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


“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 storng 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.”

“Six Days in September”: Author Alexander Rossino Adds His Voice

I interviewed Ted Savas, publisher of Alexander Rossino’s fiction work Six Days in September. At that time Alex Rossino graciously offered the opportunity for an interview. Time is a slippery fish, and sometimes it gets away from me, but finally, I am able to introduce ECW readers to Alexander B. Rossino, award-winning WWII historian and the author of Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity.

MG: Before we get to Six Days in September, tell us something about yourself, please.

ABR: Sure. I’m a bit of an odd bird in the Civil War field. I hold a doctorate in modern European history from Syracuse University and worked in the research institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC for about 9 years. In 2003 I published a monograph study titled Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity (University Press of Kansas) that took a detailed look at ideologically motivated violence during the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939. It won a Choice Book Award for that year, but despite my success in the field, I walked away from it. Not wanting to teach leaves precious few options for historians so I wandered in the wilderness for a while, so to speak. I still wanted to write and publish, though, and given that my interest in the American Civil War dates back to childhood, it made sense to explore the possibilities. The ball really got rolling when I began visiting Western Maryland regularly in 2009. The landscape fired my imagination about Civil War history in general and the 1862 Maryland Campaign in particular. It made sense after a while to turn my keyboard in that direction.

MG: What was the inspiration for writing Six Days in September as a work of fiction rather than non-fiction?

ABR: Several factors took me in the direction of historical fiction.

First, I wanted to challenge myself. I’d already published a well-received academic history and several scholarly articles, so non-fiction history was familiar territory. Writing historical fiction, by contrast, wasn’t familiar in the least. Making the transition from historical writing to historical fiction was definitely daunting. Not only is the use of a different voice required—typically a first-person perspective versus the third person—there is also the question of dialogue. For those of us trained as historians, the thought of creating dialogue can be nauseating. Initially, there is the psychological/training barrier to overcome and I struggled mightily with that. It’s the little voice in your head saying, ‘who are you to put words into the mouth of Robert E. Lee?’ as you type. Then there is the task of writing in a way that captures the reader’s attention and holds it. The personalities need to come alive to the point that even after a reader puts down the book he/she will ruminate on what Lee, or Longstreet, or Jackson said. If you can accomplish that then you’ve won the biggest battle (other than finding a publisher)! I took accomplishing that as a personal challenge and wanted to see if I could master the process.

My second reason for writing a novel rather than a non-fiction history had to do with wanting to draw public attention to the Maryland Campaign. Lee’s 1862 campaign often gets overlooked because of the 1863 invasion of Pennsylvania. The three-day fight at Gettysburg in July 1863 was indeed important, but I’m in agreement with a lot of Civil War scholars who believe the war’s real turning point occurred at Antietam on September 17, 1862. Lee’s reverse there ended the possibility of European intervention in the war and it provided Lincoln with political cover to introduce the Emancipation Proclamation. Two-plus years of bloody conflict remained to be fought, but the Confederacy’s best chance to win the war came and went in September 1862. Most general readers don’t know that, so I wanted to raise the Maryland Campaign in the public’s consciousness. I thought doing so might bring more visitors to Sharpsburg and to the Antietam National Battlefield, and I hoped my work would boost the sale of Maryland Campaign and Antietam battle histories. Historical fiction is the gateway drug of interest in Civil War history so I thought I’d try to run with it. Gettysburg saw a huge uptick in visitation after Michael Shaara published The Killer Angels. I hoped I might be able to achieve a similar result for Antietam.

Lastly, I think there are already solid histories out there of the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam. In a crowded field like that one needs to find a new angle. Historical fiction seemed like a wide-open road.

MG: What specific primary sources did you use for Six Days?

ABR: Everything I could get my hands on. I used the Official Records, regimental histories, memoirs, etc. I also did some primary research at the Sharpsburg Historical Society, leveraged photographs and maps and walked the combat sites. Basically, I approached researching the book in the same way I approach researching a non-fiction history. The only differences are in writing up the evidence and in the perspective presented.

