The Death of Stonewall Jackson: Lee Loses His Strong Right Arm

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson has been described by some historians as the finest General the United States ever produced.

Thomas Jackson’s great grandparents were criminals. John Jackson and Elizabeth Cummins were both convicted of larceny in England and were punitively dispatched to the New World in 1749 alongside 150 other convicts. On the voyage across the Atlantic, John and Elizabeth fell in love. 

18th-century America was a rugged place.

Once their obligatory bond service was complete in 1755 they were married. Their grandchild Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born in 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia. He was the third child of Julia and Jonathan Jackson. In his youth, Thomas went by the nickname “The Real Macaroni,” though the origins and significance of that term are not well understood.

Thomas Jackson’s commitment to the Confederacy created a schism with his sister that was never mended.

Typhoid took his six-year-old sister in 1826 and his father some three weeks later. The boy’s remaining sister Laura Ann was born the day after her father died. Thomas and Laura Ann were close as children, but Laura Ann ultimately sided with the Union. Thomas grew to become a Confederate General of some renown. As a result, their relationship remained fractured until his death.

Military Service

LT Thomas Jackson served in Mexico after he was commissioned from West Point.

Thomas Jackson entered the US Military Academy in 1842. Jackson’s lack of formal education hamstrung him upon his arrival at West Point, but his legendary dogged determination compensated. He graduated 18th out of 59 in his class of 1846.

Thomas Jackson was a driven instructor at VMI. His students frequently thought him overly demanding.

Jackson got his formal introduction to war in Mexico. As a young officer, he distinguished himself at Chapultepec. For a decade starting in 1851 he taught at Virginia Military Institute where he was unpopular with his students. Along the way he was twice married. His first wife died in childbirth. His second, Mary Anna Morrison, lived until 1915. When the South seceded in 1861 following the attack on Fort Sumter, Thomas Jackson threw his lot in with the Confederacy.

The affectionate moniker “Stonewall” Jackson stuck with him to his death.

In July of that year, Jackson commanded a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run. At a critical moment in the fight, Jackson beat back a determined Union assault. Barnard Elliot Bee, himself a distinguished Confederate General who ultimately lost his life in combat, referred to Jackson as a “stone wall” in the face of the enemy. The name stuck.

General Thomas Jackson was veritably deified in the Confederacy.

After an initial setback attributed to flawed intelligence, Stonewall Jackson dominated the Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1862. Through truly exceptional tactical acumen, Jackson and his troops defeated three separate Union armies in the field. He exercised his martial gifts at places like Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, developing for himself a reputation as a cunning and insightful combat leader. At Chancellorsville Jackson’s 30,000 Confederates launched a devastating surprise attack against the Federal flank that drove the Union troops back fully two miles.

The General’s Theology

General Jackson prayed frequently with his staff and men. A truly pious man, Jackson was also acutely self-conscious and ever attempted to avoid the limelight.

Thomas Jackson has been described as a fanatical Presbyterian. His deep and sincere faith drove everything about his life while making him all but fearless in battle. He once opined, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me…That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”

Stonewall Jackson’s arm was ultimately interred 115 miles away from the rest of him. The details are coming directly.

Like most exceptional personalities, Jackson was also a bit strange. He held a lifelong belief that one of his arms was longer than the other. He would frequently hold the perceived longer of the two aloft for long periods in an effort at equalizing his circulation. 

Behold Stonewall Jackson’s kryptonite. The esteemed General purportedly loved these things.

General Jackson highly valued sleep and was known to fall asleep at times while eating. His prior service as an artillery officer had severely damaged his hearing. This made communication difficult at times. He also had an abiding passion for fresh fruit like peaches, watermelons, apples, and oranges. His real weakness, however, was lemons. When they could be found Jackson would frequently gnaw whole lemons in an effort at soothing his digestion. General Richard Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor and a colleague, wrote, “Where Jackson got his lemons ‘no fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one.”

