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Jackson's death-wound.


There is an event of the late war, the details of which are known only to a few persons; and yet it is no exaggeration to say that many thousands would feel an interest in the particulars. I mean the death of Jackson. The minute circumstances attending it have never been published, and they are here recorded as matter of historical as well as personal interest.

A few words will describe the situation of affairs when this tragic scene took place. The spring of 1862 saw a large Federal army assembled on the north bank of the Rappahannock, and on the first of May, General Hooker, its commander, had crossed, and firmly established himself at Chancellorsville. General Lee's forces were opposite Fredericksburg chiefly, a small body of infantry only watching the upper fords. This latter was compelled to fall back before General Hooker's army of about one hundred and fifty thousand men, and Lee hastened by forced marches from Fredericksburg toward Chancellorsville, with a force of about thirty thousand men-Longstreet being absent at Suffolk — to check the further advance of the enemy. This was on May ist, and the Confederate advance force under [287] Jackson, on the same evening, attacked General Hooker's intrenchments facing toward Fredericksburg. They were found impregnable, the dense thickets having been converted into abattis, and every avenue of approach defended with artillery. General Lee therefore directed the assault to cease, and consulted with his corps commanders as to further operations. Jackson suggested a rapid movement around the Federal front, and a determined attack upon the right flank of General Hooker, west of Chancellorsville. The ground on his left and in his front gave such enormous advantages to the Federal troops that an assault there was impossible, and the result of the consultation was the adoption of Jackson's suggestion to attack the enemy's right. Every preparation was made that night, and on the morning of May second, Jackson set out with Hill's, Rodes's, and Colston's divisions, in all about twenty-two thousand men, to accomplish his undertaking.

Chancellorsville was a single brick house of large dimensions, situated on the plank-road from Fredericksburg to Orange, and all around it were the thickets of the country known as the Wilderness. In this tangled undergrowth the Federal works had been thrown up, and such was the denseness of the woods that a column moving a mile or two to the south was not apt to be seen. Jackson calculated upon this, but fortune seemed against him. At the Catherine Furnace, a mile or two from the Federal line, his march was discovered, and a hot attack was made on his rear-guard as he moved past. All seemed now discovered, but, strange to say, such was not the fact. The Federal officers saw him plainly, but the winding road which he pursued chanced here to bend toward the south, and it was afterward discovered that General Hooker supposed him to be in full retreat upon Richmond. Such at least was the statement of Federal officers. Jackson repulsed the attack upon his rear, continued his march, and striking into what is called the Brock Road, turned the head of his column northward, and rapidly advanced around General Hooker's right flank. A cavalry force under General Stuart had moved in front and on the flanks of the column, driving off scouting parties and other too inquisitive [288] wayfarers; and on reaching the junction of the Orange and Germanna roads a heavy Federal picket was forced to retire. General Fitz Lee then informed Jackson that from a hill near at hand he could obtain a view of the Federal works, and proceeding thither, Jackson reconnoitred. This reconnoissance showed him that he was not far enough to the left, and he said briefly to an aide, “Tell my column to cross that road,” pointing to the plank-road. His object was to reach the “old turnpike,” which ran straight down into the Federal right flank. It was reached at about five in the evening, and without a moment's delay Jackson formed his line of battle for an attack. Rodes's division moved in front, supported at an interval of two hundred yards by Colston's, and behind these A. P. Hill's division marched in column like the artillery, on account of the almost impenetrable character of the thickets on each side of the road.

Jackson's assault was sudden and terrible. It struck the Eleventh corps, commanded on this occasion by General Howard, and, completely surprised, they retreated in confusion upon the heavy works around Chancellorsville. Rodes and Colston followed them, took possession of the breastworks across the road, and a little after eight o'clock the Confederate troops were within less than a mile of Chancellorsville, preparing for a new and more determined attack. Jackson's plan was worthy of being the last military project conceived by that resolute and enterprising intellect. He designed putting his entire force into action, extending his left, and placing that wing between General Hooker and the Rappahannock. Then, unless the Federal commander could cut his way through, his army would be captured or destroyed. Jackson commenced the execution of this plan with vigour, and an obvious determination to strain every nerve, and incur every hazard to accomplish so decisive a success. Rodes and Colston were directed to retire a short disstance, and re-form their lines, now greatly mingled, and Hill was ordered to move to the front and take their places. On fire with his great design, Jackson then rode forward in front of the troops toward Chancellorsville, and here and then the bullet struck him which was to terminate his career. [289]

The details which follow are given on the authority of Jackson's staff officers, and one or two others who witnessed all that occurred. In relation to the most tragic portion of the scene, there remained, as will be seen, but a single witness.

