Friday, May 2, 2008

Dr. Hunter McGuire's Account of Jackson's Wounding - Part One

The following article is from the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XIV, January 1886.

The Death of Stonewall Jackson

By Doctor Hunter McGuire, Medical Director of Jackson's Corps

Supported upon either side by his aides -- Captain James Power Smith and Joseph Morrison -- the General moved slowly and painfully towards the rear. Occasionally resting for a moment to shake off the exhaustion which pain and the loss of blood produced, he at last reached the line of battle, where most of the men were lying down to escape the shell and canister with which the Federals raked the road. General Pender rode up here to the little party and asked who was wounded and Captain Smith, who had been instructed by General Jackson to tell no one of his injury, simply answered, "A Confederate officer;" but Pender recognized the General, and, springing from his horse, hurriedly expressed his regret, and added that his lines were so broken he feared it would be necessary to fall back. At this moment the scene was a fearful one. The air seemed to be alive with the shrieks of shells and the whistling of bullets; horses, riderless and mad with fright, dashed in every direction; hundreds left the ranks and fled to the rear, and the groans of the wounded and dying mingled with the shouts of others being led again to the assault. Almost fainting as he was, from loss of blood, fearfully wounded, and as he thought, dying, Jackson was undismayed by this terrible scene. The words of Pender seemed to rouse him to life. Pushing aside the men who supported him, he stretched himself to his full height and answered feebly, but distinctly enough to be heard above the din of battle: "General Pender, you must hold on to the field; you must hold out to the last."

It was Jackson's last order upon the field of battle. Still more exhausted by his effort, he asked to be permitted to lie down for a few minutes, but the danger from the fire, and capture by the Federal advance, was too imminent, and his aides hurried him on. A litter having been obtained, he was placed upon it, and the bearers passed on as rapidly as the thick woods and rough ground permitted. Unfortunately, another one of the bearers was struck down, and the litter having been supported at each of the four corners by a man, fell and threw the General to the ground. The fall was a serious one, and as he touched the earth, he gave, for the first time, expression to his suffering, and groaned piteously.

Captain Smith sprang to his side, and as he raised his head, a bright beam of moonlight made its way through the thick foliage and rested upon the pale face of the sufferer. The captain was startled by its great pallor and stillness, and cried out: "Oh! General, are you seriously hurt?" "No," he answered, "don't trouble yourself, my friend, about me;" and presently added something about winning the battle first and attending to the wounded afterwards. He was placed upon the litter again, and carried a few hundred yards, when I met him with the ambulance. I knelt down by him and said, "I hope you are not badly hurt, General?" He replied very calmly but feebly, "I am badly injured, Doctor; I fear I am dying." After a paused he continued, "I am glad you have come. I think the wound in my shoulder is still bleeding." His clothes were saturated with blood, and hemorrhage was still going on from the wound. Compression to the artery with the finger arrested it until, light being procured from the ambulance, the handkerchief, which had slipped a little, was readjusted.

His calmness amid the dangers which surrounded him and at the supposed presence of death, and his uniform politeness, which did not forsake him, even under these, the most trying circumstances, were remarkable. His complete control, too, over his mind enfeebled as it was by loss of blood, pain &c., was wonderful. His suffering as this time was intense; his hands were cold, his skin clammy, his face pale, and his lips compressed and bloodless; not a groan escaped him -- not a sign of suffering except the slight corrugation of his brow; the fixed rigid face, and the thin lips too tightly compressed that the impression of the teeth could be seen through them. Except these, he controlled by his iron will all evidence of emotion, and more difficult than this even, he controlled that disposition to restlessness, which many of us have observed upon the field of battle, attending great loss of blood. Some whiskey and morphine were procured from Dr. Straith and administered to him, and placing him in the ambulance it was started for the corps field infirmary at Wilderness Tavern. Colonel Crutchfield, his chief of artillery, was also in the ambulance wagon. He had been wounded very seriously in the leg, and was suffering intensely.