Stonewall Jackson and Slavery

One man’s hero is another man’s goat. Jackson’s dashing visage adorns the rock face at Stone Mountain, Georgia. Completed in 1974, this sculpture is so large that a grown man could stand in the mouth of the largest of the three horses. These three figures span three full acres across the mountainside.

No information age treatise of a prominent Confederate can be complete without dragging slavery and race into the narrative. In the late 1850s, Jackson owned six slaves. Three of these–Hetty, Cyrus, and George–were received as part of a dowry from Mary Anna’s father upon their marriage. Two others supposedly requested that Jackson purchase them based upon his purported kindly local reputation. Of the two, Albert was purchased and worked to gain his freedom. Amy served as the Jackson family cook and housekeeper. The sixth was a child with a learning disability who was received as a gift from an aged widow.

This is Major Jackson in 1855 when he taught Sunday School to local slaves.

In what was considered a fairly radical move for the day, in 1855 Jackson organized and taught Sunday School classes for blacks at his Presbyterian Church. Of this ministry, Pastor William Spotswood White said, “In their religious instruction he succeeded wonderfully. His discipline was systematic and firm, but very kind…His servants reverenced and loved him, as they would have done a brother or father…He was emphatically the black man’s friend.” I obviously cannot speak to what any of that was really like, but Reverend White was clearly a fan. Not diminishing the repugnant nature of slavery as an institution, but it was clearly a different time.

The Death of Stonewall Jackson

General Jackson fell victim to the fog of war.

After a wildly successful engagement against Joe Hooker’s forces during the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson and his staff were making their way on horseback back through friendly lines. They encountered sentries from the 18th North Carolina Infantry who mistook the party for Union cavalry. The pickets shouted, “Halt, who goes there?” but fired before receiving an adequate response.

General Thomas Jackson was considered invincible in his day.

Frantic remonstrations from the command group were answered by Confederate Major John D. Barry’s command, “It’s a damned Yankee trick! Fire!” During the course of the two volleys, Stonewall Jackson was struck three times.

Several of Jackson’s staff officers were killed in that final fateful exchange.

Two rounds shattered Jackson’s left arm. One ball entered at the left elbow and exited near the wrist, while another struck his left upper arm three inches below the shoulder. A third ball struck his right hand and lodged there. Several members of Jackson’s staff along with their horses were killed. The poor visibility and incoming artillery fire added to the confusion. Jackson was dropped from his stretcher at least once during the subsequent evacuation.

These ghastly things got ample exercise in the horrific field hospitals of the Civil War. Roughly 75% of amputation patients ultimately died.

Battlefield medicine during the Civil War was unimaginably crude in comparison with today’s state of the art. The standard treatment in the face of significant damage to an extremity was amputation. As there were no safe and effective anesthetics available these surgical procedures were typically fast, frenetic, and fairly imprecise.

This is the outbuilding where Stonewall Jackson died.

A Confederate surgeon named Hunter McGuire took the arm, and Jackson was moved to the nearby Fairfield Plantation for recovery. Thomas Chandler, the plantation owner, offered the use of his home. However, Jackson, ever concerned about imposition, insisted he be maintained in a nearby office building instead.

Civil War-era hospitals were truly horrible things.

The germ theory of disease had not yet come to drive battlefield surgery, so secondary infections of combat wounds were ubiquitous. Jackson developed a fever and pneumonia as a result of his injuries and succumbed eight days later. As the end approached he said, “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”

This iconic photograph of Stonewall Jackson was shot seven days before his fatal injury.

General Jackson’s final words, uttered in a delirium immediately preceding his demise, lend further insight into the man’s character. Attended by Dr. McGuire and a trusted slave named Jim Lewis, his final words were, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks…” Then he paused and uttered, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” Stonewall Jackson then breathed his last.

The soft lead projectiles fired by Civil War-era arms inflicted truly devastating injuries.