Jackson had ridden forward on the turnpike to reconnoitre, and ascertain, if possible, in spite of the darkness of the night, the position of the Federal lines. The moon shone, but it was struggling with a bank of clouds, and afforded but a dim light. From the gloomy thickets on each side of the turnpike, looking more weird and sombre in the half light, came the melancholy notes of the whippoorwill. “I think there must have been ten thousand,” said General Stuart afterwards. Such was the scene amid which the events now about to be narrated took place.

Jackson had advanced with some members of his staff, considerably beyond the building known as “Melzi Chancellor's,” about a mile from Chancellorsville, and had reached a point nearly opposite an old dismantled house in the woods near the road, whose shell-torn roof may still be seen, when he reined in his horse, and remaining perfectly quiet and motionless, listened intently for any indications of a movement in the Federal lines. They were scarcely two hundred yards in front of him, and seeing the danger to which he exposed himself one of his staff officers said, “General, don't you think this is the wrong place for you?” He replied quickly, almost impatiently, “The danger is all over! the enemy is routed-go back and tell A. P. Hill to press right on!” The officer obeyed, but had scarcely disappeared when a sudden volley was fired from the Confederate infantry in Jackson's rear, and on the right of the road-evidently directed upon him and his escort. The origin of this fire has never been discovered, and after Jackson's death there was little disposition to investigate an occurrence which occasioned bitter distress to all who by any possibility could have taken part in it. It is probable, however, that some movement of the Federal skirmishers had provoked the fire; if this is an error, the troops fired deliberately upon Jackson and his party, under the impression that they were a body of Federal cavalry reconnoitring. It is said that the men had orders to open upon any [290] object in front, “especially upon cavalry;” and the absence of pickets or advance force of any kind on the Confederate side explains the rest. The enemy were almost in contact with them; the Federal artillery, fully commanding the position of the troops, was expected to open every moment; and the men were just in that excited condition which induces troops to fire at any and every object they see.

Whatever may have been the origin of this volley, it came, and many of the staff and escort were shot, and fell from their horses. Jackson wheeled to the left and galloped into the woods to get out of range of the bullets; but he had not gone twenty steps beyond the edge of the turnpike, in the thicket, when one of his brigades drawn up within thirty yards of him fired a volley in their turn, kneeling on the right knee, as the flash of the guns showed, as though prepared to “guard against cavalry.” By this fire Jackson was wounded in three places. He received one ball in his left arm, two inches below the shoulder-joint, shattering the bone and severing the chief artery; a second passed through the same arm between the elbow and the wrist, making its exit through the palm of the hand; and a third ball entered the palm of his right hand, about the middle, and passing through broke two of the bones. At the moment when he was struck, he was holding his rein in his left hand, and his right was raised either in the singular gesture habitual to him, at times of excitement, or to protect his face from the boughs of the trees. His left hand immediately dropped at his side, and his horse, no longer controlled by the rein, and frightened at the firing, wheeled suddenly and ran from the fire in the direction of the Federal lines. Jackson's helpless condition now exposed him to a distressing accident. His horse darted violently between two trees, from one of which a horizontal bough extended, at about the height of his head, to the other; and as he passed between the trees, this bough struck him in the face, tore off his cap, and threw him violently back on his horse. The blow was so violent as nearly to unseat him, but it did not do so, and rising erect again, he caught the bridle with the broken and bleeding fingers of his right hand, and succeeded in turning his horse [291] back into the turnpike. Here Captain Wilbourn, of his staff, succeeded in catching the reins and checking the animal, who was almost frantic from terror, at the moment when, from loss of blood and exhaustion, Jackson was about to fall from the saddle.