MG: How did you use primary source materials to create the relationship between “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee?

Alex Rossino

ABR: This was a tricky task that required looking beyond the primary sources because I didn’t find much out there that described interactions between the two men. I read back into everything available on their interaction from Lee’s assignment as head of the Army of Northern Virginia to the invasion of Maryland and beyond. We need to remember that as of September 1862, Lee and Jackson hadn’t known each another very long. Lee had only been in command of the ANV since the beginning of June that year. Before then he had exchanged some correspondence with Jackson concerning Harper’s Ferry and operations in the lower Shenandoah Valley, but that was about the extent of things. The best I could do was put myself in the shoes of each man when they were conversing – Lee, formal and aloof, in most cases. Jackson, quirky, snappish, and taciturn. If an occasion did exist where there was recorded dialogue between the two men I did my best to weave it into the text. Even then, however, I made slight changes in phrasing because of the questionable nature of memory. As Ted Savas, Managing Director of my publisher Savas Beatie, likes to say from his experience as an attorney, people’s memories can’t be relied upon. Even direct witnesses will come away from events with different opinions on what others said. Add a few days or weeks and those memories become increasingly suspect. As an historian I’ve learned not to take any quote as sacrosanct unless multiple sources record it exactly the same way and that almost never happens.

MG: Most of us–including me–do not know much about Henry Kyd Douglas as a person. How did you use primary sources to create his unique personality?

ABR: Well, the best primary source is Douglas’s own writing. The trick is to read what he wrote for an understanding of the man, not necessarily for a recounting of events. I Rode With Stonewall was written by a man with a clear desire to be remembered. Douglas’s ego is on full display, so I used his own voice in the book flesh out his historical personality. Where direct information about Douglas was lacking I resorted to context. Accounts of what it was like to be a staff officer with Stonewall Jackson can provide an understanding of what Douglas may have experienced. Weaving the together the context with what I took from Douglas’s writing itself resulted in the character you meet in Six Days. I wanted to be as faithful to Douglas, and all the other historical personalities for that matter, as possible.

MG: Why Antietam, of all the available battles other than Gettysburg?

ABR: Because Antietam deserves more attention than it gets and because Gettysburg has been done to death in both fiction and non-fiction. Antietam, and South Mountain, for that matter, were critically important fights with lasting repercussions. I thought the Maryland Campaign deserved its own iconic novel, which I humbly hope I’ve managed to write. Then, too, there’s the fact that I live in the shadow of South Mountain. The Maryland Campaign is all around me. It just made sense to write about what I experience on a daily basis.

MG: Although Six Days is certainly its own book and stands on its own, how much of a factor was Killer Angels as the book developed?

ABR: It lurked in the background, but I wouldn’t say it was a major factor most of the time. The selection of the Sixth Alabama as the one unit I’d follow was a hat-tip to Shaara’s work, for example. The Sixth fought on the extreme left of the Confederate line on South Mountain, just like the Twentieth Maine fought on the extreme left of the Federal line at Gettysburg. Beyond this, the similarities disappear. Whereas The Killer Angels takes some liberties with the facts of what happened, I tried to make Six Days as meticulously accurate as I could. I may have fallen short here and there but the mistakes are honest and can be corrected in future editions. Shaara also blends the Union and Confederate stories together while I chose to write them up separately. I wanted to detail the Confederate experience in isolation from the experience of Union troops because that is how the participants lived things. Writing from one side of the field provides a certain continuity that is lost when a reader jumps back and forth from side to side. I wanted to achieve a fog of war effect and make the reader feel like even though he/she might know the history, he/she wouldn’t necessarily know what was coming next. I wanted the immediacy of the moment to come through so that one could think with Lee as he worked out what was occurring. In this way, one shares in the decision process and comes away with a better understanding of why Lee took the steps he did.

