May 10, 1863 (Sunday)
“Tell Major Hawkes to send forward provisions to the men,” said General Jackson in a clear, steady voice. “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front!”
But there was no Major Hawkes, just as there were no provisions. A.P. Hill was miles away, as was the infantry and the front. Stonewall Jackson lay prostrate on a small rope bed in a two story house at Guinea Station, south of Fredericksburg. His wife, Anna, his doctor, Hunter McGuire, and minister, Beverly Tucker Lacy, and even his slave, Jim Lewis, were there to comfort him, to see him return to health and again lead his boys into battle.
He had been wounded by his own men following his brilliant attack upon the Union flank at Chancellorsville. Three balls pierced him, smashing bone and tearing flesh, but following an amputation, he was supposed to make a full recovery. And then pneumonia set in. In his weakened state, he could not fight it.
For the past three days, his mind had flickered from full awareness to coma to the past, both recent and distant, all a symptom of the many doses of laudanum give to ease the pain. As the days passed, his fever increased and Jackson became restless, as if his spirit could hardly be contained in such a frail, broken body.
Dr. McGuier, and several other physicians, had plied their trade the best they could, giving Jackson mustard plasters, bloodlettings, and even blisterings, but each hour he was growing weaker. Through it all, he was convinced that he would recover, that this could not possibly be his end.
But on Saturday afternoon, when his wife, Anna, believed the situation to be hopeless, Jackson was not so convinced, and asked Dr. McGuier his opinion. He replied that recovery now seemed out of the question. “If it is the will of my Heavenly Father,” asserted Jackson, “I am perfectly satisfied.”
Anna did her best to make her husband comfortable and keep herself together. But once, when Jackson saw her tear-marked face, he calmly chided, “Anna, none of that, none of that.”
That evening (the 9th), Anna had sat by his bedside and asked him, through the veil of his delirium, if she might read to him from the Psalms. He was, said the General, suffering too much for that. But, almost cutting himself off to bring his mind to a narrow, he countered, “Yes, we must never refuse that. Get the Bible and read them.”
As the night grew dark, Jackson grew more and more exhausted. But when his mind was sharp, he asked Anna to sing to him. Soon other joined in solemn recital, moving through a number of hymns before concluding with the 51st Psalm, “Show pity, Lord.”
The exhaustion turned to sleep, and before closing his eyes, he said to one of the doctors present, “I think I shall be better before morning.”
But morning would be as hard fought as any battle. The fever, which had never abated, threw him deeper into delirium, as those around him patted his brow with a wet sponge.
In the early dawn (of this date), the time just before light that Jackson loved so dear, Anna was called out from his room. Dr. Joseph Morrison, one of the attending physicians, told the General’s frail wife that they had “done everything that human skill could devise to stay the hand of death.” They had lost all hope. Her dear husband could not live.
She was told to prepare for the inevitable. In a few short hours, her Thomas Jackson would be no more. Though she must have known, the word from the doctors sent her reeling. This was all happening too fast. But soon, she collected herself and thought only of her husband. He must be told. It was what he wanted – to have a few short hours notice before being called away. There was now time to prepare for death and what he believed to be the “ineffable glories of heaven.”
With a composure that would rival any soldier in any army, Anna made her way to Jackson’s side. He was almost fully submerged in dim unconsciousness, but he could recognize her voice.
The doctors, she spoke to him, clearly and with grace, thought he would soon be in heaven. But Jackson seemed not to understand. There was no sign of surprise, no concern. All this time, he had been convinced he would live, but was he now even able to comprehend the last words she may ever speak to him?
She said it again, asking him if he was willing to allow God to do with him according to His own will, Jackson’s eyes filled with the glow of intelligence. “Yes,” he whispered, “I prefer it, I prefer it.” Before the day would end, she told him, “he would be with the blessed Saviour in His glory.”
Though he still hoped that he might recover. “Oh, no,” he said to Anna, trying to comfort her, “you are frightened, my child; death is not so near; I may yet get well.” She melted into sobs and tears.
To Dr. Morrison, who entered behind her, Jackson asked, “Anna informs me that you have told her that I am to die today. Is that so?” It was so, came the quiet reply.
Finally accepting, Jackson lifted his eyes towards the ceiling, towards the heavens. “Very good, very good. It is all right.”
She asked him where he would like his body to be buried, but his mind was pulling away, deeper into itself. “Charlotte… Charlottesville.” But, she asked, wouldn’t he rather be buried in Lexington? “Yes,” came the answer, cutting its way out of the haze, “Lexington, and in my own plot.”
A family friend then brought their infant daughter, Julia, to see him. He had always loved children, and her presence gave his facade, even now, radiant light. With sweet smiles and clearing eyes, Jackson exclaimed, “Little darling! Sweet one!” as she was placed by his side. After a few moments, he closed his eyes, as if in prayer.
There were hours yet to spend, but his mind was faltering, wandering. Now Stonewall Jackson was again in command upon the field. Orders were issued and troops advanced. “Push up the columns!” ordered the General. “Pendleton, you take charge of that! Where’s Pendleton? Tell him to push up the column!”
But then he was at the mess table, speaking openly to members of his staff. And then with Anna and Julia, dreaming of sweet memories, of times that would never happen.
Sometimes, his mind would almost return. Once, Dr. McGuire offered him some brandy and water, but Jackson declined. “It will only delay my departure, and do no good; I want to preserve my mind, if possible, to the last.”
About 1:30pm, one of the doctors informed Jackson that he had perhaps two hours to live. With a relative firmness, he replied, “Very good. It is all right.” And then his mind returned to the battlefield.
“Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action!” he said again. “Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawkes -” But he stopped. The sentence was left unfinished.
His stern countenance of battle then turned, and the sweetest of smiles spread over his face. It was an expression of pure relief, as if he was home, as if there were no battles, no campaigns, as if the war that had claimed him and so many others had never existed. And then spoke clearly his final words:
“Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”
*Sources: Memoirs of Stonewall Jackson by Mary Anna Jackson; “The Wounding and Death of Jackson” by Hunter McGuire; Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson. Photos by the author, taken in 2008 at the Jackson Shrine in Virginia.