The scene at this time was gloomy and depressing. Horses mad with fright at the close firing were seen running in every direction, some of them riderless, others defying control; and in the wood lay many wounded and dying men. Jackson's whole party, except Captain Wilbourn and a member of the signal corps, had been killed, wounded, or dispersed. The man riding just behind Jackson had had his horse killed; a courier near was wounded and his horse ran into the Federal lines; Lieutenant Morrison, aide-de-camp, threw himself from the saddle, and his horse fell dead a moment afterwards; Captain Howard was wounded and carried by his horse into the Federal camps; Captain Leigh had his horse shot under him; Captain Forbes was killed; and Captain Boswell, Jackson's chief engineer, was shot through the heart, and his dead body carried by his frightened horse into the lines of the enemy near at hand.


Such was the fatal result of this causeless fire. It had ceased as suddenly as it began, and the position in the road which Jackson now occupied was the same from which he had been driven. Captain Wilbourn, who with Mr. Wynn, of the signal corps, was all that was left of the party, notices a singular circumstance which attracted his attention at this moment. The turnpike was utterly deserted with the exception of himself, his companion, and Jackson; but in the skirting of thicket on the left he observed some one sitting on his horse, by the side of the road, and coolly looking on, motionless and silent. The unknown individual was clad in a dark dress which strongly resembled the Federal uniform; but it seemed impossible that one of the enemy could have penetrated to that spot without being discovered, and what followed seemed to prove that he belonged to the [292] Confederates. Captain Wilbourn directed him to “ride up there and see what troops those were” --the men who had fired on Jackson-when the stranger slowly rode in the direction pointed out, but never returned. Who this silent personage was, is left to conjecture.

Captain Wilbourn, who was standing by Jackson, now said, “They certainly must be our troops,” to which the General assented with a nod of the head, but said nothing. He was looking up the road toward his lines with apparent astonishment, and continued for some time to look in that direction as if unable to realize that he could have been fired upon and wounded by his own men. His wound was bleeding profusely, the blood streaming down so as to fill his gauntlets, and it was necessary to secure assistance promptly. Captain Wilbourn asked him if he was much injured, and urged him to make an effort to move his fingers, as his ability to do this would prove that his arm was not broken. He endeavoured to do so, looking down at his hand during the attempt, but speedily gave it up, announcing that his arm was broken. An effort which his companion made to straighten it caused him great pain, and murmuring, “You had better take me down,” he leaned forward and fell into Captain Wilbourn's arms. He was so much exhausted by loss of blood that he was unable to take his feet out of the stirrups, and this was done by Mr. Wynn. He was then carried to the side of the road and laid under a small tree, where Captain Wilbourn supported his head while his companion went for a surgeon and ambulance to carry him to the rear, receiving strict instructions, however, not to mention the occurrence to any one but Dr. McGuire, or other surgeon. Captain Wilbourn then made an examination of the General's wounds. Removing his fieldglasses and haversack, which latter contained some paper and envelopes for dispatches, and two religious tracts, he put these on his own person for safety, and with a small pen-knife proceeded to cut away the sleeves of the india-rubber overall, dresscoat, and two shirts, from the bleeding arm.

While this duty was being performed, General Hill rode up with his staff, and dismounting beside the general expressed his [293] great regret at the accident. To the question whether his wound was painful, Jackson replied, “Very painful,” and added that “his arm was broken.” General Hill pulled off his gauntlets, which were full of blood, and his sabre and belt were also removed. He then seemed easier, and having swallowed a mouthful of whiskey, which was held to his lips, appeared much refreshed. It seemed impossible to move him without making his wounds bleed afresh, but it was absolutely necessary to do so, as the enemy were not more than a hundred and fifty yards distant, and might advance at any moment-and all at once a proof was given of the dangerous position which he occupied. Captain Adams, of General Hill's staff, had ridden ten or fifteen yards ahead of the group, and was now heard calling out, “Halt! surrender! fire on them if they don't surrender!” At the next moment he came up with two Federal skirmishers who had at once surrendered, with an air of astonishment, declaring that they were not aware they were in the Confederate lines.