The fatal bullet was ultimately recovered and identified as a .69-caliber projectile. Union troops in this area typically fielded .58-caliber weapons. The 18th North Carolina Infantry was most commonly armed with older larger-caliber muskets. This discovery sealed the suspicion that Jackson had been felled by friendly fire. This was one of the first incidents wherein forensic ballistics identification was used to establish the circumstances surrounding a violent death.

Most Civil War-era long arms were single-shot rifled muskets.

While the American Civil War ultimately saw the introduction of cartridge-firing repeating rifles like the Henry and Spencer, most combatants on both sides were armed with single-shot, muzzleloading rifled muskets of various flavors. Union troops had the luxury of greater standardization due to their more advanced state of industrialization, while Confederate units frequently had to make do with a hodgepodge of weapons. Regardless, in this particular circumstance, the science of ballistics told an unfortunate tale. 

The Rest of the Story

The loss of Stonewall Jackson to friendly fire represented an incalculable blow to the Confederate cause.

Upon learning of his friend’s injury Confederate General Robert E. Lee wrote, “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.” 

He sent this message to Jackson via a courier after his surgery, “Give General Jackson my affectionate regards, and say to him: he has lost his left arm but I my right.”

When told of his death Lee confided to a friend, “I am bleeding at the heart.”

Jackson’s service as Lee’s primary Lieutenant could not readily be replaced.

The Battle of Gettysburg took place a mere two months after the death of General Jackson. As any student of Civil War history will attest, Gettysburg was an iffy thing indeed. The entire outcome of the war potentially turned on a handful of decisions made under the most arduous of circumstances.

Lee was forced to fight at Gettysburg without his most capable subordinate. Stonewall Jackson was only 39 years old when he died.

Had Stonewall Jackson been at Lee’s side during the chaotic maelstrom of Gettysburg the battle might very well have turned out differently. Had Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia been able to take the day and subsequently march on Washington, Lincoln could have been forced to sue for peace on the steps of the White House at the point of a Confederate bayonet. Had that been the case our world would obviously be all but unrecognizable today. Sometimes the most momentous events turn on the smallest things.

Here is one of Stonewall Jackson’s monuments being dismantled, brought down by enraged social justice warriors who likely fancy themselves paragons of tolerance.

Ripping down historical monuments in a fit of emotion strikes me as viscerally unsettling. In 2001 the Taliban blew up the 6th-century Buddhas of Bamiyan and were rightfully reviled as a result. It really should be possible to appreciate historical figures without dogmatically embracing the causes they represented or obliterating the evidence of their existence. For all have sinned, even in modern woke America. If left intact alongside contextual information these monuments could serve as object lessons to enlighten generations yet to come. If freedom from moral stain becomes a prerequisite for veneration then I fear we may be destined to become a nation bereft of monuments.

About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 35 comments… add one }
  • Zhang February 17, 2022, 10:26 pm

    Great article, Dr. Dabbs. Just one correction: the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 a few months before 9/11, not 2011. In 2011 they had bigger things to worry about than some pagan statues.

    • Will Dabbs February 18, 2022, 10:08 am

      Thanks for pointing that out. I fixed the date.

  • Art Smith February 15, 2022, 3:23 pm

    The woke mob is a lot like the Taliban…

  • Larry S. February 15, 2022, 11:43 am

    Excellent article on the life and death of Gen. Stonewall Jackson, and in a completely historical perspective. It’s a shame that narrow minded individuals cannot appreciate the military genius of this man, as well as many other military figures that served both the North and South during the American Civil War. I’d venture to guess that most of the outcry is from those that never had the privilege of wearing the uniform of our great country. Interesting that you should mention Erwin Rommel in a reply to a readers comment. I had a chance to visit Rommel’s grave in 2004, and was pleased to see the many wreaths and tributes from private citizens as well as veterans groups to a brilliant military tactician that in the end, gave his life in an attempt to end the world of Nazism.