MG:  Now to the really important question! Who plays whom in the movie? And I am glad there is at least one role for a woman . . .

ABR: Yes, the important question! I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said they’d like to see Six Days on film. Of course, I’d like to see it, too. Movies about the Civil War almost always end up disappointing those of us who know a lot about the history. We need a film that focuses on the story without trying to bring in all of the events; a film that captures the desperation of the moment without being maudlin or melodramatic.

Can you imagine Barry Pepper as Gilbert Farney sweating under his coonskin cap during the fight at the Sunken Road? Pepper played Private Daniel Jackson, the sniper, in Saving Private Ryan. I’ve also thought Adrian Brody would make a good Franklin Turner, the captain from Maryland who volunteers to serve on Jackson’s staff. Either Zac Efron or Jamie Bell would fit the part of Billy Dennis, Gilbert Farney’s best friend in the Sixth Alabama. Bell starred in Turn: Washington’s Spies, which I really enjoyed. We can’t forget about Reverend John Alexander Adams either. Clint Eastwood would be perfect for him at his current age, but it might be too modest a part for an A-lister like him. Bryan Cranston would be a good choice, too.

For the major Confederate characters—Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson—I think the actors need to be entirely new to an American audience. I don’t mean they need to be foreign, just that they need to be new faces. I’ve watched Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen each play Robert E. Lee and throughout their performances, I kept saying to myself, “Hey, its Robert Duvall!” I love the guy’s work, but we need to see Lee on the big screen without the distraction of him being played by a major star, in my opinion. The portrayal needs to be gritty and above all human. Lee showed plenty of emotion on the field, especially at Sharpsburg. That should come through.

As for female leads, you are right, there are a couple of roles, which I’m grateful I was able to write in. There’s a lot of testosterone in Six Days that needed some balance. We’d need to cast a Savilla Miller, the woman I found to be one of the bravest people I came across in my research. She stood under fire on her front porch all day during the fight at Antietam providing water to Confederate troops. Evan Rachel Wood could probably play her well. More important would be casting Reverend Adams’s wife, Mary Anna. Jessica Lange could probably capture the required bitterness and pathos of the character.

MG:  What are you currently working on, and what is next?

ABR: Good question. Back in January, I submitted an article to Civil War Monitor that I’m waiting to hear about. It’s honest to goodness history about George McClellan in Frederick on September 13, 1862. The date is key, of course, because that was the day when McClellan received the misplaced copy of Lee’s Special Orders No. 191. I co-wrote the article with Gene Thorp, who had done an amazing amount of primary research but didn’t have the time to write it up. We compared notes when I was doing research for my next book and found we had a lot of interpretive points in common so we collaborated on it. The gist of our argument is that McClellan moved with alacrity on September 13 after reading Lee’s orders. We believe the whole “McClellan had the slows” argument is incorrect and in need of re-evaluation.

Concerning the next book, I’m about 50% finished writing the Yankee companion volume to Six Days. The book covers exactly the same period of time but examines events from the Union point of view. I’m writing it to square the circle and tell the other side of the story. The Northern perspective is fascinating. Political intrigue in the command staff of the Army of the Potomac has proven challenging to navigate, and McClellan is generally not a sympathetic character. I’m also focusing on a handful of enlisted guys with the Twenty-Third Ohio, especially an Irishman named Thomas James Kelly. He’s the Gilbert Farney of the book. A new perspective I’m adding is that of a regimental commander—Colonel Jacob Higgins of the One Hundred Twenty Fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers. I realized after finishing Six Days that I hadn’t written much to represent the experiences of commanders in the middle ranks. This is something that Shaara covered in The Killer Angels, but it’s new turf for me. Finally, there is also a big role for George Armstrong Custer, who served on McClellan’s staff in Maryland. He plays the aide-de-camp who witnesses events role represented by Franklin Turner in Six Days.

