Wednesday, February 11, 2009

James Power Smith

I found this jewel at


Captain James Power Smith
In the spring of 1861, James Power Smith was a theological student at Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College. He enlisted in the Rockbridge Artillery, a Confederate battery comprised of college and seminary students. The battery fought at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) where Smith received his baptism of fire. It was there that General Barney Bee saw Jackson’s men holding steady while other Confederates were giving ground, and made the historic comment, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!” From then on the name “Stonewall” Jackson became a legend in the South.

On September 7, 1862, Smith rode into Frederick,Maryland, to visit the Presbyterian Church where his father had preached when James was a boy. When he left the church, he discovered that his horse had been stolen. Then he received another surprise. He was told to report to General Thomas J. Jackson, the war’s most famous commander. He thought someone was playing a trick on him, but he went. The general had met Smith three years earlier at a wedding, and surprised the young corporal by inviting him to be the aide-de-camp on his staff.

Smith hustled to get a new uniform and a horse, and on September 20 he returned to the Army of Northern Virginia. The next day he met General Lee, who gave him a fresh peach. Later Smith traveled with Jackson from Winchester to Lee’s headquarters in Fredericksburg. On the way they passed the refugees fleeing from Fredericksburg before the battle, including many huddled in Salem Church.

On Sunday morning, November 30, 1862, Jackson and Smith rode into deserted Fredericksburg. They sat in their saddles at the eastern corner of the Presbyterian Church, and surveyed the scene of the coming battle. Smith asked if he could ride down to the river to water his horse, and “Old Jack” warned him that he would probably be shot by the Yankees on the other side of the river. But he did ride down to water his horse, and when he returned, Jackson was still in the same place. After the war, Smith identified the spot where Jackson planned strategy for the Battle of Fredericksburg, and in 1924 a marker was imbedded in the brick wall by the Presbyterian Church, commemorating it.

That night they stayed in the home of the French family—the family that gave the French Memorial Chapel and for whom the education building is named. Jackson led evening prayers, using the big family bible,and kneeling to pray with the family. Then Smith and Jackson established their headquarters south of town near Guiney’s Station.

On the morning of December 11, 1862, General Burnside’s Union guns began the bombardment of Fredericksburg. Smith spent most of the day carrying messages between the Southern commanders. Early next morning he rode with Jackson to the present Lee’s Hill, where Lee and Jackson conferred and observed the battle. They watched the Yankees “coming handsomely” across the river. However, by the end of the day the whole landscape was covered with the bodies of many men in union blue.

During the battle, a part of the Confederate line was the spot south of town commanded with one cannon by the “The Gallant Pelham.” Finally, General Lee had to send word to Pelham to pull back. Who took the message from Lee to Pelham? It was James Power Smith.

Smith also reported that a “fine handsome blooded mare” was shot out from under him that day, and many of his former comrades in the Rockbridge Artillery were killed. That night, Jackson and Smith were at Moss Neck Manor, south of town. Jackson said, “If the men sleep on the ground, I will too.” (This was in December.) They had two overcoats and two blankets. They each put on an overcoat. They put one blanket under them, one over them, and they huddled together to keep from freezing that night.

The next day they moved into Moss Neck manor, the home of the Corbins. On Christmas Day Jackson entertained General Lee, General J. E. B. Stuart and Sandie Pendleton at the manor with turkeys, oysters, a ham, cake, a bottle of wine, biscuits, and pickles. And who obtained all those fixings for the dinner? James Power Smith.

Jackson was appalled by the suffering in Fredericksburg, and led the officers and men in his command in raising $30,000 for their relief—a lot of money for that time.

On April 23, 1863, Smith was present at the baptism of Jackson’s daughter, Julia. Tucker Lacy conducted the service.

On April 29, 1863, hundreds of Federal soldiers crossed the Rappahannock River under the cover of heavy fog in the attack which led to the crucial battle of Chancellorsville. When he received the news, General Jackson sent Smith to inform General Lee of the attack. The next night Smith was sent on an errand by Lee. When he returned, Lee was sleeping at the foot of a tree and covered with his army cloak. He pulled Smith under his cloak and asked him to give his report. Smith then made his own bed, and “with my head in my saddle, near my horse’s feet, I was soon wrapped in the heavy slumber of a weary soldier.”

Smith then became the only eye-witness to a great moment in American history: “Sometime after midnight I was awakened by the chill of the early morning hours, and turning over, caught a glimpse of a little flame on the slope above me, and sitting up to see what it meant, I saw, bending over a scant fire of twigs, two men seated on old cracker boxes and warming their hands over a little fire. I had to rub my eyes and collect my wits to recognize the figures of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Who can tell the story of that quiet council of war between two
sleeping armies.”

As a result of Smith’s report of this scene, the event was immortalized. The famous “Cracker Barrel Conference” not only depicted the South’s two best known generals planning Jackson’s famous flank march that led to their greatest victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, it was also the last time that the two great men ever saw each other alive. The image of the two men sitting on the cracker boxes by the fire isnow the logo which symbolizes the famous battle at the Chancellorsville Military Park, and elsewhere.