  • YankeeDespot February 15, 2022, 11:12 am

    You’ve got a motor, Will. Run a business, maintain a family (takes work, care, and time), shoot toms of cool guns, teach Sunday school, and still make time to write these unique articles. The prose is very good, and you find interesting images that keep those of who were 11B motivated to get through all the “words.”

    If I were you I’d dine out on Army Aviation. Start every conversation with..”when I was flying combat helicopters in the military…..”

    Thanks!

  • Eric February 14, 2022, 7:52 pm

    I enjoyed this piece, thank you. The whole time, I kept on thinking, “He better not forget the lemons!” And lo, the lemons were remembered. He was a capable general, and a real lunatic.

    Pretty bummed to see some of the other comments though. First, the Civil War is and was always about slavery. Second, it is normal and reasonable not to want to have statues around of people who fought a war to own you.

    For Pete’s sake, think about it from the perspective of someone whose ancestors were enslaved. I’d go dollars for doughnuts every one of you bleeting about heritage is as white as snow.

    For that matter, how many statues of King George, or his Hessian mercenaries there are in the USA? If the argument holds, shouldn’t we also have statues of British generals in our parks? How about some Nazis or some other unpleasant baddies we’ve defeated in war?

    • Will Dabbs February 15, 2022, 10:14 am

      Eric, I knew this one would be controversial and did my dead level best to keep it as neutral as I was able. I think some of it is about distance. My ancestors were brutalized at the hands of the French, yet the fleur-de-lis posted in New Orleans doesn’t cause me much angst. I don’t know anybody who ever knew anybody who was a slave. As a white man born in the South I don’t hate anybody. However, holding me morally or financially accountable for the actions of folks I never met is also tantamount to racism. I just think we should figure out a way to admire Erwin Rommel’s tactical acumen without venerating the cause for which he fought. As I mentioned in the piece, for all have sinned. Every single person on earth, to include Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa, have their own darker attributes that are typically just glossed over. I can respect Stonewall Jackson as a brilliant General and apparently pious Christian who lived in a very different time without in any way condoning slavery as an institution. To suppress the evidence of that significance over his particular flavor of sin seems a bit morally inconsistent. The next thing you know Columbus, Washington, Jefferson, et al are all canceled as well, which is, of course, where we are today.

      • Airmedic February 15, 2022, 7:29 pm

        Great article, and well written. I am not understanding what Eric means as we do have statues of some foreign individuals here in DC and Rommel was a great general and never joined the Nazi party

  • Old Swampy February 14, 2022, 2:35 pm

    People still leave lemons for Jackson at his grave in Lexington, Virginia; I’ve been there several times and there are always a few lemons laying around.

  • Daniel P Fogarty February 14, 2022, 2:34 pm

    Some of Jackson’s unusual behaviors suggest he would have been placed on the autism spectrum if he had lived in a later time.

  • WASAFUZZ2 February 14, 2022, 12:26 pm

    Leave History alone………..

    • Ej harbet February 15, 2022, 7:20 pm

      I agree,but evil must alter or destroy history so weaker minds are more likely to repeat it

  • Alej February 14, 2022, 10:50 am

    Yankees like Solo are why Texas is on the verge of seceding. Other conservative states, seven at last count, are studying the ramifications of trying to recreate Old America.

  • Ken February 14, 2022, 10:32 am

    Great story.

  • Skyraider17 February 14, 2022, 9:34 am

    Thank you Dr. Dabbs for an excellent well written article. Very much appreciated ! When I was 13, my parents took me to the Gettysburg National Military Park in the summer of 1963 for the 100 year anniversary of the battle. We had a large family gathering afterwards in Gettysburg where I met many extended family members for the first time. I noticed that the family members were basically spilt into two large groups with one group wearing American flags and Union insignia and the other group wearing Confederate flags and uniform insignia. As a 13 year old kid, I found that odd growing up in Western Massachusetts. It wasn’t until I was much older that my father told me that I had family members from Pennsylvania and Maryland that had fought for the Confederacy which explained the unusual behavior at our family gathering back in 1963. There is indeed much to be learned.

