Virginia military institute
communications & marketing office
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Permit no. 14
Page 20,The Institute Report, June 2013
finally went to bed.
History turned while McGuire slept. In the early morning hours of May 7,
McGuire was awakened and told that Jackson was desperately ill, severely
nauseated and complaining of pain in his sides. McGuire diagnosed an
advanced stage of pneumonia.
At this point, O’Reilly introduced his own theory of Jackson’s death – one
that he’s been sharing with audiences for over a decade.
“History has often portrayed Jackson as a wounded man who got sick
and died,” said O’Reilly. “But the truth is the other way around. Jackson
was a sick man who got wounded, and this led to his demise.”
The historian explained that there is much written evidence suggesting
that the general was ill with a respiratory infection in the days before he
was shot. Civil War historians have made much note of the intense heat
on May 2, 1863, with temperatures soaring into the mid-80s, yet diarists
recorded Jackson wrapped in layers of clothing that day, and staying near
fires in a vain attempt to keep warm.
Jackson’s bullet-scarred raincoat, now on display in the VMI Museum,
is a reminder of just how sick the general was, said O’Reilly. “Keep in
mind that [Jackson’s wounding] was under a full moon and a clear sky,”
O’Reilly noted. “It was not raining.”
Once pneumonia set in, Jackson’s course was set. Pneumonia had a
23 percent mortality rate in the 19th century, higher than that of almost
any other disease, O’Reilly noted. McGuire called in five specialists from
Richmond, yet by the morning of Sunday, May 10, 1863, all agreed that
there was nothing more that could be done.
When told that he was dying, Jackson told his chief of staff, Samuel
“Sammy” Pendleton, “It is the Lord’s day. My wish is fulfilled. I have always
wished to die on Sunday.”
Slipping into delirium, Jackson uttered his last words – “Let us cross
over the river, and rest in the shade of the trees” – and died that afternoon.
O’Reilly described Jackson as “a legend who died in a borrowed bed in a
The grief over Jackson’s death was extreme. In Richmond, where
Jackson’s body was taken to lie in state, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 waited
at the railroad station to see his remains arrive. An even larger crowd,
estimated at 20,000, filed past his casket in the Confederate capitol.
Lexington was suffused with sorrow. “The world might mourn, but
nowhere mourned more than Lexington,” said O’Reilly, who volunteered
at the Stonewall Jackson House while he was a student at W&L. Gen.
Francis Smith, first superintendent of VMI, said that the one-time eccentric
professor “was peculiarly our own.”
Jackson’s reputation was such that even northern newspapers lamented his
loss, O’Reilly noted, and the
Times of London
editorialized, “Stonewall Jackson
will carry with him the regrets of all who admire genius and greatness.”
O’Reilly commented, “The war would go on without him. The world
would go on without him. But the world would carry Stonewall Jackson
in its heart and memory even into today.”
At the conclusion of his remarks, O’Reilly took questions and comments
from his audience. Much of the focus was on Jackson’s legacy as a military
strategist – and one audience member who was on active duty in the U.S.
military during the Persian Gulf War recalled senior officers as saying that
Schwarzkopf had employed Jackson’s “left hook” strategy in Kuwait. During
World War II, O’Reilly commented, Gen. George S. Patton and Gen. Douglas
MacArthur had their junior officers reading Douglas Southall Freeman’s
Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command
“Jackson was relevant, and Jackson is still relevant,” said O’Reilly.
And, as one audience member noted, the Stonewall Brigade, a unit of
the 116th Infantry, is still in existence today.
‘Peculiarly Our Own’
Continued from page 16