A Solemn Anniversary
One-hundred-and-thirty-nine years ago today (Friday, May 10, 2002) at precisely quarter past the hour of three o’clock p.m., a clear and strong voice cried out from a sick bed, "No, no, let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees." With that, the life of one of the most famous generals of the American Civil War (and perhaps in all of American military history) expired.
Who was the man who said those words?
The man was none other than Lieut. General, Provisional Army of the Confederate States, Thomas Jonathan ("Stonewall") Jackson. While the men of the Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, called him either "Ol’ Jack" or "Ol’ Blue Light [Elder]" (this due to Jackson’s very strong Calvinistic Presbyterianism), Jackson is known the world over for the sobriquet given to him on the bloody plain of First Manassas: Stonewall.
Stonewall was the right hand of Robert E. Lee and could always be counted upon by his chieftain to strike quickly and fight aggressively. If you use American football terminology, Lee was the Captain of the team; Jackson was the Running Back and Longstreet (Lee’s "Old War Horse") was the Full Back.
After his accidental wounding the night of May 2, 1863 by being fired upon by members of Lane’s North Carolina Brigade while performing a reconnaissance, it was necessary to remove Jackson’s left arm. The Minie balls that wounded him shattered his upper left arm and also in the left wrist. Some members of his military family, his staff, also suffered loss of life or wounding from the same volley that brought Stonewall down. It is not my intention to narrate the chaotic and confusing situation attendant upon Jackson’s wounding here. I believe Freeman in his volume of "Lee’s Lieutenants" dealing with Jackson as well as H. K. Douglas of Jackson’s own staff and others have performed an admirable job of doing so. After the operation that removed his arm, Jackson was transported by army ambulance from the Lacy house to the plantation of Mr. Chandler at Guiney’s Station. There is a railroad running right through the property that today holds only the little office building where Stonewall died; the house itself vanished long ago. (The little office outbuilding is now a little shrine to the General and administered by the National Park Service as part of the Frdericksburg-Chancellorsville-Spotsylvania National Military Park.) The original plan was for Jackson to regain most of his strength following the surgery and then travel to Richmond to recuperate. However, complications from the surgery set in. Jackson, after showing some signs of improvement, began failing. The day of his death was a Sunday and, according to H. K. Douglas, "a beautiful day." That evening the news went abroad through the Army of Northern Virginia and then quickly throughout the Southern Confederacy and a great cry of agony, sorrow and grief swept the land. Everyone in the South felt they personally had lost a dear friend or a dear member of the family; it did not matter whether they knew Jackson or not.
The following, taken from the book "Stonewall: Memories from the Ranks", is by John Overton Casler, Private, Company A, 33rd Virginia, Stonewall Brigade about the reaction in the army upon hearing of Jackson’s passing: "Many stout-hearted veterans, who had, under his guidance, borne hardships and privations innumerable, and dangers the most appalling, without a murmur, wept like children when told their idolized General was no more." This feeling of devotion did not cease with the death of their great chieftain. More than twenty years later, when the magnificent monument over his new grave was dedicated at the cemetery in Lexington, Virginia, veterans who served under him in the Valley and in all the succeeding campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia gathered for the last time to be with their old chief. H. K. Douglas wrote of this incident at the conclusion of the ceremonies: "People were moving off and the order was given to the old soldiers to fall in line and march away. With trembling step the gray line moved on, but when it reached the gate one old Confederate turned his face for a last look at the monument and, waving his old grey hat toward the figure of his beloved General, he cried out in a voice, that choked itself with sobs,
"’Good-by, old man, good-by! We’ve done all we can for you!’ "
Editors Note: Mr. Mayers is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff