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Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care during the American Civil War

By Frank R. Freemon | Go to book overview

11
Stonewall Jackson Struck by Friendly Fire

HUNTER HOLMES MCGUIRE, THE SENIOR SURGEON in Jackson's Corps, was notified that Stonewall Jackson had been wounded. The doctor immediately moved forward with a wagon that had been reserved for use as an ambulance. The doctor found the commanding general in great pain, lying a few hundred yards from the main line, surrounded by his shaken officers.

“I am badly injured, doctor,” Jackson said to McGuire very calmly but feebly. “I fear I am dying.” After a pause, he added: “I am glad you have come. I think the wound in my shoulder is still bleeding.”

McGuire could not perform a proper examination because of the growing darkness. Palpating the general's body, he discovered that Jackson's clothes were saturated with blood. He could feel that the shoulder wound was still bleeding, despite being heavily swathed in bandages. McGuire compressed the artery in the armpit with his finger.

After a lantern was brought, the doctor began a more thorough examination. A bandage had been wrapped around the shoulder at the scene of the wounding; it was now totally soaked with blood. McGuire removed this bandage and discarded it. Three bullets had struck the general. He had been hit in the right hand; McGuire could feel the ball under the skin of the back of the hand. Two bullets had struck the left arm. One had produced a fracture of the humerus about three inches below the left shoulder. The splintering bone, or the bullet itself, had divided the main artery and Jackson would certainly have bled to death had not the doctor compressed this artery above the site of injury. An additional wound in the left arm was several inches in length. The ball had entered the outside of the arm, just an inch below the elbow, had then traversed the entire length of the forearm and exited between the wrist and the thumb. The arm was obviously useless and would have to be amputated.

Unfortunately, there was yet a fourth injury. While being carried from the field, Jackson had fallen to the ground. His back had struck a hard protuberance, probably a stump, and his ribs had been damaged, possibly fractured.

Jackson had been shot by his own men. His audacious attack upon the right flank of the Army of the Potomac on 2 May 1863 had caused the collapse of the Federal 11 th Corps. The Union forces had been driven back two miles, but had then steadied. Jackson and his staff had gone forward to scout the terrain. Returning to their own lines at twilight, they had been mistaken for Yankee cavalry. A single volley killed a staff officer and knocked Jackson from his horse.

The staff officers shouted to the Confederate pickets, who shrank back in horror at their mistake. They dissolved into the Confederate line and have never been unequivocally identified.1 Jackson's aides helped the general to his feet. He could walk with aid, but only slowly. He finally made it to the Confederate line and stretched out on the ground. All the Confederates were lying down as Federal shell and canister raked the area. The Yankees were attempting a counterattack. The scene was a frightful one. The air seemed alive with shrieks of shells and the whistling of bullets.

-101-

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