  • History is good February 14, 2022, 8:48 am

    Wonderful article. Why is history so scary to some people? I think they are easily influenced by the Marxist themes we are contending with now and not willing to study for thenselves.

    People that blame the Civil War on slavery, look up Lincolns quotes regarding the first 13th amendment and how he wanted to ship slaves back to africa. Also, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in order to start a slave revolt.. it didnt even free slaves in the North!

    • Martin February 14, 2022, 3:25 pm

      You are so right.
      The liberated slaves where send to Jamaica by the North.
      Because the North did not want them.
      There where consecration camps that housed Slaves after the war where thousands starved to death and died of sickness .
      To the point they where given the option to go back to there plantations if they where not destroyed .
      It was about state rights because its called the United STATES and in the constitution it states any state can secede at any time.
      when that happens any federal forts are invading a different state.

  • Super B February 14, 2022, 8:12 am

    Being a history buff I always enjoy reading these pieces. I’d be curious to know what made Jackson side with the south. I’ve heard Robert E Lee found slavery abhorrent but felt that it was for the states to resolve, not the Federal government.

    • Rokurota February 14, 2022, 5:23 pm

      People then considered themselves citizens of a state more than The United States. Lee felt more loyalty to Virginia than the federal government, which is why he turned down Lincoln’s offer to lead the U.S. Army. Today, we are “Americans,” but Jackson considered himself “Virginian” above all else.

  • Solo February 14, 2022, 7:24 am

    Will Dabbs,
    I didn’t realize you were a sympathizer of a segregated USA and of the South. These monuments were placed in town squares to honor these men as heroes. Not to have a plaque saying that they fought for a wrong cause. What do you think if we could ask the men that were part of erecting the monument what you suggest, and if we could ask them why are they putting it up, in the first place.?

    They became the enemy of the free United States of America. Not heroes. The war has been lost. Time to move on. And how some people believe by removing these monuments that History will repeat itself is ludicrous. That these monuments that idolized traitors will somehow keep other traitors from separating from USA and forming a new government. That movement has already begun with the help from D.J.T. 45th president. And his lies his diehards want nothing more than to overthrow the government and place him back in power as the one and only Supreme Leader. Ohh I forgot to add they also fly the confederate battle flag.

    • PacosMojo February 14, 2022, 8:48 am

      Yes, Solo, intelligent, well read men can appreciate history without idolizing the sins of the past. And as for President Trump and American conservatives, what would be our motivation to re-establish a DEMOCRAT CONFEDERACY! Yes Solo, the Confederacy was YOUR political forebears! Slavery, segregation, the KKK, literacy tests, etc., you and you’re own ALL of it!

      • Ned H Palmer February 28, 2022, 6:48 pm

        HEAR, HEAR!

    • Willie-O February 14, 2022, 8:52 am

      Just another “holier than thou” liberal. You obviously missed a great deal of the content, but this isn’t surprising – most “see” what they want to see, the way they want to see it. Anything contradictory is simply ignored. Slavery, in all of its truly evil iterations, has existed since the beginning of time, it still exists today and will (almost) certainly exist tomorrow. “Monuments” come in all shapes, sizes, colors, styles…..take a look at what you’re wearing, what’s parked in your driveway and the contents of your home. A great deal of it is the product of present day slavery – modern “monuments”. I hold that the Nike “swoosh” is every bit as dangerous and detrimental as a statue of “Stonewall” Jackson. Likely more so. Hypocrisy is alive and well.