As for women, I’ve been able to fit in a character who nurses Tom Kelly after he ends up wounded at the Battle of South Mountain. She’s a suffragette and so radical in her beliefs (a real Susan B. Anthony type) that she throws Kelly for a loop!

MG: Is there anything I did not ask about that you would like ECW readers to know?

ABR: There is. Folks might want to visit my website every so often. The address is www.alexanderrossino.com. I post tidbits there about the writing process that might answer some questions people have after reading Six Days. For example, I composed an entire introduction for the book which didn’t make it into the published edition so I’ve posted it there.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that although I conceived Six Days as an historical novel, I’ve never thought of it entirely as fiction. Telling the story in the form of a novel required that I create dialogue and a few situations to fill holes, but most of the material is as honest to the history as I could make it. I even used the dialogue to develop my own interpretation of the events. In short, I tried to write a book I thought historians would enjoy and they are a tough crowd. If you can please them you can please anyone. All I hope is that I managed to achieve some success.

*     *    *

I have read Six Days and enjoyed it immensely. I am looking forward to the Yankee version, of course. Movies and good fiction are two excellent hooks to get people interested in history. People love a good story, and those told by the past are among the best. I am sure that Six Days is inspiring imaginations even as I write. Thanks, Alex.

Facebook LIVE for the 155th Anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s Death

shrine-original-photoDon’t forget, we wrap up our 155th anniversary commemoration of the battle of Chancellorsville with the American Battlefield Trust today. Join us throughout the day for a series of Facebook LIVE events as we trace the last days of Stonewall Jackson, from the burial of his arm at Ellwood to his death at Guiney Station. Join ECW, the Trust, the National Park Service, and Friends of Wilderness Battlefield for a full day.

And we have several other surprises to sprinkle throughout the day, too, so you won’t want to miss it. Follow along at the Trust’s Facebook page or on ECW’s Facebook page. Even if you’re not a member of Facebook, you can still watch.

(And, yes, if you haven’t heard the news yet, the Civil War Trust is now the American Battlefield Trust.)

James Keith Boswell Remembered

May 3, 1863. The day had dawned with a promise of battle, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent Jedidiah Hotchkiss with a message to General J.E.B. Stuart. Hotchkiss rode along a familiar route, one he had traversed in the deep darkness of the previous night, bringing news to Lee that General “Stonewall” Jackson had been wounded.[i] As mapmaker and topographical engineer for Jackson, Hotchkiss had played a major role in scouting the routes which had been used the previous day to launch a flank attack against the Union XI Corps which had slowed only with the night’s darkness.

Sunlight at Chancellorsville, near the site where Hotchkiss returned.

Worrisomely absent, James Keith Boswell – Jackson’s Chief of Engineers and Hotchkiss’s military superior and friend – had not emerged from the woods. Realizing that Lee’s orders to Stuart had become obsolete as the fighting unfolded throughout the day and overcome with exhaustion, Hotchkiss halted near the place where Jackson, A.P. Hill, and their staffs had met friendly fire the last evening. He had to find young Boswell. Though the young man sometimes irritated Hotchkiss with incessant mooning over an unsuccessful courtship and worried him with frantic promises to do something extreme in battle to win his lady’s favor, the mapmaker sincerely cared about his comrade. Hotchkiss moved along the turnpike and then he saw James Keith Boswell “some 20 steps in advance, by the roadside…”[ii]

This young man – born November 18, 1838 – had been trained as a civil engineer and, prior to the war, had constructed railroads in Missouri and Alabama. When the war began, he returned to his native state, Virginia, and offered his services in her defense. At first, James Keith Boswell served on General Magruder’s staff, but General Thomas J. Jackson specifically requested his transfer, and Boswell arrived in Winchester, Virginia, during the last week of February 1862.

