A Poet’s Perspective: On Stonewall Jackson’s Death

stonewall-jackson

“I have always desired to die on Sunday.” — General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.

On May 2, 1863, shots rang out from the 18th North Carolina line in the woods at Chancellorsville. Unbeknownst to the soldiers at the time, they were firing upon their own men, including their beloved commander General Stonewall Jackson.  The General suffered from three bullet wounds, the most dangerous, just below his left shoulder. Unfortunately for the General the wound was irreparable, and as a result the arm was amputated.  By May 4th, however, it seemed Jackson was recovering, and all seemed relieved, but a happy ending this was not. Jackson awoke on May 6th with nausea, when his physician, Dr. Hunter McGuire awoke he discovered that the general’s health had take a drastic turn for the worst, as he diagnosed him with pneumonia. 

Jackson’s wife and infant daughter arrived shortly after and remained by his side for the rest of the time. Jackson would refer to his daughter as “little comforter,” as her presence seemed to bring his spirits up.

As the days passed on, the general’s health continued to decline, and on May 10, 1863, General Jackson passed away. His death was felt strongly by all and considered a severe set back for the Confederacy. Not only had the army lost a beloved General, but the general morale of the public at large, saw it as a sign of defeat. As such Jackson became an icon of Southern heroism and commitment.

His death was also felt in the North, as many mourned the loss of the great military general.

The following is a poem by author Herman Melville, on the death of Jackson.

Stonewall Jackson. 

(Ascribed to a Virginian) 

One man we claim of wrought renown
Which not the North shall care to slur;
A Modern lived who sleeps in death,
Calm as the marble Ancients are:
‘Tis he whose life, though a vapor’s wreath
Was charged with the lightning’s burning breath—-
Stonewall, stormer of the war.

But who shall hymn the Roman Heart?
A stoic he, but even more:
The iron will and lion thew
Were strong to inflict as too endure:
Who like him could stand, or pursue?
His Fate the fatalist followed through;
In all his great soul found to do
Stonewall followed his star.

He followed his star on the Romney march
Through the sleet to the wintry war;
And he followed it on when he bowed the grain—
The wind of the Shenandoah;
At Gaines’s Mill in the giants’ strain —
On the fierce forced stride to Manassas-plain,
Where his sword with thunder was clothed again.
Stonewall followed his star.

His star he followed athwart the flood
To Potomac’s Northern shore,
When midway wading, his hot of braves
My Maryland!” loud did roar—
To red Antietam’s field of graves,
Through mountain passes, woods and waves,
They followed their pagod with hymns and glaives,
For Stonewall followed a star.

Back it leg him to Marye’s Slope,
Where the shock and the fame he bore;
And to green Moss-Neck it guided him—
Brief respite from throes of war:
To the laurel glade by the Wilderness grim,
Through climaxed victory naught shall dim,
Even unto death it piloted him—
Stonewall followed his star.

Its lead he followed in gentle ways
Which never the valiant mar;
A cap we sent him, bestarred, to replace
The sun-scorched helm of war:
A fillet he made of the shining lace
Childhood’s laughing brow to grace—
Not his was a goldsmith’s star.

O, much of doubt in after days
Shall cling, as now, to the war;
Of the right and the wrong they’ll still debate,
Puzzled by Stonewall’s star:
“Fortune went with the North Elate,”
“Ay, but the South and Stonewall’s weight,
And he fell in the south’s vain war.”

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5 Responses to A Poet’s Perspective: On Stonewall Jackson’s Death

  1. David Corbett says:

    Thanks for posting this; I have never before read this poem.

  2. dridds says:

    Do you know the date that this poem was written?

    • Rob Wilson says:

      It was published in 1866, in “Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War.” Maybe Ms. Davis knows the exact date when it was written. It was late in the war, apparently. In a short forward to the collection, Melville wrote “the pieces in this volume originated in an impulse imparted by the fall of Richmond.” If you are interested in his other poems in this volume, there is a public domain version on Google Books.

      Thank you, Ms. Davis, for bringing a little poetry into our day!

      • You are very welcome! I am highly enjoying reading, writing and posting about Herman Melville and his poems! Melville actually wrote 2 poems about Jackson. Unfortunately I am not sure of the exact dates the poems were written.

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