Down With the Traitors and Up with the Stars

The last two terms in my junior year in college could have been called Civil War Central.  An 18th century scholar by trade, I was not looking forward to any of these classes – I knew nothing about the time period, and had long come to the realization that if I had wanted to know something about the time period, I would have by now.

The first of the 5 month long brain bending exercise in semi-futility (I received anywhere between a B+ and an A- in these classes, was taught by one of the world’s leading authorities in the politics of the Civil War.  A lucky break, I though – but he and I had severe differences on how we read, processed, and understood the materials, and by the end, I would have been fine with never hearing anything about the Civil War again.

But then…

My professor for my Winter Term class (8 weeks, expedited course) had served as a US Marine and studied Civil War history from the time that he got out until present day.  His Masters degree focus was on battlefield tactics of the Civil War and you could tell by the way he taught it that he loved it.  He spoke from the heart, and he filled our heads with so much information that a class of working adults jokingly called ourselves ‘collectively awful’ and felt that we were letting him down because we couldn’t absorb this wonderful gift that he was giving us.  Most of us had this professor before and would again, as he was a hard professor, but he was a GOOD professor.

And, somewhere during my first extra credit (please please let me pass with at least a B) essay, I started to care.  The more my professor spoke, the more I ate it up.  The stories, the context, everything.  THEN… I applied what little I knew of 19th century Civil War medicine to it.  Normally, I would tell people that so many scholars focus on Civil War medicine, that I felt my inclusion was unnecessary.  Until we were partway through a class, learning about the Battle of Shiloh, speaking of Albert Sydney Johnston, when I blurted out: “That’s the guy who bled into his boot!”

The professor paused, looking at me for a moment.  He already knew what my focus was…. and that it was most definitely not the Civil War.  And, he confirmed that yes, I was correct.  Meanwhile, I was thinking, Of all the things to remember…

The knowledge came from my very first Medical History Conference, which was hosted by the Medical History Society of New Jersey, in Princeton, NJ… about 5 years before.  One of the presenters spoke on it, and how the initial tourniquet was not good enough.  I remembered him talking about the hornet’s nest… or maybe it was about this A. Johnston fellow leading the 10th (ish) charge into the battle.  Whatever it was, something in my break audibly clicked.

Now, my class is over, although I’m lucky enough to have stayed in touch with that professor.  And, there I was… at work… when suddenly, something that tickled my brain since that class started tickling it again.  What were the medical procedures and processes used on General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson after he was shot at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Luckily, it was the end of the day by the time this white rabbit appeared in front of me… so I followed it down the rabbit hole.  As this wasn’t for a grade, none of the fears and doubts that normally assault me when a project matters appeared.  Meaning, of course, this was much more detailed than anything I had ever done for a grade.

Of course.

Stonewall Jackson was shot while riding through a place called The Wilderness, in Chancellorsville, VA.  While modern visitors will see a much more sparse forest, looks can be deceiving.  In 1863, the words used to explain the forest included “dense” and “shadows”.

Here is a picture from 2013 (left), and one from  circa 1860 – 1865 (right):

Picture Sources:
The Wilderness, 2013: Staten Island Museum. 2013. Civil War: 150 Pinhole Project. 2013. Photography by Michael Falco

The Wilderness, 1860 – 1865:

Isn’t that something?  A picture from the mid-1800s.  I thought it was seriously fascinating.  That picture was taken DURING the Civil War.  Well, okay, if it was taken in 1860 or early 1861, the first shots of the war had not been fired, but there were certainly political tensions by that time.  Otherwise, it was taken during the war.  I wonder who the people standing just outside The Wilderness were.  And what they were thinking.  That’s the historian in me, you see.  I also wonder what the person taking the picture though – as pictures were not anywhere near the instant point, shoot, and share photography of today.  Cameras were expensive, and taking picture was a lengthy procedure.  Oh to be in their heads.

Anyway, continuing on.  Still with me?


Most quick and dirty overviews of the death of Stonewall Jackson say something like: He was shot, his arm amputated and he died of pneumonia 8 days later.


For such an important event, you would think there would be more.  Well I know that there is more to this story.  And I know what common scholarly (read: medicine given to people by doctors) was during this time.  People may tease me for studying 18th century medicine, calling it things like ‘non-existent’.  Not only is that incorrect, but they do not seem to understand that what came next – the experimentation and next 100 years of ‘proven theories’ were absolutely barbaric.


So, I dug a little deeper.  Not much – just looking up things like “Stonewall Jackson, Shot, medicine”, and the like.  After all, this was a brain gripper, not anything I had to do.  (Of course the United States Military Band playing Songs of the Civil War in the background helped keep me focused.  Check them out on iTunes. They’re awesome.)

And then I found this: The Death of General “Stonewall” Jackson as Recorded by His Personal Physician, by Dr. Hunter McGuire.

Well, actually, I found a website where someone had retyped it.  But, good enough for my purposes – even though my ‘nothing other than primary source materials will do’ instinct was beating upon my brain like bongos on a trampoline.