James Keith Boswell (no known image restrictions)

Described as “an excellent, good-natured, honest Presbyterian” who was “well off, has a sweetheart in Fauquier [county] where the Yankees are, and he talks much about her,”[iii] Boswell became an integral part of Jackson’s staff and part of the younger clique of officers at Second Corps Headquarters. Historian James I. Robertson described Boswell as “one of Jackson’s most reliable staff officers”[iv] and his knowledge, creativity, and steadfastness to duty led to important roles in Jackson’s campaigns.

At the beginning of the 1862 Shenandoah Campaign, Boswell informed Jackson that Winchester was indefensible[v], eventually leading to the military decision to abandon this prominent town in the lower end of the Valley. Later in the campaign, just before the Battle of Port Republic, Jackson ordered Boswell to find a bridge and prepare a direct route to move sick and wounded soldiers to Staunton for proper medical attention. Finding the bridge gone and the river swollen by recent rains, the young engineer improvised and persuaded Captain C.R. Mason and his pioneers to construct two boats which he used to ferry the casualties across the river.[vi] The Seven Days Battles brought numerous challenges for Jackson, the staff, and the soldiers; Boswell lived at the center of the chaos, often sent to try to find roads or ordered to guide Jackson to various points.[vii] Then, during the march to Second Manassas in August 1862, he led the advance units of the Second Corps directly to the battlefield and into position.[viii]

Boswell admired his commander, noting in his journal that General Jackson was “one of the most pleasant men as a commander who could be found in the Confederate army. …Very reserved, not particularly companionable, but always extremely affable and polite.”[ix] Jackson, in return, clearly trusted his Chief Engineer, relying on his judgment frequently during the 1862 campaigns. To his fellow staff officers, Boswell was “genial, energetic, ever-faithful.”[x] However, he had the habit – entertaining or irritating – of taking spare time to make sure his friends knew about his romantic interests in Miss Sophia DeButts Carter and could apparently talk endlessly about her and his wonderings if she really loved him.[xi] Still, Jedidiah Hotchkiss and the others genuinely liked Boswell and cared about him as a comrade.

Jackson wasn’t the only general aware of Boswell’s talents as an engineer, guide, and problem-solver. Early in 1863, General D.H. Hill needed help with fortifications, and Boswell arrived to his aid. The task lasted about a week and tested the staff officer’s patience. Boswell recorded his thoughts privately in his journal: “He [Hill] thinks every point where he visits last the most important to be finished without delay.” Furthermore, Hill “interferes as usual and insists on acting as engineer. I am disgusted and will let him take his own way.”[xii]

Jedidiah Hotchkiss, one of Boswells friends (no known image restrictions)

About that same time, Boswell’s friends managed to get him a furlough to go see Miss Carter, hoping he would settle – once and for all – if she loved him. Unfortunately for all, Miss Carter refused James K. Boswell’s proposal, and he returned to camp, brokenhearted, searching for his rivals, and vowing to do something heroic to make her love him. Hotchkiss worriedly recorded Boswell’s exuded feelings and rants throughout the early spring, saying Boswell “felt very bitter toward Col. Carter [one of his supposed rivals for Miss Carter’s affections] calling him a coward and denouncing him about as vigorously as a good and consistent Christian, that my friend undoubtedly was, could well do. During the night he was constantly grating his teeth and breathing out threatenings as to what he would do. In his saner moods he said he would go into the next battle in such a way as to win promotion and that he would yet prove to this young lady that he was more worthy of her hand than the white livered colonel.”[xiii]

Thus, with a solid military staff officer record, an overwrought romantic nature, and slightly disturbed mind, Captain Boswell had approached the vast tangle known as The Wilderness with his general as Union General Joe Hooker paused the advance and seemed to invite attack. On the evening of May 1, 1863, Boswell and Major Thomas Talcott – one of General Lee’s aides – scouted close to the Union’s center and along the enemy’s left flank. They both concluded no attack could be made there and a frontal assault seemed to invite Confederate disaster.[xiv] Armed with this important knowledge, Lee and Jackson puzzled through the evening, eventually planning a Jacksonian flank attack on the Union right.

