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

What Really Killed Stonewall Jackson?

By J.D. Haines

In the Shenandoah Valley, Jackson fought a masterful campaign against a greatly superior Union force. His men prevented the reinforcement of Union General George B. McClellan’s drive for Richmond and probably saved the Confederacy from early defeat. After being repulsed near Kernstown, Virginia, Jackson outmaneuvered and defeated Union forces at Front Royal on May 23; Winchester, May 24-25; Cross Keys, June 8; and Port Republic, June 9. Military historians regard his campaign in the Shenandoah as a strategic masterpiece that proved him to be a fearless and aggressive commander, a brilliant tactician, and a master of the rapid maneuver. Summarizing his rule of strategy, Jackson said, “Always mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy.” This strategy also applied to his subordinates – fearful of leaks, he never conferred with his staff when formulating plans. Jackson consulted only with General Lee.


From the Shenandoah, Jackson joined with Lee in driving McClellan from the Peninsula at the Seven Days Battles (June 26 to July 2, 1862). Although ultimately successful, Jackson’s performance during the Seven Days was uncharacteristically poor, displaying little of the lightning-like brilliance of maneuver and movement that was the hallmark of his Shenandoah campaign. However, he quickly recovered.

Jackson rebounded in August and destroyed General John Pope’s depot at Manassas Junction on August 27) and repulsed Pope’s attack on Groveton (August 28). He then contributed significantly to Pope’s final defeat at Second Bull Run (August 29-30). During Lee’s invasion of Maryland, Jackson won distinction at the Battle of Antietam (September 17) and was promoted to lieutenant general the following month. At Fredericksburg (December 1862), he commanded the Confederate Army’s right flank and smashed the only Union attack at the bloody battle that had any chance of breaking Lee’s well-sited defensive line. Finally, at Chancellorsville, he fought his last battle, executing a brilliant flanking maneuver against General Joe Hooker’s line and crushing the larger Union Army. Yet in the midst of this victory, he was cut down in one of the most famous “friendly fire” incidents in American military history.

Civil War artist Keith Rocco used Gen. Jackson as the focus for his
painting Baptism at Manassas. Jackson, shown wearing his prewar
U.S. Army blue uniform, directs his men of the 5th Virginia Regiment
into position near the Robinson House. From this location, the unit repelled
numerous Union attacks before charging an enemy artillery battery and spurring
the Confederates to victory.

The General and the Doctor

Dr. Hunter McGuire was the 27-year-old medical director of Jackson’s corps. He had graduated from the Winchester Medical Academy with an M.D. at the age of 20, and had also studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson Medical College. When McGuire first reported to Jackson in 1861, Jackson merely stared back at him and then dismissed him to his quarters. Several days passed before the now thoroughly confused McGuire received orders appointing him an army surgeon. Later, when McGuire and Jackson became better acquainted, the physician asked the general why his appointment had been delayed. Jackson answered, “You looked so young, I sent to Richmond to see if there was some mistake.” It was vintage Jackson.

McGuire soon came to know his most famous patient well, as the general had a lifelong concern about his health. Some historians have even suggested that Jackson was a hypochondriac. Certainly, many of the general’s contemporaries thought so. Jackson’s beliefs and habits – such as holding his right arm over his head – were indeed curious. Interestingly, he was convinced that holding his arm in such a manner helped his body achieve correct “balance.” He also maintained an erect posture while sitting and standing so as “not to bend the digestive organs.” Jackson believed that pepper made his left leg ache, and on one occasion he brought stale bread to dine on at a dinner party. The anecdote concerning Jackson sucking on a lemon during battle, however, probably occurred only once.

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