Stranger than fiction: a grave for Stonewall’s arm

stonewall-jacksonThomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was General Robert E. Lee’s most capable general and considered by military historians to be among the most gifted of tactical commanders in U.S. history. Jackson distinguished himself in numerous battles and met his fate when he was accidentally shot by his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville. His tragic death led to an unusual burial in which Jackson was laid to rest in two separate burial places. One grave was for his body and the other grave for his left arm.

As a strategist, Jackson’s Valley Campaign and his envelopment of the Union Army right wing at Chancellorsville are studied worldwide as examples of innovative and bold leadership. He distinguished himself in key battles, such as the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas)—where he received his famous nickname “Stonewall”—Second Bull Run (Second Manassas), Antietam and Fredericksburg.

On May 2, 1863, Jackson led a charge directly into the oblivious Federal right wing at Chancellorsville. The Confederates marched silently until they were merely several hundred feet from the Union position then released a bloodthirsty cry and full charge. Many of the Federals were captured without a shot fired while the rest were driven into a full rout. Jackson pursued relentlessly back toward the center of the Federal line until dusk but darkness ended the assault. As Jackson and his staff were returning to camp, they were mistaken for a Union cavalry force by the 18th North Carolina Infantry regiment who shouted, “Halt, who goes there?” but fired before evaluating the reply. Frantic shouts by Jackson’s staff identifying the party were heard in the midst of intense fire but received the retort, “It’s a damned Yankee trick! Fire!” A second volley was fired in response and Jackson was hit by three bullets. Two struck him in the left arm and one in the right hand. Several other men and horses in his staff were killed.

The general’s shattered left arm was amputated by Dr. Hunter McGuire and he survived the surgery but died eight days later of complications from pneumonia. His body was taken to the governor’s mansion in Richmond for the public to mourn and later buried in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia. However, his amputated arm received a burial of its own. The Reverend Beverley Tucker Lacy, the un­official chaplain of Jackson’s Second Corps, paid a visit to the hospital where he discovered his chief’s amputated limb. Lacy wrapped it in a blanket and rode one mile to his brother’s home, Ellwood. There, he buried the severed limb in the family cemetery.

Upon hearing of Jackson’s death, Robert E. Lee was quoted as saying, “He has lost his left arm but I my right.

Today a stone monument stands in the cemetery marking the grave of Jackson’s arm miles from where his body is buried.

(Michael Williams is the author of “Stranger than Fiction: The Lincoln Curse.” The book is a collection of 50 strange and unusual but true stories. The stories will leave the reader convinced that perhaps Mark Twain was right when he said “truth is stranger than fiction.”

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