    • Mitchell Bertone February 14, 2022, 9:00 am

      @SOLO History belongs to all of us, it can not be erased or changed. Every one of these objects is part of that history. So is the rebel flag. Just in case if you are wondering, I’m from the north, and yes the flag is offensive to small minded people, In case you forgot, all Confederate soldiers are American soldiers (look it up) So they are American heroes also Time for them to move on…

    • Rex Dickerson February 14, 2022, 9:15 am

      Written by a fool ignorant of the origins of the War Between The States. I suggest you take a deep dive into the history of the war rather than parroting untruths from biased sources. Deo Vindice.

    • Mike in a Truck February 14, 2022, 9:45 am

      Confederates to a man….they were all DEMOCRATS!

      • Airmedic February 15, 2022, 7:11 pm

        Not necessarily true but then again the Democrats of those days are much different ideology wise than today

    • Frank February 14, 2022, 10:36 am

      Solo. It’s painfully obvious that you’re unfamiliar with the following axiom… “It’s far better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt”.

    • Gre727 February 14, 2022, 11:11 am

      You ignore the fact that, prior to the War Between the States, the Federal government had little to nothing to do with the average person. People did not consider themselves “Americans”. They were Virginians, New Yorkers, Georgians, etc. For Lee and Jackson to not side with their home, Virginia, would have made them “traitors”. You can’t make judgments about historical figures without considering the time period. You also can’t revise history because it offends your sensibilities. All you can do is learn from it. Removing memorials and statues only induces ignorance.

    • AK February 14, 2022, 11:13 am

      “And his lies his diehards want nothing more than to overthrow the government and place him back in power…”

      Trump supporters don’t need to overthrow the government. Your side of incompetent hard leftists is doing a fine job of exposing themselves to an increasingly enraged American public, for a nice smooth legitimate exchange of power in 2022 and 2024.

    • ken February 14, 2022, 12:22 pm

      lol.keep spewing pup.has ANY of ur family ever fought for this country?bet not..you should look at chaz full of scumbag traitors..true insurection..ANY ONE WHO fought for south did so protecting thier country that they helped build.unlike you and yours.odd how people forget slavery went on in africa for another 100yrs[in places still does]VP harris comes from a SLAVER family from port royal..yes history must never be forgotn at my countries peril.so who is the fool?these men who are made in to STONE helped shape my country.REMEMBER with out them HEROES of the past we have no today pup..yes my family fought on south and north,well in every battle to date this country has faced how bout yours?RESPECT IS EARNED NOT GIVEN.

    • Let's go Brandon, FJB February 14, 2022, 2:25 pm

      @ Solo, Deranged lefties like you are still crying about the 2016 election saying it was illegitimate; Russia, Russia, Russia. Creepy joe stole the 2020 election PERIOD! There is no way that potato head won. The demented left is destroying our country w/ all their lies and race-baiting. FJB. Si Vis Pacem Parabellum.

    • Solo February 18, 2022, 6:58 am

      In the end, this article is about removing monuments dedicated to General Jackson, and other monuments dedicated to generals like Lee. How sad to see them removed………. these monuments were used to Honor These Men. It does not matter if they were military geniuses. That is for the history and military tactics books. General Rommel, was a great military leader but we don’t have statues of him in our parks. All of these men deserve to be remembered just not honored in our parks for all to enjoy. Our park system is for all. The ones that are upset about the removal care only about themselves and not others. It has nothing to do with being Woke, conservative or liberal. America is a progressive nation we have been and we will continue to do so whether you like it or not.

      • Ned H Palmer February 28, 2022, 6:54 pm

        GO AWAY; FIND A SAFE PLACE WITH NO HISTORY, AND YOU HAVE FOUND NOTHING. YOU ARE WOKE.

  • Raymond Houser February 14, 2022, 3:22 am

    Thanks for the fair and historical review of the life of Stonewall Jackson. Your final paragraph was most apt. I fear we wont only be bereft of monuments if things continue as they are, i fear we won’t be recognizable as a free country.

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