Confederate History Month
Part II of Stonewall Jackson’s life and death
Much has been written about the military prowess and friendly-fire wounding of General Stonewall Jackson, but as a historical fiction author, I like to look at the more human side of the War Between the States. Here is the account of his last days, as told by his wife in her book The Life and Letters of Stonewall Jackson.
On Sunday morning, May 3rd, Mrs. Jackson was informed that her husband had been wounded – severely, but it was hoped not dangerously.
“This painful shock can be better imagined than described. Although I had never for one moment since the war began lost my solicitude for his safety, still God had so often covered his head in the day of battle, had brought him through so many dangers, that I felt that his precious life would still be spared. With all my agonizing distress now, I could not entertain any thought or belief than this.”
Of course, Mrs. Jackson wanted to go to him immediately, but was told the way was not clear. Raiding parties of the enemy were still operating all through the area, and all passenger trains were stopped. She was eventually told of the amputation of his arm, and that he was thought to be doing well. “Everything was said and done to cheer and encourage me, but oh the harrowing agony of that long waiting, day after day, for it was not until Thursday morning that the blockade was broken.”
When Mrs. Jackson did finally arrive, she was asked to wait outside while the doctor finished dressing her husband’s wounds. As she was pacing impatiently, she was horrified to watch a soldier’s body being exhumed, and even more appalled to learn that it was a friend of her husbands who was being taken home for burial.
“This ghastly spectacle was a most unfitting preparation for my entrance into the presence of my stricken husband; but when I was soon afterwards summoned to his chamber, the sight which there met my eyes was far more appalling, and sent such a thrill of agony and heart-sinking through me as I had never known before! Oh, the fearful changes since last I had seen him! It required the strongest effort of which I was capable to maintain my self control. When he left me on the morning of the 29th, going forth so cheerfully and bravely to the call of duty, he was in the full flush of vigorous manhood, and during that last, blessed visit, I never saw him look so handsome, so happy and so noble.”
Mrs. Jackson says in her book that due to the morphine, he had to be aroused to speak to her, and soon seemed to lose consciousness again.
“From the time I reached him he was too ill to notice or talk much, and he lay most of the time in a semi-conscious state. Whenever he awakened from his stupor, he always had some endearing words to say to me, such as, ‘My darling, you are very much loved.’ ‘You are one of the most precious little wives in the world.’ He was invariably patient, never uttering a murmur or complaint. Sometimes, in slight delirium, he talked, and his mind was then generally upon his military duties.”
By Sunday, they knew that his time was short, and Mrs. Jackson asked to go in and tell him that he was not going to live.
“When I told him the doctors thought he would soon be in heaven, he did not seem to comprehend it, and showed no surprise or concern. But upon repeating it, and asking him if he was willing for God to do with him according to His own will, he said, “Yes, I prefer it, I prefer it.”
A friend then brought their little daughter Julia into the room, and Mrs. Jackson recounts that, “although he had almost ceased to notice anything, as soon as they entered the door he looked up, his countenance brightened with delight, and he never smiled more sweetly as he exclaimed, ‘Little darling! Sweet one!'”
I will let Mrs. Jackson finish the story in her own words.
“Tears were shed over that dying bed by strong men who were unused to weep, and it was touching to see the genuine grief of his servant, Jim, who nursed him faithfully to the end. He now sank rapidly into unconsciousness, murmuring disconnected words occasionally, but all at once he spoke out very cheerfully and distinctly the beautiful sentence which has become immortal as his last:
‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of trees.'”