General Hill had drawn his pistol and mounted his horse; and he now returned to take command of his line and advance, promising Jackson to keep his accident from the knowledge of the troops, for which the general thanked him. He had scarcely gone when Lieutenant Morrison, who had come up, reported the Federal line advancing rapidly, and then within about a hundred yards of the spot, and exclaimed: “Let us take the General up in our arms and carry him off.” But Jackson said faintly, “No, if you can help me up, I can walk.” He was accordingly lifted up and placed upon his feet, when the Federal batteries in front opened with great violence, and Captain Leigh, who had just arrived with a litter, had his horse killed under him by a shell. He leaped to the ground, near Jackson, and the latter leaning his right arm on Captain Leigh's shoulder, slowly dragged himself along toward the Confederate lines, the blood from his wounded arm flowing profusely over Captain Leigh's uniform.

Hill's lines were now in motion to meet the coming attack, and as the men passed Jackson, they saw from the number and rank of his escort that he must be a superior officer. “Who is that — who have you there?” was asked, to which the reply was, [294] “Oh! It's only a friend of ours who is wounded.” These inquiries became at last so frequent that Jackson said to his escort: “When asked, just say it is a Confederate officer.”

It was with the utmost difficulty that the curiosity of the troops was evaded. They seemed to suspect something, and would go around the horses which were led along on each side of the General to conceal him, to see if they could discover who it was. At last one of them caught a glimpse of the general, who had lost his cap, as we have seen, in the woods, and was walking bareheaded in the moonlight-and suddenly the man exclaimed “in the most pitiful tone,” says an eye-witness: “Great God! That is General Jackson!” An evasive reply was made, implying that this was a mistake, and the man looked from the speaker to Jackson with a bewildered air, but passed on without further comment. All this occurred before Jackson had been able to drag himself more than twenty steps; but Captain Leigh had the litter at hand, and his strength being completely exhausted, the General was placed upon it, and borne toward the rear.

The litter was carried by two officers and two men, the rest of the escort walking beside it and leading the horses. They had scarcely begun to move, however, when the Federal artillery opened a furious fire upon the turnpike from the works in front of Chancellorsville, and a hurricane of shell and canister swept the road. What the eye then saw was a secene of disordered troops, riderless horses, and utter confusion. The intended advance of the Confederates had doubtless been discovered, and the Federal fire was directed along the road over which they would move. By this fire Generals Hill and Pender, with several of their staff, were wounded, and one of the men carrying the litter was shot through both arms and dropped his burden. His companion did likewise, hastily flying from the dangerous locality, and but for Captain Leigh, who caught the handle of the litter, it would have fallen to the ground. Lieutenant Smith had been leading his own and the General's horse, but the animals now broke away, in uncontrollable terror, and the rest of the party scattered to find shelter. Under these circumstances the [295] litter was lowered by Captain Leigh and Lieutenant Smith into the road, and those officers lay down by it to protect themselves, in some degree, from the heavy fire of artillery which swept the turnpike and “struck millions of sparks from the flinty stones of the roadside.” Jackson raised himself upon his elbow and attempted to get up, but Lieutenant Smith threw his arm across his breast and compelled him to desist. They lay in this manner for some minutes without moving, the hurricane still sweeping over them. “So far as I could see,” wrote one of the officers, “men and horses were struggling with a most terrible death.” The road was, otherwise, deserted. Jackson and his two officers were the sole living occupants of the spot.

The fire of canister soon relaxed, though that of shot and shell continued; and Jackson rose to his feet. Leaning on the shoulders of the party who had rejoined him, he turned aside from the road, which was again filling with infantry, and struck into the woods-one of the officers following with the litter. Here he moved with difficulty among the troops who were lying down in line of battle, and the party encountered General Pender, who had just been slightly wounded. He asked who it was that was wounded, and the reply was, “A Confederate officer.” General Pender, however, recognised Jackson, and exclaimed: “Ah! General, I am sorry to see you have been wounded. The lines here are so much broken that I fear we will have to fall back.” These words seemed to affect Jackson strongly. He raised his head, and said with a flash of the eye, “You must hold your ground, General Pender! you must hold your ground, sir!” This was the last order Jackson ever gave upon the field.


The General's strength was now completely exhausted, and he asked to be permitted to lie down upon the ground. But to this the officers would not consent. The hot fire of artillery which still continued, and the expected advance of the Federal infantry, made it necessary to move on, and the litter was again put in requisition. The General, now nearly fainting, was laid upon it, [296] and some litter-bearers having been procured, the whole party continued to move through the tangled woods, toward Melzi Chancellor's.

