Sunday, August 21, 2005

This Great and Good Man

On the other side of the protective black wrought iron rail beyond which no one may pass, the small modestly furnished room appeared much as it had, or so the attendant said. No decorations adorned the plain white walls. The clock on the mantle in this small outbuilding of the Chandler plantation perpetually read 3:15pm. Having stopped eons ago, no hand raised to again set its gears in motion. A faded upholstered chair sat facing the foot of the single bed joining the few other items of comfort sitting on the worn, wide wooden-planked floor. The bed had a few blankets neatly covering the thin mattress, barely long enough to comfortably hold an average adult. "One of them, along with the bed, is original" the attendant added proudly. Somehow, the setting hardly seemed befitting of the man who had so ably held the admiration and devotion of the aspiring nation.

But here, decades before the existence of the protective rail, men immersed in sorrow slowly and with heavy steps walked sullenly from this room. Overwhelmed by loss and unable to suppress their emotion, most cried. This man, so revered and respected, passed away at 3:15pm on that spring Sunday afternoon, the day of the week that, if given his choice, he had said he wished to die. His wife who had just days earlier introduced the proud commander to his tiny newborn daughter would later say, "Tears were shed over that dying bed by strong men who were unused to weep."

Only a short walk to the west of the outbuilding still lay the tracks that guided the train to Richmond, carrying the body of this man about whom others said they would have gladly gone in his stead. His men, the army, and the nation mourned deeply. His commander, filled with grief, lamented to the army, "The daring, skill, and energy of this great and good soldier, by the decree of an all-wise Providence, are now lost to us." [1] Of his arrival in the Confederate Capitol, one newspaper man would write, "It seemed as if every man felt himself an orphan, and the sad tone that gushed from the popular soul dwelt upon the sense like the touching and dreamy wail of the miserero. It would be impossible to measure the depth of love felt by the people for the great and good man whom they were now come forth to mourn." [3] A former student would later sorrowfully write to his family, "The intelligence of the death…came upon us like a shock. We feel that his death is a national calamity. The poorest soldiers among us appreciated his worth - loved the man, and mourn his loss." [4]

Just days earlier, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, upon learning of his wounding, wrote a personal note wishfully imparting, "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." This victory occurred at Chancellorsville, a Confederate triumph won with audacious brilliance as the Army of Northern Virginia soundly defeated a Union Army which outnumbered them more than two to one. The Federals had the Southerners pinched between the main body of the Union army and a force based along the Rappohannock River. Union cavalry roamed just to the south. Yet, on May 2, 1863, General Lee's trusted Lieutenant, through a deception twice executed and a wearing ten mile flank march, slammed into and crushed the unsuspecting bluecoats holding the far right of the Federal army's line. As the mantle of night fell and success quickened his heart, he road out in front of his men to scout the Union position, determined to exploit the days gains to their fullest.

His men cautioned against this excursion past the protection of their lines, but the tenacious corps commander sought to crush the disorganized, routed Federals. Returning from his mission, as he approached his own lines, the men he had just lead to one of the South's most commanding victories, shot him three times after mistaking his party for Union cavalry. With bones shattered and blood loss mounting, his men endured a hazardous journey through dark woods filled with raging Union artillery, bursting shells, and screaming iron balls, to carry their commander to safety. The corps' chief medical officer, Dr. Hunter McGuire examined the wounded general at the Wilderness Tavern a few miles behind the Confederate lines. Dr. McGuire described his actions that night. "The round ball (such as is used for the smooth-bore Springfield musket), which had lodged under the skin upon the back of his right hand, was extracted first. It had entered the palm about the middle of the hand, and had fractured two of the bones. The left arm was then amputated about two inches below the shoulder, very rapidly and with slight loss of blood, the ordinary circular operation having been made. There were two wounds in his arm. The first and most serious was about three inches below the shoulder-joint, the ball dividing the main artery and fracturing the bone. The second was several inches in length; a ball having entered the outside of the forearm, an inch below the elbow, came out upon the opposite side just above the wrist. Throughout the whole of the operation, and until all the dressings were applied, he continued insensible." [2]

At the orders of General Lee, Dr. McGuire transferred the wounded General to Guinea Station, hoping that he would recover the strength to permit removal to Richmond. Days later, in the small, modest room now with the protective iron rail, this man instead would die. After issuing commands in delirium, his final words, "Let us pass over the river and rest under the shade of the trees" marked a serene end to this revered warrior's life. [1]

Just outside of the Chancellorsville Visitor's Center rests a small National Park Service Marker. Most pass it by in their zeal to venture on and tour the fields. Those who stop though receive a rare and precious gift. Reading the text, they learn that the marker stands sentry along the remains of the old Mountain Road. Along this road, General Lee's Lieutenant, flushed with victory, rode into the night feeling for the far right of the Union line. On this road he would return to be met by the flash of friendly musketry. His horse would run in terror to a point just to the signs' right. Nearby, the wounded commander would be taken from his frightened mount and begin his journey to the Wilderness Tavern and then Guinea Station. As long as this ground remains, with each person who comes here to gaze in awe down the tree covered dirt road as understanding and the sanctity of this place permeates the spirit, this man, General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, lives again.


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All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved

[1] Jackson wounding monument. Chancellorsville Battlefield.
[2] Stonewall's Surgeon: Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire
[3] Civil War Richmond
[4] Virginia Military Institute


GettysBLOG said...

Beautifully done, as usual. Stonewall was an original, and one of the most creatively brilliant generals the country ever produced.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much. I met a reenactor last summer who portrayed General Lee. He happened upon the place where General Jackson died. The Park Ranger allowed him to kneel by the bedside of the General and moved the clock back to the time of his death. The Park Ranger took pictures of General Lee at prayer by General Jackson's deathbed. It was very moving to hear him tell of it.

I wanted you to know that on Sept 8, President Lincoln, Generals Lee and Grant, along with ladies in mourning, will be at the Gaming Control Board's meeting. Susan is getting permission now. It should be confirmed this week. Along will be No Casino Gettysburg participants with their T-shirts!!! I look forward to meeting General Lee again.
Linda Perkins

Anonymous said...

One small correction: the clock in the room has not been perpetually stopped at 3:15. In fact, the clock is usually ticking during the fine programs given there of Jackson's final days, and plays quite a prominent role in the touching presentations of NPS rangers Greg Mertz and Frank O'Reilly. The photos I took show the clock at about 5:38.

Randy said...

Yes, I just learned during a recent trip to Guinea Station that the clock is again running.

On the above page from my web site, just under the picture, I posted a link to a brief video of the room in which Jackson died. You can even hear the now functioning clock ticking.