On the evening of May 1st, 1863, Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson met to discuss strategy at the intersection of the Plank Road and Furnace Road west of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Nearby, thousands of troops of the Union Army of the Potomac were assuming defensive positions at and around the intersection of the Orange Turnpike and Orange Plank Roads called Chancellorsville. Major General Joseph Hooker had moved a sizable portion of his Federal army some 40 miles west from Falmouth, crossed the Rappahannock River and marched east to close in on Lee’s left flank. Lee marched part of his Army of Northern Virginia west to meet the threat, and despite having a larger force, Hooker opted to assume the defensive, believing he could lure Lee into attacking.
The Federal position was too strong for a frontal attack, but the Confederates had scouted the extent of the Union position and determined that the right flank was in the air. With the help of a local resident, a route was mapped that would allow the Confederates to march through the densely wooded area around to the end of the Union flank without being seen. Defying military convention, Lee divided his already smaller force and sent Jackson with 30,000 troops to attack the Federal right flank.
It took most of the day on the 2nd to get into position, but at about 5:30 p.m. Jackson launched his attack, taking the Union 11th Corps completely by surprise and pushing back the Federals about two miles. At about 7:15 p.m. , the attack was broken off so the Confederates could reform and reorganize their lines, and to bring up fresh troops. Though his attack had been a great success, Jackson wanted to press on despite the advancing darkness. He ordered his reserve, the division of General A.P. Hill, to take the lead and advance forward as soon as they were ready.
The impatient Jackson decided to examine the battlefield himself as his troops reorganized. The general and about a dozen staff members and couriers rode ahead down the Plank Road past the brigade of Brigadier General James H. Lane’s North Carolinians, the most forward Confederate troops on the field. Jackson’s party continued on about 150 yards past Lane’s line. A.P. Hill and some of his staff rode out towards Jackson. It was after 9:00 p.m. and dark.
A shot was fired somewhere in front of Jackson’s group, and some of Lane’s infantrymen responded by firing into the darkness ahead of them and into Hill’s and Jackson’s parties. Six men in the two parties were killed or wounded, and some had their horses shot out from under them, but Jackson was not hit.The men headed their horses towards the trees and cover.To the men of the 18th North Carolina Infantry, the sound of the horses sounded like a cavalry charge, and they opened fire.
Jackson was hit in three places. Captain James P. Smith of Jackson’s staff described the scene:
Under this volley, when not two rods from the troops, the general received three balls at the same instant. One penetrated the palm of his right hand and was cut out that night from the back of his hand. A second passed around the wrist of the left arm and out through the left hand. A third ball passed through the left arm half way from shoulder to elbow. The large bone of the upper arm was splintered to the elbow joint, and the wound bled freely…As he lost his hold upon the bridle rein, he reeled from the saddle, and was caught by the arms of Captain Wilbourn, of the Signal Corps. Laid upon the ground, there came at once to his succor General A.P. Hill and members of his staff.The writer reached his side a minute after, to find General Hill holding the head and shoulders of the wounded chief. Cutting open the coat sleeve from wrist to shoulder, I found the wound in the upper arm, and with my handkerchief I bound the arm above the wound to stem the flow of blood…Being outside our lines, it was urgent that he should be moved at once. With difficulty litter bearers were brought from the line nearby, and the general was placed upon the litter and carefully raised to the shoulder, I myself bearing one corner. A moment later, artillery from the Federal side was opened upon us…
Federal artillery fired grapeshot and canister, hitting one of the litter bearers. With great difficulty, Jackson was borne out of the area as those carrying him stumbled in the dark and dodged artillery fire. At one point Jackson was tipped out of the litter “and the general fell to the ground with a groan of deep pain” Smith remembered. Jackson had fallen on his mangled left arm. Finally, the party reached the Confederate line and Jackson was transferred to an ambulance, and taken to the field hospital at the Wilderness Tavern about five miles to the west. There, it was determined that the bone in the upper left arm had been broken when struck by the ball, and the limb was amputated.
Jackson remained at the field hospital on May 3rd, as the Confederates completed their victory in the Battle of Chancellorsville. On May 4th, the general had improved to the point that it was felt he could be safely moved to a more secure location away from the battlefield. He was transported about 24 miles in an ambulance to the home of Thomas Chandler, an acquaintance of Jackson’s who lived a few miles south of Fredericksburg near Guinea’s Station. Jackson and his doctors moved into a small office building on the Chandler property to continue the general’s convalescence.
For two days, Jackson continued to improve, but his condition began to deteriorate on May 7th. He had contracted Pneumonia. There was little that the medical science of the day could do to treat Pneumonia, and all efforts at reversing his decline failed. At approximately 3:15 p.m. on May 10th, Jackson raised himself up from the bed and spoke his final words: “Let us pass over the river and rest under the shade of the trees”. Shortly afterwards, he died.
Jackson was buried at Lexington, Virginia, home of the Virginia Military Institute, where he was a professor before the war. The building near Guinea Station where he died is preserved as part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
by Stephen W. Sears
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. XXV, Part 1. U.S. War Department
“Stonewall Jackson’s Last Battle” by James P. Smith. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. III.