At 8 P.M. that night Smith gathered his couriers to find Jackson, and about a mile west of Chancellorsville was told that Jackson was just ahead. He rode a hundred yards further on, and heard shouting. He was told that Jackson had been wounded, and others around him killed by the fire of their own men. Smith spurred his horse forward.

On arriving at the scene he was told that “He (Jackson) was struck by three balls at the same time. One went through the palm of his right hand; a second passed through the wrist of the left arm and out of the hand; the third one was more severe. It passed through the left arm halfway from the shoulder to the elbow. The large bone of the upper arm was splintered to the elbow joint, and the wound bled freely.”

Jackson’s horse bolted, and he reeled from his saddle, but he was caught and placed gently on the ground. General A. P. Hill had come to his aid as Smith rode up. Smith cut Jackson’s sleeve open from the wrist to the shoulder, and used his handkerchief to stem the flow of blood. Couriers were sent to find a doctor and an ambulance.

Smith was one of the four litter-bearers who started to move Jackson to a safer place on a stretcher. But one of the bearers was shot, and he fell. The fire became heavier, so the litter was placed in the middle of the road, and Smith shielded Jackson’s body with his own. When the firing slackened, Smith helped Jackson up, put his arms around him, and started to drag him to safety. More litter bearers arrived. Again they started to carry him to safety. Another bearer fell, dropping his corner of the litter. This time Jackson fell and hit the ground, causing him great pain. Finally they reached comparative safety and Jackson was placed in an ambulance.

In a tent near the Wilderness Store, Jackson’s left arm was amputated near the shoulder, and a ball was taken from his right hand. Smith held the light for the operation, and “all night long it was mine to watch the sufferer and keep him warmly wrapped and undisturbed in his sleep.” All the other staff officers had to return to their duties, so only Smith remained and continued to talk with Jackson. Though he had been hit three times, fallen from a litter once, was dragged for a distance by Smith, endured a miserable ride in an army ambulance, went through shock, and then had his arm amputated, he still was very alert.

In the afternoon a courier arrived from Lee’s headquarters, and Smith gave his message to Jackson. Lee said, “Could I have directed events, I should have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead…”

Early on May 4, Jackson was placed in an army ambulance for the twenty-five mile trip to Guiney’s Station, where he would be safer. In the ambulance with Jackson were Chaplain Tucker Lacy, Smith and Doctor Hunter McGuire. McGuire, whose statue stands in front of the state Capitol and who had a Richmond hospital named after him, was a Presbyterian, too. Saddened Virginians watched the ambulance pass by. Smith remained at Guiney’s Station with Tucker Lacy and Doctor McGuire. Smith kept watch with Jackson during the night of May 5th. At dawn he called for the doctor, who recognized the early symptoms of pneumonia. While the doctor was dressing Jackson’s wounds, Anna Jackson and their daughter Julia arrived. Anna sang spiritual songs for him. He told her that he wanted to be buried in Lexington, and that he always wanted to die on Sunday.

On Sunday, May 10, 1862, Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson “crossed over the river to rest under the shade of the trees.” Just two weeks after the Jacksons had gone to church together and had their daughter baptized, Anna was a widow. The Confederacy was filled with grief. Smith rode in the railway car to Richmond with the Jackson family and the general’s body. General Longstreet headed the pallbearers who carried the casket up the steps of the Capitol, where over 2,000 people came to show their respects. After the burial in Lexington, Smith accompanied Anna Jackson and little Julia to their home in North Carolina.

On June 13, Smith returned to report to Lee before the battle of Gettysburg. At Lee’s request, Smith remained with him that night, and he was with the general when the battle began on July 1. Lee sent him with a message to General Ewell, and he was with Ewell when the request arrived from General Jubal Early to advance up the slope to capture Cemetery Ridge. Ewell told Smith to take the request to General Lee. He found Lee and Longstreet and conveyed the request.

After the war, Smith returned to Union Seminary, was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and on May 24, 1869, he was called to be the minister of the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg,
where he served for 23 years. He shared in dedicating the Jackson Monument in Richmond and the Memorial Hall in Lexington. He dedicated the place on the Lacy farm at “Ellwood” where Tucker Lacy had buried Jackson’s arm, and also indicated the place by the brick wall in front of the Presbyterian Church where Jackson had stood to “plan the Battle of Fredericksburg.”

In 1871 he married Agnes, the daughter of Tucker Lacy’s younger brother, Major Horace J. Lacy, who lived at “Chatham” (called the “Lacy House” during the war – when it was the Federal headquarters, and then a hospital.) He wrote extensively about his war experiences including “The Religious Character of Stonewall Jackson,” “Jackson at Chancellorsville,” and “Lee at Gettysburg.”

James Power Smith returned to Gettysburg in 1917 to pronounce the invocation at the dedication of the Virginia State Monument at Seminary Ridge. He died in 1923 at 86, and was the last surviving member of Stonewall Jackson’s staff.