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New York teen, who knows more about her Confederate hero than most grown-ups, impresses National Park Service

 Stephanie Mackowski, 13, and National Park Service historian Frank O'Reilly, friends since she was 7, lead park visitors on a tour yesterday. Mackowski wrote and produced an award-winning film on 'Stonewall' Jackson at Chancellorsville.
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Date published: 7/30/2007


At age 13, Stephanie Mackowsi has spent enough years studying Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stone-wall" Jackson to have earned a doctorate.

Instead, the precocious adolescent, who became curious about the Confederate icon at age 4, has created an award-winning documentary about the man.

Her film, "Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville: Triumph and Tragedy," was shown to visitors at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park's Chancellorsville Visitor Center yesterday afternoon. About two dozen people saw it, and they clearly were impressed.

They applauded as soon as the 10-minute film ended. One couple provided their unsolicited reviews as they filed out of the small auditorium.

"Wonderful, wonderful," the woman said.

"You did a wonderful job," the man echoed.

Stephanie, a rising eighth-grader from Limestone, N.Y., has volunteered at the park for the past three years.

Known affectionately by staff as "Stonewall Steph," she's trained to handle visitor inquiries at both the Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg visitor centers, but relishes her time at the park's "Stone-wall" Jackson Shrine in Caroline County.

There, the 5-foot tall, 92-pound youngster can share her vast knowledge of Jackson with visitors who often come in just one or two at a time.

Chris Mackowski, a journalism instructor at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., drives 6 hours with his daughter to the park about one weekend per month.

He said her interest was sparked nine years ago by a chance visit to Manassas National Battlefield Park, where she was inspired by the imposing statue of Jackson astride his horse.

Just beginning to read, Stephanie wanted to learn more, leading the family to start visiting other national parks devoted to Civil War history.

She created the documentary after learning about a statewide contest through her school's history club. Given the theme of triumph and tragedy, she had no trouble picking a topic.

She knew her man Jackson had been felled by friendly fire at the apex of his military career.

So, she set about using her resources. She borrowed a digital camera from the journalism and mass communications school where her dad works. She interviewed key people at the Fredericksburg-area park--historians John Hennessy and Frank O'Reilly, a man she considers a mentor and friend.

She shot about eight hours of footage in the Chancellorsville area.

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Stephanie Mackowski, 13, is scheduled to volunteer again at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Aug. 17-19.

She'll split her time between the "Stonewall" Jackson Shrine, five miles east of Interstate 95's Thornburg exit, and the park's Visitor Center in Fredericksburg.

There are no immediate plans to replay her Jackson documentary.