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Posted on Sep 11, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

What Really Killed Stonewall Jackson?

By J.D. Haines

Following his greatest victory at Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863, Stonewall Jackson and members of his staff were scouting ahead of their lines after sunset when tragedy struck. They were mistaken for Union cavalry and were fired upon by their own troops. Jackson sustained a severe gunshot wound to his left arm, necessitating immediate amputation. Upon receiving the news, General Robert E. Lee appropriately remarked, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.” Lee’s words proved prophetic. Eight days after the amputation, Jackson was dead.

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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PRINTS AND
PHOTOGRAPHS DIVISION
Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson is revered as one of the Confederate
Army’s greatest commanders. His untimely death after being wounded by
“friendly fire” in 1863 has sparked speculation over how differently
the Civil War might have turned out had he lived.

Before Chancellorsville, Jackson enjoyed the fortuitous combination of his outstanding skill as a commander, the ineptitude of his opponents, and his own good luck. He began the War for Southern Independence as an unknown professor at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia, but the war proved a showcase for his innate skills as a battlefield leader. At the time of his death, Jackson was a lieutenant general in command of a corps in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Except for Robert E. Lee, Jackson was the best-known general in the Confederate Army – and perhaps the Union Army’s most feared opponent. His death at Chancellorsville was an irreparable loss to the South, leaving a void that Lee was unable to fill. How the Civil War might have turned out had Jackson survived his grievous wounding remains one of history’s most intriguing questions.

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The Making of a Legend

Before his tenure at VMI, Jackson distinguished himself during the Mexican War. Fresh out of West Point, where he graduated 17th in a class of 59 cadets, he earned two brevets for gallantry while serving as an artillery officer. By the end of the war in 1847, he achieved the rank of brevet major at the age of 24. He resigned his army commission in 1852 to take the position of professor of artillery tactics and natural philosophy at VMI, where he remained for nine years.

Jackson was commissioned Colonel of Confederate Volunteers in April of 1861 and promoted to brigadier general on June 17 of that same year. General Jackson won fame at Manassas, or First Bull Run, on July 21, 1861, where his staunch defense of Henry Hill earned him the nickname “Stonewall.” He was promoted to major general in October and was appointed commander of all forces in the Shenandoah Valley the following month.

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