General Jackson by John Adams Elder (Image by © The Corcoran Gallery of Art/CORBIS)

May 2, 1863, unfolded as Jackson’s Corps moved through the Wilderness and to the attack position. Boswell moved along the lines “constantly seeking for information, regardless of danger all along the enemy’s front.”[xv] About suppertime, the gray-clad troops burst from the woods, racing toward the Union’s XI Corps lines and rolling them back in a panicked retreat. The Confederates pressed on until nightfall slowed the advance. Desperate to continue the pursuit and seeking a way to cut off some of the Union retreat, Jackson and part of his staff went forward to see what was happening.

Meeting General A.P. Hill and his staff on the Plank Road, Jackson quizzed Hill, anxious to know when he would advance and if he knew the land between Chancellorsville and U.S. Ford. Hill admitted his lack of familiarity and asked for a guide. Turning to Boswell, Jackson ordered him to accompany General Hill, then finished giving advance orders for the attack.[xvi]

As Jackson and his group moved further down the dark road, groping into a sort of no-man’s land between the armies, Boswell rode with A.P. Hill, following Jackson at a little distance. Minutes later, Jackson tried to re-enter Confederate lines. Friendly fire blazed along the battle line, hitting Jackson’s group and bringing Hill’s staff under fire. Jackson – the “famous” casualty of the night – was not the only one from Second Corps Headquarters to fall that evening. In the same volleys that felled Stonewall, James Keith Boswell – Chief of Engineers – took three bullets. One wounded his leg. The other two struck him full in the chest, tearing through his engineering sketchbook in his breast pocket, penetrating his flesh – killing him instantly.[xvii]

On the morning of May 3, 1863, Jedidiah Hotchkiss found Boswell “along the roadside.” Dead. There would be no happy ending. There would be no more scouting adventures or evening gatherings with his friends. There would be no reversal of Miss Carter’s feelings by Boswell’s courage in battle.  But perhaps Boswell had found satisfaction in the final instant, believing she might really care for him at last. Hotchkiss noted, “I found him looking perfectly natural, a smile on his face.”[xviii]

James Keith Boswell was later reburied in a marked grave in Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery

Finding an ambulance, Hotchkiss removed Boswell’s body from the battlefield and, with  Reverend Dr. Lacy, laid the staff officer to rest near Ellwood Manor, in the family graveyard. “I…wrapped his overcoat closely around him putting the cape over his head, and buried him thus, in his marital dress, lowing him to his resting place in a shelter tent I picked up on the field of battle, and then spreading it over him. Mr. Lacy made a noble prayer and we finished our sad duty just as the moon rose over the distant hills of his own loved native country. …We wept freely as we left his manly form to await the last trump. He was a Christian and has gained by the exchange of worlds.”[xix]

James Keith Boswell – the irrepressible romantic, the innovative problem solver, a trusted officer, and sincere friend – died on Chancellorsville battlefield in the same volleys that wounded his commander. Yet, most history books mention him only in passing or not at all. The Second Corps headquarters lost leaders and promising men at Chancellorsville; most notably, of course, Jackson who overshadows his young officers Crutchfield, Boswell, and many others.

Reading about Boswell’s brief life, love affair, and military actions, the tragedy of war is fully realized. This twenty-three year old officer should’ve had his whole life ahead of him. Instead, Boswell’s life ended short on a dark battle night along a lonely turnpike and even his memory would eventually be overshadowed by the other casualties.


[i] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 115.

[ii] Ibid, page 115.

[iii] Robertson, James I. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. Macmillan Pub. 1997. Page 328.

[iv] Ibid, Page 328.

[v] Ibid, Page 328.

[vi] Ibid, Page 427.

[vii] Ibid, Pages 487, 491, 547.

[viii] Ibid, Pages 547-549.

[ix] Ibid, Page 681

[x] Douglas, Henry K. I Rode With Stonewall. University of North Carolina Press. 1968. Page 211.

