On This Date in History: In early 1861, Thomas Jonathan Jackson served as, what seems on the surface, a professor of an odd combination of disciplines. He was a professor of philosophy and artillery tactics at Virginia Military Institute. In spite of this lofty academic status, Jackson had a difficult time in the classroom. He had a very limited education as a child and he barely passed his entrance examination for West Point. In an interesting display of the dogged determination that would characterize his life, Jackson went from near the bottom of his class to 17th out of 59 when he graduated in 1846. As it turns out, the old professor used his philosophy and his extensive knowledge relating to the evolution of the use of artillery to bring havoc to the Union Army. You see, Thomas Jonathan Jackson is better known as Stonewall Jackson and he gained that moniker from the outset of the Civil War.
At the First Battle of Bull Run (aka Manassas), in July 1861, residents of Washington took the short journey to the battlefield to watch the battle. At first, ideas of glory and heroism filled the heads of much of the citizenry and they thought that taking a picnic lunch to watch the event would be a splendid way to spend the afternoon. At first, the fortunes of the North looked good as the men in blue shattered the Confederate line until Jackson’s men responded to fortify the defense. Confederate General Bernard E. Bee is said to have made the observation, “See, there is Jackson standing like a stone wall!” The Confederates staged a counteroffensive and routed the stunned Union troops, who fled back to Washington along with those who came to view the battle. It became apparent that there was nothing glorious about modern warfare and that it was not going to be a short conflict.
Speculation regarding Jackson’s tenacity in mlitary matters and leadership may have been the result of his hypochondria. For instance, Stonewall Jackson never put pepper on anything, claiming that it made his left leg weak. His preference was a relatively simple meal that included bread, milk and raspberries. When sitting, he only did so in an rigid, upright position as he said that his organs were able to sit “naturally” on top of one another. This insistence on a consistent, erect posture resulted in a distinctive mount on his horse. It was a perfect inspiration for his men to see their commander in a position of authority, one arm outstretched, directing his troops in battle. It also probably made him an inviting target. At Bull Run, Jackson took a bullet in that outstretched hand and the attended doctor suggested that his finger required amputation. The doctor turned to get his instruments and when he turned back around, the patient had left. General Jackson had a motto that the “Stonewall Brigade never retreats.” When facing the instruments of a surgeon, Jackson defied his own orders and retreated on horseback rather quickly.
Jackson became attached to the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee, who became extremely dependent on the services of General Jackson and his men. While he was not always successful in battle as evidenced at the Seven Days Battles at Richmond in 1862, Jackson’s efforts were key in the victories of the Army of Northern Virginia at the First Battle of Bull Run, the Second Battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg and the gallant effort at Antietam. At Chancellorsville, VA the Army of Northern Virginia defeated the Union’s Army of the Potomac under the command of General Joseph (Fightin’ Joe) Hooker. That night, Jackson led a rather risky reconnaisance mission and when he came back in the dark, his men thought that his approach as a Yankee assault. So, they dischargded their weapons and did what the Union Army had been unable to do. On May 2, 1863, Stonewall Jackson was felled from his command by the shots of his own men. There was much confusion in the darkness and Jackson was not attended to immediately. When he was evacuated, the men were in such a hurry to remove him to safer quarters that he was dropped at least once from his stretcher. Two slugs shattered his left arm. This time, there was no escape from the surgeon.
Medicine during the Civil War was rather crude. The understanding or infection and bacteria was just in its infancy and much of the knowledge that had come about had not yet reached the battlefield. Also, most weapons fired .50 caliber led balls that are huge to begin with, but also tend to flatten out on impact. Most of the time the results of the human body being hit by such a projectile were devastating. Bones were typically not just broken but splintered into so many pieces that they were impossible to set. Many soldiers died from shattered limbs and the only way to prevent gangrene or other complications from such an injury was amputation of the limb. So, Jackson’s left arm was immediately amputated. Following such trauma, a high fever quite often follows. A high fever did strike Jackson and that indirectly led to his death. When George Washington was ill, he ordered the doctor to continue to open wounds to try and bleed the illness from his body. Speculation has been that Washington died from a loss of blood. In a similar manner, Stonewall Jackson ordered servants to put cold towels on his body in an effort to lower his fever. Some experts point to the use of cold towels as the cause of Jackson developing the pneumonia that ultimately claimed his life. Doctors also were ignorant of his condition as they had assumed the pain he felt in his chest were simply a result of the rough handling he had suffered during his evacuation from the battlefield.
On this date in 1863, the left arm of Stonewall Jackson was given a funeral complete with full military honors. It was buried near Chancellorsville, VA with a marker that reads, “Arm of Stonewall Jackson.”
When Robert E. Lee heard of the wounding of Thomas Jackson, he sent a note to the ailing general that said, “”Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.” Dr. Hunter McGuire was the attending physician and he reported that on his death bed, though Jackson became weaker, he remained spiritually strong. Dr. McGuire wrote an account of his final hours in which the general became somewhat delirious as Jackson cried out, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks…” McGuire said that Jackson suddenly stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. What followed was a smile on the face of Jackson “of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face,” after which Jackson said quietly, with what the doctor described as an expression of relief, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees” The final words of Thomas Jonathan Jackson were “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”
Stonewall Jackson died on May 10, 1863 and his body was removed to Richmond, VA for a public mourning. His final resting place is the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, VA. Legend is that General Robert E. Lee, upon hearing of the passing of Jackson, told his cook, “William, I have lost my right arm. I’m bleeding at the heart.” You can visit Stonewall Jackson’s left arm 125 miles from the rest of his body at Ellwood Manor, aka Ellwood Plantation.
Weather Bottom Line: The forecast was pretty much on line. The track for the Derby was a little messier than I thought it might as I had thought the track would be able to drain from rain Saturday morning. But, I suppose getting an inch in a very short time was just too much. We did have somewhat of a break during most of the races, once again suggesting that sensible weather notions often trumps what the computers think. In general though, the rain totals were correct but the heaviest rain corrider was shifted about 40 miles east of our location to a Nashville-Lexington axis. Those areas ended up with some 6-10 inches of rain. Louisville was not out of the woods though with relatively minor, but still significant, flooding in the Southwestern part of Jefferson County. As I had expected, Arkansas and Mississippi got the brunt of the tornadic activity. But, counties around Memphis and Nashville had rain totals somewhere between 10 and 20 inches. Many rivers and streams shattered record high levels. Nashville’s two day rain totals were something in the neighborhood of 14 inches, which is double the previous two day record.
The week ahead will be one of warmer and drier weather at least for a few day. Toward the end of the week, perhaps as early as Thursday, interesting weather may again be the topic of conversation.