The General expressed, very feelingly his sympathy for Crutchfield, and once, when the latter groaned aloud, he directed the ambulance to stop, and requested me to see if something could not be done for his relief. Torches had been provided, and every means to carry them to the hospital as safely and easily as possible. I sat in the front part of the ambulance, with my finger resting upon the artery above the wound, to arrest bleeding if it should occur. When I was recognized by acquaintances and asked who was wounded, the General would tell me to say, "A Confederate officer." At one time he put his right hand upon my head, and pulling me down to him, asked if Crutchfield was dangerously injured. When answered, "No, only painfully hurt," he replied. "I am glad it is no worse." In a few moments after Crutchfield did the same thing, and when he was told that the General was seriously wounded, he groaned and cried out, "Oh, my God!" It was for this that the General directed the ambulance to be halted, and requested that something should be done for Crutchfield's relief.

After reaching the hospital he was placed in a bed, covered with blankets, and another drink of whiskey and water given to him. Two hours and a half elapsed before sufficient reaction took place to warrant an examination. At 2 o'clock, Sunday morning, Surgeons Black, Walls, and Coleman being present, I informed him that chloroform would be given him, and his wounds examined. I told him that amputation would probably be required, and asked it was found necessary whether it should be done at once. He replied promptly, "Yes, certainly. Dr. McGuire, do for me whatever you think best." Chloroform was then administered, and as he began to feel its effects, and its relief to the pain he was suffering, he exclaimed: "What an infinite blessing," and continued to repeat the word "blessing," until he became insensible. The round ball (such as is used for the smooth-bore Springfield musket), which had lodged under the skin upon the back of his right hand, was extracted first. It had entered the palm about the middle of the hand, and had fractured two of the bones. The left arm was then amputated about two inches below the shoulder, very rapidly and with slight loss of blood, the ordinary circular operation having been made. There were two wounds in his arm. The first and most serious was about three inches below the shoulder-joint, the ball dividing the main artery and fracturing the bone. The second was several inches in length, a ball having entered the outside of the forearm, an inch below the elbow, came out upon the opposite side just above the wrist. Throughout the whole of the operation, and until all the dressings were applied, he continued insensible. Two or three slight wounds of the skin of his face, received from the branches of trees when his horse dashed through the woods, were dressed simply with isinglass plaster.

About half-past 3 o'clock, Colonel (then Major) Pendleton, the assistant adjutant-general, arrived at the hospital and asked to see the General. He stated that General Hill had been wounded, and that the troops were in great disorder. General Stuart was in command, and had sent him to see the General. At first I declined to permit an interview, but the colonel urged the safety of the army and success of the cause depended upon his seeing him. When he entered the tent, the General said: "Well, major, I am glad to see you. I thought you were killed." Pendleton briefly explained the condition of affairs, gave Stuart's message, and asked what should be done. General Jackson at once was interested, and asked in his quick, rapid way several questions. When they were answered, he remained silent for a moment, evidently trying to think; he contracted his brow, set his mouth, and for some moments was obviously endeavoring to concentrate his thoughts. For a moment it was believed he had succeeded, for his nostrils dilated, and his eye flashed its old fire, but it was only for a moment; his face relaxed again, and presently he answered very feebly and sadly, "I don't know. I can't tell, say to General Stuart he must do what he thinks best." Soon after this he slept hours and seemed to be doing well. The next morning he was free from pain, and expressed himself sanguine of recovery. He sent his aide-de-camp, Morrison, to inform his wife of his injuries, and to bring her at once to see him. The following note from General Lee was read to him that morning by Captain Smith. "I have just received your note, informing me that you were wounded. I cannot express my regret at that occurence. Could I have directed events, I should have chosen, for the good of the country to have been disabled in your stead. I congratulate you upon the victory, which is due to your skill and energy." He replied: "General Lee should give praise to God."

About 10 o'clock his right side began to pain him so much that he asked me to examine it. He said he had injured it in falling from the litter the night before, and believed that he had struck it against a stone or the stump of a sapling. No evidence of injury could be discovered by examination. The skin was not broken or bruised, and the long performed, as far as I could tell, its proper function. Some simple application was recommended, in the belief that the pain would soon disappear.