Stonewall on the Mend?

I did some work recently for an essay in our upcoming Fallen Leaders book (part of the Emerging Civil War 10th Anniversary Series). The question, a common variation of an old favorite, was this: What if Stonewall Jackson had returned to the Army of Northern Virginia following his wounding at the battle of Chancellorsville?

It’s an impossible question to answer because there are so many moving parts in the story of Jackson’s wounding. But I’m always on the lookout for context. Here’s a super-quick data dump that might give you something to think about:

  • Richard Ewell, Battle of Groveton (Second Manassas), amputated leg, 274 days: August 28, 1862-May 29, 1863
  • Winfield Scott Hancock, Battle of Gettysburg, thigh, 263 days: July 3, 1863-March 23, 1864
  • James Longstreet, Battle of the Wilderness, neck and right shoulder, 165 days: May 6, 1864-Oct. 18, 1864
  • Joseph E. Johnston, Battle of Seven Pines, chest and thigh, 165 days: May 31, 1862-November 12, 1862
  • John Bell Hood, Battle of Chickamauga, amputated right leg, 137 days: September 20, 1863-February 4, 1864
  • Dan Sickles, Battle of Gettysburg, amputated right leg, 107 days: July 2, 1863-October 16, 1863 (return to service denied)
  • Oliver Otis Howard, Battle of Seven Pines, amputated right arm, 84 days: June 1, 1862-August 23, 1862
  • John Bell Hood, Battle of Gettysburg, left arm, 74 days: July 2, 1863-September 14, 1863 (“but partially recovered”)

And of course, a relevant question to ask: how effective were these officers after their returns? (Of course, one might ask how effective some of them were before their injuries, too!)

General Sickles (center) at Gettysburg in 1886 (Library of Congress)

23 Responses to Stonewall on the Mend?

  1. Interesting post; mentioning some of the major injuries to a few prominent figures of the War somehow adds specific reality to the trauma of such wounds, which were very common throughout the War. On both sides, they went to War knowing this could happen – in fact, was likely to happen – and yet they went. Some even went back for another chance at maiming and/or death. If anything speaks to the intensity of the War, this could be the definitive ‘it’.

  2. Thanks Chris, your discussions are both thoughts provoking and make the Civil War come alive for us. Keep up the good work.

    F. Norman Vickers, Pensacola Civil War Roundtable

  3. Well, given the severity of Stonewalls’s wounds, among the questions that cannot be answered are 1) does the northern invasion still happen in late June of 1863 without Stonewall’s services? It does seem unlikely that he would have been available by then.

    Or 2) Does Lee wait on invading northwards until Stonewall is able to carry out his duties and responsibilities? But, how long will Lee’s perceived “window of opportunity” to do that last? Would Lee still reorganize his army as he did upon Stonewall’s death? And we don’t know what Stonewall’s counsel to Lee might have been pertaining to invading the North. Would he encourage it or urge another course of action?

    So obviously I don’t know. LOL.

    1. Lots of unanswerable questions for sure, Doug. I explored some of them waaaaaay back in 2011 in a two-part post:

      I do think Lee continues on with the invasion, whether Jackson would have been ready or not, because that’s what he ultimately did, anyway, even though he didn’t have Jackson. Pressure to send troops to Vicksburg forced him to come up with some sort of offensive; otherwise, he’d have lost a portion of his army, reassigned to the west (something Longstreet was even lobbying for).

      1. Interesting. Not trying to get off topic but your reply inspires a couple of other questions Chris. Was Lee thus forced into a position of “use it or lose it” as far his army went at that point in 1863, in that NOT doing something big and bold would see him lose units to the Western theater? And, did Lee think/believe that the fortunes at Vicksburg could not be salvaged by reinforcements from his army, that such a move would be wasteful?

  4. Agree that Lee would likely have pursued his offensive anyway. What might not have happened was the three-corps reorganization. If Lee thought such a trusted exec officer would return eventually, he might instead have appointed an interim commander (Hill?) for 2 Corps, or even had those div commanders report to him directly, as he did with the cav corps for a while after the loss of Stuart—also irreplaceable.

  5. Stonewall would have tagged along with AP Hill, and been snippered by John Burns, leading to Burns’ hanging by Jubal Early in a special cross corps guest appearance, and the Burning of Gettysburg in spite of impassioned pleas by Jennie Wade and Millie Pierce.? Yeah, that’s what woulda happened!

  6. Very interesting data. Of course, in the case of Sickles, some might say the result was addition by subtraction.

  7. Chris: Nice job of finding a topic that hasn’t been discussed much. All of the “Stonewall at Cemetery Hill” speculation (which IMHO has more holes than a golf course) ignores whether Jackson would have recovered from the amputation in time to be there and the long-term effects. It isn’t easy to come up with interesting questions about the ACW that haven’t been flogged to death by 2023 but you managed.

  8. Lee would have went north regardless. It was for two reasons. One was to take the pressure off Richmond and the valley for political reasons as well as giving the farms time to harvest their crops to help feed Lee’s army.
    Two was the abundance of food supplies that Lee needed to feed his army In Pennsylvania. Lee probably understood better than anyone the lack of resources needed to sustain his army and that the farms in Maryland and Pennsylvania could help him immensely in feeding his troops.
    I believe politically with some erosion of support for Davis in Richmond, Lee was trying to help bolster his friend Davis. Lee was loyal sometimes blindly offering support to those that necessarily didn’t deserve it and in turn would put himself in some untenable situations.
    I maybe way off but I appreciate the fact you made me examine the question and all of your comments are thought provoking.

