Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Myth, And The Arm
Portrait of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, circa 1860. (1824-1863). Source: (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
By all accounts, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was one of the shining stars of the American Civil War. He was a commanding military leader and a brilliant strategist, but he was also a bit eccentric. He had a number of odd habits, and at least one of them seemed to eerily foreshadow tragic events to come. Let's take a look at the strange tale of Stonewall Jackson's arm.
Stonewall Jackson, the Man
Born on January 21, 1824, in Virginia, the smart, determined Thomas Jonathan Jackson was educated at West Point and commanded troops in the Mexican-American War before the outbreak of the Civil War. As a Confederate general, Jackson was a powerhouse of the southern army and played a key role in almost every major battle in the Eastern Theatre. It was after one particular battle—the First Battle of Bull Run, which took place on July 21, 1891—that another Confederate general, Barnard Elliot Bee, Jr. commented that Jackson held his line like a stone wall, giving Jackson his famous nickname.
Plagued By Health Problems
Throughout his life, Stonewall Jackson was an unhealthy man, even by antebellum standards. He was plagued by stomach problems caused by a diaphragmatic hernia that also made sitting down torture. He also had severe hearing loss toward the end of his life, probably due to the noise he endured during his time as an artillery officer for the army. This might be why he developed a number of rather strange beliefs about his body. He believed, for example, that the left side of his body was weaker and lighter than his right. (This sensation might, in fact, have also been a side effect of the hernia.) He performed a number of odd behaviors to compensate for what he believed to be his uneven body, such as keeping the supposedly longer and heavier arm elevated. This is why he is often depicted in paintings with his right arm raised. What appears to be a forceful and commanding gesture is just a crazy guy trying to keep his balance.
Struck by Friendly Fire
In the evening of May 2, 1863, Stonewall Jackson was returning to his own encampment after defeating the Union troops at Chancellorsville when he and a few of his men decided to scout the enemy line before rejoining the rest of the men. It was a dark night, however, and the North Carolina regiment couldn't see who was riding into their camp so late at night. Fearing it was a Union raid, they opened fire, striking Jackson three times.
A Devastating Arm Injury
Two the friendly fire bullets tore through Jackson's left arm, totally shattering it. The general was immediately taken to a nearby battlefield hospital, but the wound was too significant and doctors had to amputate the arm. Yes, the arm that Jackson irrationally believed was shorter actually became shorter.
Rescuing the Amputated Limb
After Jackson's arm was cut off, the doctors' intentions were to simply discard it in a heap of other amputated arms and legs. This was the Civil War, after all---the place was lousy with amputated limbs. However, fate---or, at least, Reverend Tucker Lacy---had a different plan. Lacy had served in an unofficial capacity as the chaplain for Jackson's company, and he couldn't bear to see a body part from such an outstanding and important figure as Jackson rotting away with the rest of the discarded body parts. He took possession of the arm, which he carefully wrapped in a blanket, and gave the appendage a proper Christian burial at his family's cemetery plot at Ellwood Manor. He even placed a grave marker to note the location. But perhaps it was a premature burial.
Jackson Never Recovered
Civil War battlefield hospitals were unsanitary and ill-equipped, so as if he wasn't already having a bad week, Jackson contracted pneumonia. He couldn't fight it off in his weakened state, so a week after he was shot, the great Stonewall Jackson died. As per his wishes, Jackson's body was sent to Lexington, Virginia, the town where he taught school before the war. Jackson's staff immediately thought of exhuming the general's arm so that it could be buried with the rest of his remains, but when Jackson's wife was informed of this plan, she protested. She felt it would be disrespectful to disturb a Christian burial, so she asked that the arm be left in its own grave.
It the Arm Still Buried?
Rumors have persisted since the Civil War that the amputated appendage of Stonewall Jackson did not rest in peace. In 1864, Union troops supposedly dug up the limb and reburied it in an unknown location. Other rumors say that the arm was stolen by grave robbers. The U.S. Parks Department maintains that the arm is, indeed, still buried at its original gravesite. It's weird that they seem so confident, but maybe they need those tourist dollars, which continue to flow in to this day.
Jackson's Two Gravesites
Stonewall Jackson's body was displayed for public mourning at the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Virginia and later taken to his family's home, where it was buried at a cemetery in Lexington, Virginia that has since been renamed Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. The grave of Jackson's arm, however, is located in the cemetery of Ellwood Manor near Chancellorsville, Virginia, close to where the army field hospital was located during the Civil War. In 1903, decades after the war ended, one of Jackson's officers had a granite stone placed at the Chancellorsville cemetery to commemorate the final resting spot of Jackson's severed limb. It reads simply "Arm of Stonewall Jackson May 3, 1863."
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