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Unfriendly Fire: the Murder of "STONEWALL" JACKSON

The Confederacy's Best Kept Secret

All his life, Thomas Jackson, the American Civil War Confederate General, wrestled with the moral dilemma that slavery posed.

As his wife, Anna, wrote "before the war, 'Stonewall' had preferred that the negroes should go free". Although he owned slaves, most were old and unfit to work. Many had begged Jackson to purchase them. For his mastership was a welcome alternative to a life of starving that was their fate otherwise.

Jackson also ran a "colored Sunday school" and did his best to encourage literacy amongst those who had attended. For Jackson himself was a living example of how education could rescue a person from poverty. Had Jackson not received a West Point education, he would most likely have been doomed to a lifetime of drudgery and obscurity in rural West Virginia.

The General fervently believed that "God had crowned his (Jackson's) army with victory". So when the tide of war was clearly turning against the Confederacy, Jackson could not help but search his soul for the reason why. As his doubts grew, so did his need to attend church and sponsor prayer services.

In the last month of his life, his doubts about the "wisdom of human bondage" could not be contained. "Stonewall" had even gone so far - uncharacteristic for one of his legendary secrecy - as to confide his misgivings about the righteousness of the "cause" to one of his staff. That was shortly to prove a very fatal mistake.

For the staff officer knew that if the South's greatest hero were to make known his reservations about slavery, it would plunge the Confederate Army into turmoil. He also knew that Jackson fully deserved the name of Stonewall: for once the General had made up his mind about something, nothing could stop him.

While the long overdue visit of his wife and child occupied Jackson's attentions, plans were being formed to "dismantle the great Stonewall" before he could spill the Confederacy's best kept secret.

Not that it was difficult to get rid of Jackson. He was renowned for frequently exposing himself to needless danger. When he rode in front of his own lines to perform night reconnaissance, Jackson had signed his own death warrant.

When the conspirators heard the voice of his aide and brother-in-law, Joseph Morrison, they knew that "the General" was near. Among his staff, the reason why Jackson was now keeping young Morrison so close to him was well known.

The General felt extremely guilty that his strict observance of duty had kept him from his wife's side when his "beloved Anna" had needed him (she had given birth and nursed a sick child and mother alone). Guilt stricken, Jackson was keeping Joseph near him - to keep Anna's brother safe.

Morrison spoke: giving the countersign that Jackson's party was riding the front lines. John Barry, the officer in charge of that section, was in league with the staff officer who carried "Stonewall's" secret. He knew it was Morrison but said "it was a lie - pour into 'em boys". He immediately ordered his men to fire gunshot into the General's party, killing some and seriously wounding Jackson.

Significantly, "no stigma" attached to Barry for having given that order and later he was promoted twice in the Confederate Army. (Life has a way of balancing the scales: although Barry survived the war, he died 2 years later at the age of 27).

Miraculously, Jackson survived this attack. While he lay recovering, he told another staff officer that his wounds were "a blessing". His remarks were not meant for the one he spoke with but for another also present in the room at the time. Jackson regarded the man in "stony" silence for a moment.

The man knew Jackson meant the true blessing was that he had survived the assassination attempt. By the look on the General's face, the man knew Jackson had decided to remain quiet on the matter of slavery. The man was not worried: for by then the General was fast sinking into death.

Pneumonia shortly ended "Stonewall's" life. And thus the "Confederacy's best kept secret" was confined to the silence of the grave... until now.

Credits: from one of the conspirators in "Stonewall" Jackson's death



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