[xi] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 102-104.

[xii] Robertson, James I. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. Macmillan Pub. 1997. Page 678.

[xiii] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 105.

[xiv] Lively, Matthew W. Calamity at Chancellorsville. Savas Beatie, 2013. Page 26.

[xv] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 115.

[xvi] Lively, Matthew W. Calamity at Chancellorsville. Savas Beatie, 2013. Pages 48-49.

[xvii] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 115.

[xviii] Ibid, Page 115.

[xix] Ibid, Pages 117-118.

When Stonewall Said “No”

James Keith Boswell (no known image restrictions)

At the beginning of 1863, James Keith Boswell – Chief of Engineers for the Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia – had a dilemma. He was desperately in love, but didn’t know if his sweetheart really loved him. He absolutely had to go see her!

The problems began there. Boswell’s commander – General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson – notoriously refused to grant furloughs for trifling reasons. The general didn’t seem to have much sympathy for Boswell’s love affair, even though he must have heard about it. Boswell wore his feelings for Miss Carter proverbially on his sleeve and told anyone who would listen (or couldn’t get away) about his lovelorn heart.

Jedidiah Hotchkiss – Jackson’s mapmaker and topographical engineer – also had a dilemma. He worked closely with Boswell and shared a tent with the younger man. Hotchkiss was getting tired of hearing Boswell’s romanticism, wonderings, and wished-for love story details. If only Boswell could just go see his girl and settle once and for all if she really love him, if she would wait for him, and if she would actually marry him.[i]

Jedidiah Hotchkiss (no known image restrictions)

Hotchkiss realized there were multiple challenges to getting an answer, a conclusion, and some sort of ending to the romantic’s lamenting. First, Jackson didn’t hand out furloughs just to ease someone’s mind about familial or friendly matters. Second, Jackson didn’t seem to have much knowledge or patience for Boswell’s languishing love affair (or Hotchkiss’s listening ear). Third, Miss Carter lived in Fauquier County, Virginia, which was occupied by Union soldiers, and it wasn’t likely Jackson would let Boswell traipse into enemy territory to settle a relationship.

They tried, though. But Stonewall refused to let Boswell go.

General J.E.B. Stuart called occasionally at Jackson’s headquarters at Moss Neck Plantation, arriving with jokes and good humor. Aware of his joyous attitude and romantic idealism, Hotchkiss quietly talked to Stuart when Jackson wasn’t around. Could Stuart ask Jackson to “lend” Boswell to the cavalry for a few weeks to do some scouting and surveying? Apprised of the whole situation, Stuart entered into Hotchkiss’s scheme and with an innocent appearance got Jackson to send Boswell to Stuart’s staff and headquarters – temporarily.[ii]

Once Boswell was out of Jackson’s sight and under Stuart’s command, Stuart sent him packing with full permission to head north (doing a little scouting along the way) and spend a nice long visit at the Carter home, do a little courting, and hopefully return a happier man. Boswell headed north while the two schemers – Stuart and Hotchkiss – hoped for his success and perhaps shared a chuckle at Stonewall’s expense.

North in Fauqueir County, Boswell hung around Miss Sophia DeButts Carter’s family home – Glen Welby – for days, mooning over Miss Carter and yet too worried to ask her to marry him. What if she refused? Could he live without her? An extreme romantic, Boswell supposed the worst and seemed unwilling to endure the possibility that his true love, happy illusion, extreme crush, extensive obsession, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it affair might end without happily-ever-after. He noticed with increasing worry that Miss Sophia Carter had other suitors calling regularly at her home and knew he had to have an answer – one way or another – before his sneaky furlough ended.

