Jon Busdeker
September 13, 2006

The 90-foot black hull of the Marshall has rested in Riverside Park for more than 70 years.

The packet boat has been defenseless from rain, snow and everything else Mother Nature could throw at it.

Until now.

On Saturday, at noon, the Lynchburg Historical Foundation will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Marshall site to celebrate the new shelter that covers the 140-year-old boat.

The ceremony comes after three years of raising money (more than $55,000) to preserve the Marshall and build a permanent structure to house the famous boat.

“We’re excited to finally be there,” said Sally Schneider, the executive director of the Lynchburg Historical Foundation said.

The Marshall was made famous in 1863 when Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s body was ferried from Lynchburg to Lexington.

A railroad brought the lifeless body of Jackson from Richmond to Lynchburg. When it arrived, a funeral procession followed the coffin through the city. Church bells rang as guards, soldiers, officers, clergy members and citizens joined in the memorial parade.

The body of Jackson was placed on the Marshall and taken up the James River to its final resting place in Lexington.

At the time there were no railroads between Lynchburg and Lexington.

The Lynchburg Historical Foundation, accustomed to restoring houses and other structures around the Hill City, doesn’t usually help preserve boats. But Schneider suggested the foundation go deeper into Lynchburg’s history.

“We need to look at all aspects of Lynchburg,” she said.

In its heyday, the boat traveled up and down the James River, carrying freight and passengers. Its interior was lined with Dominican mahogany and contained staterooms and a dining salon.

“It really was spectacular for a packet boat,” Schneider said.

Besides ferrying Jackson to Lexington, the Marshall was burned by the Union Army, bought and sold by different railroad companies and acted as a houseboat in the 1900s. In 1913, the Marshall was torn apart by a flood and its hull was buried in more than two feet of mud in the James River.

In the 1930s, the metal hull was recovered and placed in Riverside Park.

The boat sat outside for more than 70 years. In years past, others have hoped to salvage the boat, but each time the plans were scrapped.

In 2003, Schneider was given the green light.

“The historical foundation started marching forward to save it,” Schneider said.

First, a committee was formed to help organize the project. Committee members searched for donors among local residents and national organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In March 2005, City Council gave $40,000 to the cause.

Also, the foundation found help with national companies like Arm & Hammer. The company donated more than $1,200 of baking soda to clean the hull.

On the day of the ribbon cutting, the foundation will hold a raffle to raise more money. The winner of the raffle will receive a signed and framed proof from Civil War artist Mort Könstler. The proof is on display at Dixie Outfitters in Madison Heights and tickets will be sold for $25 or five for $100. Organizers hope to generate $20,000 more so future generations can appreciate the boat that took Jackson home.

“It’s a significant piece of history,” Schneider said. “If we don’t save these things, our history is gone.”

© 2006 Media General

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