackson-King Day in Virginia. From that point forward Lee-Jackson Day was separated. It is now situated to be the Friday prior to Marin Luther King Jr. Day each year, creating a four day weekend for many Virginia government employees.