So dense was the undergrowth, and the ground so difficult, that their progress was very slow. An accident now occasioned Jackson untold agony. One of the men caught his foot in a vine, and stumbling, let go the handle of the litter, which fell heavily to the ground. Jackson fell upon his left shoulder, where the bone had been shattered, and his agony must have been extreme. “For the first time,” says one of the party, “he groaned, and that most piteously.” He was quickly raised, however, and a beam of moonlight passing through the foliage overhead, revealed his pale face, closed eyes, and bleeding breast. Those around him thought that he was dying. What a death for such a man! All around him was the tangled wood, only half illumined by the struggling moonbeams; above him burst the shells of the enemy, exploding, says an officer, “like showers of falling stars,” and in the pauses came the melancholy notes of the whippoorwills, borne on the night air. In this strange wilderness, the man of Port Republic and Manassas, who had led so many desperate charges, seemed about to close his eyes and die in the night.

But such was not to be the result then. When asked by one of the officers whether he was much hurt, he opened his eyes and said quietly without further exhibition of pain, “No, my friend, don't trouble yourself about me.” The litter was then raised upon the shoulders of the men, the party continued their way, and reaching an ambulance near Melzi Chancellor's placed the wounded General in it. He was then borne to the field hospital at Wilderness Run, some five miles distant.

Here he lay throughout the next day, Sunday, listening to the thunder of the artillery and the long roll of the musketry from Chancellorsville, where Stuart, who had succeeded him in command, was pressing General Hooker back toward the Rappahannock. His soul must have thrilled at that sound, long so familiar, but he could take no part in the conflict. Lying faint and pale, in a tent in rear of the “Wilderness Tavern,” he seemed [297] to be perfectly resigned, and submitted to the painful probing of his wounds with soldierly patience. It was obviously necessary to amputate the arm, and one of his surgeons asked, “If we find amputation necessary, General, shall it be done at once?” to which he replied with alacrity, “Yes, certainly, Dr. McGuire, do for me whatever you think right.” The arm was then taken off, and he slept soundly after the operation, and on waking, began to converse about the battle. “If I had not been wounded,” he said, “or had had one hour more of daylight, I would have cut off the enemy from the road to United States ford; we would have had them entirely surrounded, and they would have been obliged to surrender or cut their way out; they had no other alternative. My troops may sometimes fail in driving an enemy from a position, but the enemy always fails to drive my men from a position.” It was about this time that we received the following letter from General Lee: “I have just received your note informing me that you were wounded. I cannot express my regret at the occurrence. Could I have directed events I should have chosen for the good of the country to have been disabled in your stead. I congratulate you upon the victory which is due to your skill and energy.”

The remaining details of Jackson's illness and death are known. He was removed to Guinney's Depot, on the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, where he gradually sank, pneumonia having attacked him. When told that his men on Sunday had advanced upon the enemy shouting “Charge, and remember Jackson!” he exclaimed, “It was just like them! it was just like them! They are a noble body of men! The men who live through this war,” he added, “will be proud to say ‘I was one of the Stonewall brigade’ to their children.” Looking soon afterwards at the stump of his arm, he said, “Many people would regard this as a great misfortune. I regard it as one of the great blessings of my life.” He subsequently said, “I consider these wounds a blessing; they were given me for some good and wise purpose, and I would not part with them if I could.”

His wife was now with him, and when she announced to him, weeping, his approaching death, he replied with perfect calmness, [298] “Very good, very good; it is all right.” These were nearly his last words. He soon afterwards became delirious, and was heard to mutter “Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action!-Pass the infantry to the front!-Tell Major Hawks to send forward provisions for the men!” Then his martial ardor disappeared, a smile diffused itself over his pale features, and he murmured: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees!” It was the river of death he was about to pass; and soon after uttering these words, he expired.

Such were the circumstances attending the death-wound of Jackson. I have detailed them with the conciseness-but the accuracy, too — of a proces-verbal. The bare statement is all that is necessary-comment may be spared the reader.

The character and career of the man who thus passed from the arena of his glory, are the property of history.

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