While on the way to the field hospital, which was situation at the Wilderness Tavern, General Jackson insisted that McGuire look at a leg wound that the driver of the ambulance, Colonel Crutchfield had. Dr. McGuire notes that the driver of the ambulance Colonel Crutchfield was had a leg injury, and Jackson was so concerned that he had McGuire see if anything could be done for the Colonel. In order to appease Jackson, he sat in the front of the ambulance with Crutchfield and rested his finger “upon the artery above the wound, to arrest the bleeding if it should occur.”[1] There would not have been a sink in the ambulance, nor were gloves worn at the time.  McGuire’s care of Crutchfield would have happened with the same hands that had been covered in the blood of Jackson.

[1] McGuire, The Death of General Stonewall Jackson as Recorded by His Personal Physician

Just sayin’…

By the way, this is what the remains of the Wilderness Tavern looked like in 2008.  Photo Credit: Civil War Trust

The Wilderness Tavern Remains

Once the ambulance reached the Wilderness Tavern (Figure 6), Jackson was placed in a bed and covered in blankets. He was given water and whiskey to drink.  For the next two and half hours, he was examined.  At 2:00am, the three surgeons present (Black, Coleman, and Walls) informed McGuire that Jackson would need a treatment of chloroform and then his arm would need to be amputated.  After the chloroform was administered, Jackson voiced his approval of the drugs affects, calling them “an infinite blessing.”[1]  Chloroform was, generally, administered as a general anesthetic in order to inhibit the central nervous system and render the patient unconscious.[2]

Once sedated, the bullet which had lodged itself in Jacksons’ right hand was removed. Then Jacksons’ left arm was “amputated about two inches below the shoulder.”[3] This was done quickly, and with little loss of blood. A few scratches that the branches of The Wilderness had left on Jackson’s face were dressed with isinglass [a glue made from fish] plaster.  His arm was buried in the nearby Ellwood family cemetery.

Grave of Samuel Jacksons Arm

Due to fears of the Union advancement, Lee directed that Jackson was to be moved to Guinea Station as soon as his condition permitted it. But, Jackson was not interested in going and removing the doctors and surgeons, which would accompany him, from the battlefield where they were needed. However, Tuesday morning, “he was placed in an ambulance and started for Guinea’s station.”[4]  At around 8:00pm that night, he arrived at the Chandler House.  Jackson would never leave the house alive.

Upon arrival at the Chandler House, his wounds were examined and appeared to be healing well.  Jackson to know if McGuire to estimate how long it would be until he could return to the battlefield.  Thursday, Jackson suffered from nausea, which was treated by placing a wet towel on the stomach.  That night, an examination of Jackson disclosed pleuro-pmeumonia on the right side. It was believed that this had been caused by Jackson’s fall in the woods the night that he had been wounded.  It was at this time that McGuire realized that the nausea that Jackson had been suffering from may have been a symptom of this ailment, rather than an ailment unto itself.  “Contusion of the lung, with extravastion of blood in his chest, was probably produced by the fall referred to, and shock and loss of blood prevented any ill effects until reaction had been well established and then inflammation ensued.  Cups were applied, and mercury, with antimony and opium, administered.”[5]

Cupping was a technique used to increase blood circulation, and was a popular treatment of the time.  Likewise, opium was a common medicine given for anything from coughs to severe pain, with special attention paid to the dosage, due to its highly addictive nature.  However, by the 18th century, physicians were aware of the harmful effects both mercury and antimony had on the body.  By the last quarter of the 18th century, scholarly physicians in London were touting both elements harmful effects, and were instructing people to find alternate remedies.  However, William Buchan’s widely read Domestic Medicine: Or, A Treatise on the Prevention and cure of Diseases still recommended both elements through the middle of the 19th century.  Although William Buchan had died in the early 19th century, his family continued to publish his line of books that brought scholarly medicine into the home for nearly another century.  Throughout the 18th and 19th century’s these books were the most commonly read medical book in America, and were considered a staple in almost every home.


Sunday, his mind began to wander and he started talking as though he was still in the field, giving commands. Then he would speak as though he were at the mess-table conferring with his staff.  A few times he became lucid, but would then slip away again.  “A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly!  Tell Major Hawks,” the stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished.(McGuire)  A smile of relief crossed his face, as he cried quietly, and said, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees,” and presently died. (McGuire)

How does this story not get told?  Maybe I need to find those primary source materials.  I think this story needs to be told.  I think I was supposed to tell this story – at a better time, when it didn’t matter… when it wasn’t for a grade.  When I had nothing to gain – or lose – from this.


[1] McGuire, The Death of General Stonewall Jackson as Recorded by His Personal Physician

[2] Wise Geek. (2015). What is Chloroform. URL:

[3] McGuire, The Death of General Stonewall Jackson as Recorded by His Personal Physician

[4] McGuire

[5] McGuire






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