Arts/Literature

The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson

by Dawn Farmer

The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson
by Chris Mackowski* and Kristopher D. White
Thomas Publications

*S&R’s very own Chris Mackowski

Reading The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson is like poring over a treasure chest of family relics as a wise uncle explains the contents. The wise uncles are the authors Chris and Kristopher. These two historians and writers have taken an amazing number of primary and secondary sources and woven a fascinating tale of the last week in the life of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, accidentally shot by his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. They report documented events with insights and an obvious love and respect for the topic.

This accessible volume can be read in a single sitting, but don’t, you’ll be rewarded by savoring the details. The story is told in words, selected art, maps, quotes and historic and modern photos. Each is selected to enhance important points in the storyline. The authors excel at filling in the small details that bring the story to life. The reader knows the weather, feels the confusion of battle, senses the fear when Stonewall is shot, and importantly the authors give us closure in knowing the calm certainty Stonewall Jackson felt in his final moments.

“Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” – The last words of Stonewell Jackson.

The story has moments as diverse as learning Stonewall Jackson’s arm was buried separately from his body (it was amputated in the aftermath of his shooting, but some days before Jackson succumbed to complications of pneumonia) to a touching passage retelling the moment Jackson met his daughter Julia. There are handy timelines included and an appendix listing the fate of all the characters in this drama. When you finish the final chapter you will be very glad you opened that treasure chest.

8 replies »

  1. This sounds like a terrific read for Civil War buffs, Dawn. I know what I’m buying my brother for Christmas – and reading myself….

  2. I’m no Civil War buff, but i’m well acquainted with the caliber of writing. And any well written history is my kind of read. Perhaps i can very lightly use a copy purchased for a Civil War buff i know.

    What are the chances of a signed copy

  3. Wow. Definitely on my Christmas list.

    I’ve been to the Wilderness/Chancellorsville battlefield, of course, and seen the place where Jackson was shot and where the stretcher bearers probably dumped him onto the ground. In the end, that’s what set off the chain of events that meant he woudn’t recover. Or that’s the official story at the battlefield these days.

    As a kid, Jackson was one of my heroes. As I aged and learned more about him, I liked him less and less. He had a tendency to be a terrible bully, and even accused at least one man of cowardice for no good reason. In those days, that simply ruined a man, especially if the accusation came from someone like Jackson. Still, he was one of the few real military geniuses the US has turned out. He’s worth reading about.

    A note some buffs might find interesting. The regiment that shot him, the 18th North Carolina, was involved in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg that same summer. A guide told me that, essentially, the regiment committed suicide that day, retiring from the stone wall only when there was almost no regiment left. As was common in the Confederate Army, the regiment received replacements and continued as a unit right up to Appomattox where it surrendered with only 94 men mustered. I wonder if any of the men who were at Chancellorsville that day survived all the way through to Appomattox? Somehow, I’m thinking it’s not probable.

    Thanks for the review!

  4. I hope Chris drops by to see your comments – should I go nudge him?

    I’m a casual reader of history – but I did find myself enjoying all the little details in this book. Chris has another book coming out soon… more to read! Maybe we can convince him to preview some of his new work. 🙂

  5. I am reading Shelby Foote”s three volume work “The Civil War, a Narrative” which is very well written as well. Jackson was an odd fellow in many ways. His last words seem to have an additional twist given Jackson’s habit of running full tilt for long periods and then lying down and falling asleep regardless of the circumstances. His last words were also part of an imaginary conversation with A. P. Hill, with whom he had a sometimes rocky relationship. Coincidently, Robert E. Lee supposedly spoke his last words many years later imagining that he was talking with the same man.

    I think the Civil War is bound to be a hot topic these days. We seem to be divided along the same lines. Here in the South, the war seems to smolder to this day. It is strange to read the words of southern orators defending slavery with high flown rhetoric liberally dressed with the words “liberty”, “freedom” and “divine cause”. It reminds me of certain people I hear today.

    Thanks for this article, I’ll add it to my reading list.

  6. Thanks, all, for the kind comments. (Anyone who needs one signed can shoot their copy my way and I’ll be happy to do so for you. Shoot me an e-mail @ cmackows@sbu.edu and we can set something up.)

    Jackson was a black & white kind of guy in his worldview, which makes him fascinating because so few people really are black and white. As a result, nearly all of his direct subordinates clashed with him at various times because when he gave an order, there was never anything discretionary about it, regardless of the way a battle unfolded.

    @JS: The 18th NC had a sad history after C-ville. Of the 325 men in the regiment at the battle, the lost over 126 by battle’s end. (There were many men who would go on to survive the rest of the war, though.) By war’s end, the regiment lost three battle flags, and their commander was passed over for promotion by less-senior, less-able people. The event stigmatized them.

  7. Thanks Chris. So, they took almost 40% casualties at Gettysburg? I think modern military people would tell you that casualties of that magnitude would generally make a unit combat ineffective. It’s amazing to me what those men endured and were able to continue enduring.

    THREE battle flags? Oh man. That must be the record or something very close to it. In an era when losing even one was cause for great shame, this must have had a completely debilitating effect on morale even beyond the Jackson stain.

    I am really surprised that there were men in the original regiment who survived right up to Appomattox. I suppose the odds say there must have been a few, but it still boggles the mind. How anyone could live through all the actions that came afterward, not to mention camp-borne diseases, is beyond my comprehension.

    Another thing I’ve learned about the 18th that you already know but that shocked me is that they were still equipped with smooth bore muskets in MAY of 1863! Mon Dieu!!! In any line-to-line volley action at over 50 paces or so, this would have meant certain defeat for them and very heavy casualties. I knew that the South had some difficulty procuring enough rifles for all its troops, and that men were armed with smooth bores and even shotguns in the early battles, but I didn’t realize that the situation extended more than two years into the war.

    Thanks again, Chris. I’ll be sure to send you my copy for an autograph, but it will be after Christmas, since the wife will be buying this for me.

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