HOLMBERG: Full moon gets partial blame for Stonewall Jackson death

Posted at 11:44 PM, May 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-03 07:30:18-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Full moons have been blamed for all kinds of wild, unexpected behavior.

Now a pair of Texas researchers – one of them a noted astronomer – are blaming a full moon for one of the most talked-about friendly fire incidents in this nations history: the accidental shooting of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson just as he and his troops were routing the numerically superior Union forces in Chancellorsville.

“It’s a damn Yankee trick!” Confederate Major John Barry reportedly yelled to his soldiers in 18th North Carolina Infantry. “Fire!”

It was May 2, 150 years ago, a little past 9 p.m.

Earlier in the day, General Jackson, a tactical genius, had gained a distinct advantage and wanted to keep pressing the enemy with a rare nighttime attack. He led a small reconnaissance team into the farm community, aided by a scout that actually lived there.

Shortly before their return, a small Union force had stumbled into the Confederate line just to the South and shots were fired.

Jackson’s returning group was mistaken for more of the enemy, even though there was a full moon that night.

Jackson was hit by three 69 caliber balls fired from his soldiers’ smoothbore muskets – on through his right hand and two into his left shoulder.

The beloved general got banged up more and was dropped during his trip to the field hospital. Right about midnight, 150 years ago, a surgeon sawed  off his arm.

Jackson died eight days later, his wife and daughter by his side.

Historians believe this accidental death changed the course of the war.

How could it have happened?

Noted Texas astronomer and historical sleuth Don Olson and Texas researcher Laurie E. Jasinski have figured to trajectory of the moon that night and the positioning of Jackson’s unit  and the Confederate soldiers who fired upon them.

“When Jackson and his party were . . . heading towards his own  men, that’s at the very time the moon was rising behind him,” Jasinski told CBS-6 during a telephone interview. “The angle it was rising behind him, he and his party would’ve been backlit. In other words, silhouetted.”

“They weren’t recognized,” she added. “You’d just see shadowy figures of horses and men.”

You could see how it could’ve happened this way. And it’s a theory the tactical general would’ve appreciated. After all, before the war, he was a science teacher.