Image of stiff-backed chair

On Rigor

When I moved to Harrisonburg, I got a history book about the Shenandoah Valley from the local public library. This was not a scholarly history but a popular book from the 1950s or 1960s, full of anecdotes about places with drawings illustrating the stories. I wanted to get a sense of the local mythology, the stories that people who had grown up in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County had learned in school and connected to specific places. As expected, the book was full of stories about the Civil War from a Confederate perspective, complete with the usual racist tropes; I remember the story about a freed slave sad that the South lost the Civil War and pining for his “master”. I don’t know if the library still has that book (I forgot its title), but I hope they have replaced it with something that is a bit more, let’s say, contemporary.

Another story that I remember from the book was about Stonewall Jackson as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute before the Civil War. As legend has it (or maybe there are even sources, I don’t know), Jackson prepped for classes as follows: He sat in a stiff wooden chair facing the wall, maybe 10 inches or so away from it, and recited by heart whatever he was going to lecture, later, to the students.

Don’t be like Stonewall Jackson.

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