  9. I’ve always wondered why the question isn’t what if Jackson had lived and then failed miserably afterward? Why not Jackson of the Seven Days not the Valley? Seems he lives on more often as a brilliant martyr than the eccentric and mercurial man he was. Who knows? Why ask? But ain’t it fun!

  10. General Oliver Howard, remember him? He was the target of Stonewall’s “brilliant” flank attack against the 11th Corps that was “hanging in the air” at Chancellorsville. Evidently the so-called destruction of the 11th Corp commander is another myth. Howard sees a lot more action and is credited with the death of Confederate Lt General Leonidas Polk on June 14, 1864 during the Atlanta campaign. Sherman ordered the Union 4th Corps commander, Major General Oliver Howard, to fire artillery that killed Polk. Howard also rode with Sherman during the March to the Sea. He appears again in the Grand Review of the Armies, which was a military procession and celebration in the national capital city of Washington, D.C., on May 23–24, 1865, following the Union victory in the American Civil War (1861–1865).

    1. Destruction of the 11th Corps–eventually–is not a myth, but Howard does deserve a better reputation. He did well under Sherman. He was often put in no-win situations, as at Chanc’ville and Gettysburg, and much later in having to herd Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe brusquely into a reservation and having to fight when (according to Joseph) he wouldn’t have needed to. But, as usual, he followed orders. He also worked hard to help the Freedmen after the war. His real calling may have been as an educator. He is one of only two Civil War generals, so far as I can tell, who headed two universities: West Point and then Howard U., which he founded. The other of the two was Robert E. Lee: West Point and Washington College, which he didn’t found but more or less rescued after the War.

      1. The 11th held up Jackson long enough to save some of their own and cause Jackson to be on the field after dark. Their thwarting Jackson caused him to do a night recon that led to his hubris driven fratricide. Of the 11,000 men of the 11th there were 217 killed, 1,218 wounded, and 972 captured or missing. That is 22% casualty, the exact same percentage for which the Army of Northern Virginia suffered in the same battle. It is silly to continue lionizing Jackson and selling Howard short. I am pouring over the collateral casualty list of Jackson’s night ride. Jackson, and his staff, were the big losers that night, not Howard or the 11th. I am also taking a very close look at collateral damage caused by Jackson. Fratricide results in unacceptable losses and increases the risk of mission failure; it almost always affects the unit’s ability to survive and function. Just what does it do to the troops when there has been a death by fratricide. The 18th North Carolina went into a tailspin after Chancellorsville.

      2. All good points, Chris. As you note, Jackson’s wounding was more his own fault than the XI corps’. The XI survived Chancellorsville. Its demise really came after Gettysburg, where it (and I Corps) lost several thousand prisoners. Grant eventually consolidated it with other units.
        Again, it doesn’t seem Howard himself was much to blame, and he was right about the need to hold Cem. Hill as a fall-back position. And Grant found use for him in the West.

  11. My thought is that nothing would be different, even if Jackson was not wounded. He ended up putting his Corps in a dangerous position. Chancellorsville, my take,, before the Battle, Richmond had a very large Union army 50 miles away. After the Battle, Richmond had a very large Union army 50 miles away, Before the Battle of Chancellorsville, Washington city had a medium sized Confederate army 50 miles away. After the Battle of Chancellorsville Washington city has a substantially reduced Confederate army without 22% of its officer ranks and is also without Corps commander Jackson still just 50 miles away. How would any of this been different if Jackson was not wounded? Would Jackson still think thay night recons were a good idea? Would they still think that dividing their army was valid?

  12. Thanks for this post, Chris. Interesting and thought-provoking! In trying to answer a trivia question–which of Lee’s Corps commanders was never seriously wounded?–I came across the fact that R. H. (Dick) Anderson was wounded (elbow) during service in Florida in Oct. 1861, seriously enough to be out till Feb. 1862. The only one I could find who wasn’t seriously wounded was Jubal Early. Not sure what that shows.

    1. Hello Dan, thank you for your comment. I have a sneaking suspicion that Robert E. Lee was able to avoid risk by never being in harm’s way. You never saw Lee taking the risks that Jackson did. Take a close look at the Order of Battle for Chancellorsville. The lion’s share of the casualties are those of the Jackson’s second corps. Lee knew that he would be relatively safe in the rear guard and was quick to agree to Jackson’s flank march. I haven’t looked at the other battles but I think you will find that Lee was never in harm’s way.

      1. That may have been true of Lee at Ch’ville, but not always. In fact, Lee sometimes seemed to have led a charmed life. Look up Lee’s risky behavior at the famous “Lee to the Rear” moments:
        (1) at the Widow Tapp Farm on the 2nd day at Wilderness, where the Texas Brigade’s men had to force him back from leading the counterattack, and
        (2) at the Bloody Angle on May 12 ‘64 at Spotsylvania, where the same thing occurred. In fact, one report from there reports Lee’s horse rearing just at the moment a solid shot went by right under him—which would probably have killed the horse and taken off Lee’s lower leg. You are right that Lee never did anything as foolish as Jackson’s no-man’s-land adventure in the twilight. But in extremis, he would take risks to motivate his men.

    2. May 2, 1863 SUNRISE 5:17 a.m./ SUNSET 7:03 p.m. the Buschbeck Line held Jackson for more than hour. This is why Jackson was fighting in the dark. As Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps battered the XI Corps backwards, pockets of resistance formed to contest the onslaught. One of the stoutest lines—eventually known as the Buschbeck Line for the Federal commander, Col. Adolphus Buschbeck, who rallied a defense with what Howard called “praiseworthy firmness”—formed across the Dowdall’s Tavern property. “Buschbeck’s brigade . . . did wonders here, and held the whole impetuous onset of the enemy in check for an hour or more,” Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker later recounted.

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