On this day in history, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was accidentally wounded by his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia. Jackson died of pneumonia related to his injuries eight days after being shot, only 39 years old. Although the Confederate forces won the battle, the loss of General Jackson severely damaged their overall war prospects.
An editorial in the New York Times of May 14, 1863 noted:
In the death of Stonewall JACKSON, the rebels have unquestionably lost by far their greatest military leader, in the peculiar style of strategy which has made his name famous. Immediately after the secession of Virginia he appeared on the scene, and ever since then he has been one of the foremost figures.
His death is a tremendous and irreparable loss to the secession cause, as no other rebel of like character has been developed during the war. He will figure in history as one of the ablest of modern military leaders; and it will only be the brand of traitor on his brow that will consign him to infamy, as it has brought him to an untimely grave.”
Jackson was born in Virginia, served in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War, and worked as an instructor at the Virginia Military Institute before the outbreak of the Civil War. Jackson rose to prominence and earned his famous nickname at the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) on July 21, 1861. As the Confederate lines began to crumble under heavy Union assault, Jackson’s brigade provided crucial reinforcements on Henry House Hill, demonstrating the discipline he instilled in his men. Confederate Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr., exhorted his own troops to re-form by shouting, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!” (And in fact, Bee was mortally wounded during this battle, one of the first general officers to be killed in the war.)
Inventive and skillful, Jackson became General Robert E. Lee’s most trusted general. At Chancellorsville, Jackson led a long march through the woods and caught the right flank of the Union Army unprepared for battle, routing it with a much smaller force. However, later that night, Jackson rode out far in front of his men to assess the situation and determine his next move. In the darkness, members of the 18th North Carolina Infantry misidentified Jackson as a Union soldier and fired at him, striking him with three bullets, two in the left arm and one in the right hand. Several other men in his staff were also killed. Darkness and confusion prevented Jackson from getting immediate care. Because of his injuries, Jackson’s left arm had to be amputated and he was thereafter thought to be on the road to recovery. But soon pneumonia set in, and Jackson began to fade.
Lee wrote to Jackson after learning of his injuries, stating “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.”
Jackson died on May 10, 1863, with these last words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” His death greatly affected Southern morale, and quite a few historians have speculated that critical battles, such as Gettysburg, might have come out quite differently if he had lived.