10 May 2013

Stonewall Jackson Died 150 Years Ago Today

*Update:  Stonewall's death made the Drudge Report today which linked to this article about the cause of death. And, in that piece, Jackson's eminent biographer, Professor James I. Robertson, Jr. is quoted as making some interesting comments:
"Unfortunately, medicine in the mid-19th century was still in the dark ages," he said. "Obviously, I'm not overly concerned with how he died. I'm terribly concerned that he died."
Jackson was a pivotal figure and perhaps the most esteemed soldier in the war, Robertson said. He was known for secrecy and speed to execute surprise flank attacks for Gen. Robert E. Lee's strategy.

"He was killed in what may be the high-water mark of the Confederacy," Robertson said. "You can make a case that after Chancellorsville, it's just a question of time for Lee."

I'll bet the hand-wringing and criticisms will commence shortly.

End of update.

The following narrative is to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson which occurred on the 10th of May, 1863. The post is adapted from my book, Stonewall Jackson ~ The Black Man's Friend. The original footnotes have been omitted.

Currier & Ives
Stonewall Jackson was shot by one of his own men at about 9:00 p.m. on the evening of May 2, 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville. After Jackson’s accidental wounding, his body servant and friend, Jim Lewis was one of his constant companions and comforters as he faced his final enemy. By 2:00 a.m., May 3, Jackson was in the capable hands of Dr. Hunter McGuire. Just twenty-seven years old at the time, McGuire was one of the most talented and respected surgeons in the Confederacy. Jackson and McGuire had become close personal friends in the two years they knew each other. Now, McGuire’s friend’s life was dependent on the young surgeon’s skills. 

After examining the wounds, McGuire determined that it would be impossible to save the left arm; amputation was the only option. He wrote of his conversation with Jackson: 

At 2 o’clock, Sunday morning, Surgeons Black, Walls and Coleman being present, I informed him that chloroform would be given him, and his wounds examined. I told him that amputation would probably be required, and asked if it was found necessary whether it should be done at once. He replied promptly: "Yes, certainly. Dr. McGuire, do for me whatever you think best."

Late that Sunday afternoon, it was determined that Jackson had to be moved from the temporary tent hospital to a safer location. Federal troops were close, and Jackson’s position was perilous. He would make the twenty-seven mile trip by ambulance to Guiney Station. Jim Lewis was given the important responsibility of following behind “with horses, headquarters supplies, and Jackson’s personal belongings.” Lewis would have witnessed the same heart-rending scenes as McGuire: “At Spotsylvania and along the whole route, men and women rushed to the ambulance, bringing all the food delicacies they had, and with tearful eyes blessed him & prayed for his recovery.” 

Upon arriving at the estate of Thomas Coleman Chandler at Guiney Station, corps chaplain Beverly Tucker Lacy requested that the wounded Jackson and his staff be permitted to use a small frame cottage that was normally used as an office. The Chandlers were more than happy to be of service. Jackson’s room was prepared, a fire was built in the fireplace, and Jackson was brought in and made as comfortable as possible. After having some bread and tea, he went to sleep immediately. McGuire promptly limited access to Jackson. The only ones allowed in the general’s room were himself, Joseph Graham Morrison, staff member James Power Smith, and Jim Lewis. 

Retiring for the evening, McGuire, Morrison, and Smith all rested in the upper room of the cottage. Lewis slept closest to Jackson, in the room next to the wounded general. McGuire knew he could trust Lewis to listen for any sound and watch for any movement coming from Jackson’s room. His recovery seemed promising through Wednesday. Although Jackson did not have much of an appetite, Lewis fetched an occasional glass of cold milk from the Chandler home for him. As James I. Robertson has written, things seemed to be going well. Jackson was in the good hands of those who loved him: “Vital signs looked good into Wednesday night. McGuire felt safe in leaving Jackson in the affectionate care of Jim Lewis. . . . Lewis sat quietly and watched Jackson fall asleep.” 

But Jackson’s condition suddenly worsened. His moaning awakened Lewis, and he and Lacy rushed to his bedside. Jackson, being a believer in water treatments, requested that a wet towel be applied to his left side where he was experiencing severe pain. Lewis soaked a towel in cold spring water and tenderly applied the cool, wet compresses to the general’s side. There was no relief, and the pain grew worse. Lewis was becoming worried and tried for some time to get Jackson’s permission to awaken McGuire. But Jackson knew that McGuire was exhausted and needed rest. He delayed waking his doctor as long as he could stand the pain. Finally, at daybreak, Jackson asked Lewis to fetch McGuire. 

McGuire was startled from a deep sleep by Lewis’ solemn words, “The General wants you.” Lewis watched apprehensively as McGuire examined his patient. McGuire’s eyes and furrowed brow betrayed his fears. McGuire had seen many men die. He had come to recognize the early warning signs immediately, instinctively. Jim knew the situation had grown more serious. His friend was fighting for his life. “The tall, young surgeon stood up and stared for a moment out the window. He was convinced that dreaded pneumonia had developed.”

(Some physicians have since examined the accounts of Hunter, Dabney, and Anna Jackson and have concluded that the cause of Jackson’s death was not pneumonia but more likely a serious secondary infection— sepsis. One study concludes, “The organism responsible for Jackson’s death was probably Group A Streptococcus.” See: "Let Us Cross over the River": The Final Illness of Stonewall Jackson By Rozear, Marvin P.; Greenfield, Joseph C., Jr. Academic journal article from The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 103, No. 1 )

Beverly Tucker Lacy was sent by McGuire to request the assistance of Jubal A. Early’s chief surgeon, Samuel B. Morrison. Before returning, Lacy paid a visit to Robert E. Lee, informing him of Jackson’s worsening condition. Lee told Lacy that he was convinced that God would spare Jackson “at such time when his country so much needed him.” Lee and Jackson were immeasurably close in their respect and admiration for each other, but Lee could not risk visiting his dear friend and comrade in arms for fear of losing control of his emotions. Douglas Southall Freeman noted that Lee “could not trust his emotions” if exposed to the sad sight of his critically ill friend. Lee did what he could—he prayed, as did the whole Confederacy.

Soon, Jackson's wife, Anna arrived along with daughter Julia and their slave Hetty. Upon seeing her beloved husband, she said, “He looked like a dying man.” By Thursday, Jackson was becoming delirious, intermittently shouting orders to imaginary subordinates. With Friday’s sunrise, Jackson seemed somewhat better, telling Anna, “I do not believe I shall die at this time.” Though a total of eight physicians attended him, Jackson’s faith was in God. He told his wife, “I am persuaded the Almighty has yet a work for me to perform.” The momentous struggle for life wore on: the fervent prayers of Southerners; the emotional weeping of those attending his bedside, the intense physiological battle being waged by Jackson’s body; and the combined talents of his doctors. McGuire noted, “All that human skill could devise was done to stay the hand of death.” But that hand was tightening its grip. 

Saturday, May 9, dawned with Jackson having endured a mostly sleepless night. Anna informed him that the doctors had told her he would not recover. Jackson, though his wife and his doctors discouraged him, insisted upon seeing Lacy. Jackson told the chaplain there should be a stricter observance of the Sabbath among his army. Lacy promised he would do all he could to honor the general’s request: “His last care and effort for the church of Christ being to secure the sanctification of the Lord’s Day.” Saturday night saw Jackson’s condition turn grave. Anna, along with her brother Joseph, spent the early part of the night singing some of Jackson’s favorite hymns and psalms.

By Sunday morning, Jackson’s body was racked with fever, and he was exhausted—the final condition before death. Through tears, Anna told him, “Before this day closes, you will be with the blessed Savior in His glory.” Jackson confirmed the news with his doctors and responded simply, “Very good, very good. It is all right.” Later, Jackson’s six month-old daughter, Julia, was brought in to see him, along with Hetty. Jackson called out: “Little darling! Sweet one!” Lovingly stroking her head, he then “closed his eyes as if in prayer.” After a few moments of sleep, Jackson awoke to see his young adjutant, Sandie Pendleton, standing by his bedside. The general wanted to know who was preaching at headquarters. After telling him that Lacy was doing the preaching, the boyish Pendleton, barely able to keep his emotions under control, said: “The whole army is praying for you general.” Jackson replied, “Thank God. They are very kind.” No longer able to contain his grief, Pendleton stepped outside, sobbing uncontrollably. He would later tell Anna, “God knows I would have died for him.” 

Shortly after morning worship, Lacy again spoke with General Lee. Lee requested, “When a suitable occasion offers, tell him that I prayed for him last night, as I never prayed, I believe, for myself.” Lee, like Pendleton, could no longer contain his grief. As their conversation ended, Lacy noted that Lee “turned away in overpowering emotion.” It is hard for even the strongest of men to say good-bye to a dear friend. McGuire chronicled Jackson’s final moments and last words: About half-past one, he was told that he had but two hours to live, and he answered again, feebly, but firmly, “Very good, it is all right.” A few moments before he died, he cried out in his delirium. Hunter McQuire wrote of this moment: 

"Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action! pass the infantry to the front rapidly! tell Major Hawks"—then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently, a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees;" and then, without pain, or the least struggle, his spirit passed from earth to the God who gave it.

What was Jackson seeing through the shadowy mist of death and eternity? Anna later wondered:

Was his soul wandering back in dreams to the river of his beloved Valley, the Shenandoah (the “river of sparkling waters”), whose verdant meadows and groves he had redeemed from the invader, and across whose floods he had so often won his passage through the toils of battle? Or was he reaching forward across the River of Death, to the golden streets of the Celestial City, and the trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations? It was to these that God was bringing him, through his last battle and victory; and under their shade he walks, with the blessed company of the redeemed.

Lewis looked on as he watched Jackson’s eyes close, the general’s shallow breathing finally stilled, not wanting to accept that Jackson was gone. It was 3:15 p.m. Anna was weeping softly. Though he had predicted the time of death almost to the minute, Hunter McGuire stood in unbelieving silence. As reality sank in, hot tears began to flow down Jim Lewis’s face. Anna took special note of his sorrow: “Tears were shed over that dying bed by strong men who were unused to weep, and it was touching to see the genuine grief of his servant, Jim, who nursed him faithfully to the end.”

VMI Cadets Firing a Volley at Jackon's Grave ~ 1913


Anonymous said...

Touching and inspiring.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you Anon. Jackson was an inspiring man.

msimons said...

Jackson's loss was the Death Neal for the South.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Mike - many have argued that. I'm not so sure though. The South's chances were slim to begin with. They went on the offensive too late in the war. I suppose( had he lived) Jackson may have realized this and convinced Lee to throw a Hail Mary and invade Washington - who knows? Thanks for reading.