Glen Welby, historic image (no known restrictions)

Finally, January 21, 1863. To Boswell, it seemed the perfect day and opportunity for a proposal. Miss Carter had purposely sung his favorite, requested song and Boswell, hovering around the piano, felt “happy…I was intensely happy.”[iii] Clearly, Boswell’s rival at Glen Welby wasn’t pleased that evening, and the situation took a frightful turn when, after evening prayers, Boswell and Miss Carter sat close together. The other suitor stalked out of the room, leaving Boswell to chat with his lady and perhaps finally ask her the all-important question. Suddenly, a loud noise startled the family and guests. The young men rushed upstairs, only to find that the disappointed suitor – Boswell’s rival – had shot himself and lay dead on the floor.

Boswell later wrote that he simply wanted to leave. “Oh, at that moment I would have given worlds to have been anywhere rather than at this house.”[iv] Still, he stayed, reluctantly, and convinced now was definitely not the right time to ask Miss Sophia Carter to marry him. Then, welcome news arrived: Jackson needed Boswell to come “home” to military headquarters. Miss Carter heard the news and carefully avoided any private meeting with Boswell, making him more nervous that she would not accept his offer.

On his final morning at Glen Welby, Boswell insisted by a polite note that Miss Carter should meet him in the house’s dining room. He later wrote, “She came down looking so beautiful, yet so sad.”[v] Patiently, Boswell talked about other subjects for a while, then determined to hear his happy future or doom. He asked, “Can you ever learn to love me?” Miss Carter seemed very uncomfortable, he noted, as she replied, “It can never be.”[vi]

Boswell headed south with crushed hopes and a broken heart. He wrote all his woes in his journal. And at the end of the journey back to camp, Jed Hotchkiss would be waiting to hear all about the situation, and poor Hotchkiss would seriously fear for young Boswell’s sanity after Miss Carter’s rejection.

While Boswell was away from Second Corps Headquarters, Jackson – presumably oblivious to the trick Stuart and Hotchkiss had played on him – needed some engineering reports. Since borrowing engineers seemed to the now-fashionable thing to do, Stonewall sent a request for Stuart to lend his staff engineer to accomplish the task. Stuart – a little irritated, but not willing to let Jackson know why Boswell had been borrowed – grumbled to Hotchkiss and vowed not to meddle with Jackson’s officers again.

The moral of the story? I leave it for you to decide if this is merely true historic entertainment or an example of some great principle of leadership, life, or love.


[i] Miller, William J. Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss. Elliott & Clark Publishers. 1993. Page 102.

[ii] Ibid, 102.

[iii] Ibid, 103.

[iv] Ibid, 104.

[v] Ibid, 104.

[vi] Ibid, 104.

Steve Bartman and the Battle of Chancellorsville

In the past few weeks ESPN has been re-running the Alex Gibney film Catching Hell. The film focuses on Chicago and it’s reaction to Steve Bartman in 2003 after the Cubs lost that year’s National League Championship Series (NLCS). There is also a discussion of Boston and Bill Buckner after his error in the 1986 World Series.

Watching the film, I was struck by the group reaction to the Bartman play among the Cub fans and certain players, which led directly to the team’s collapse in Game 6. As I thought about it, I realized the Bartman story can help people understand the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville in 1863. 

For those who may not be familiar with the story: In 2003 the Cubs had enjoyed a magical regular season that raised hopes in Chicago. They entered the playoffs looking for the first World Series appearance since 1945 and their first title since 1908 (95 years at the time), and led the NLCS 3 games to 2 over the Florida Marlins (now Miami Marlins), having lost Game 5 in Miami. Game 6 occurred in Chicago on October 14, and the Cubs led 3-0 going into the top of the 8th inning. A foul ball along the third base line was deflected by a fan (later identified as Steve Bartman), and the Cub outfielder, Moises Alou, reacted in frustration. The Marlins started a flurry of hits, helped by a flubbed shortstop play by Alex Gonzalez that would have ended the inning with the Cubs up 3-1 or 3-2; instead, Florida buried the Cubs with 8 runs in the 8th, and the Cubs could score no more. Game 7 the next night went back and forth, but the Marlins again (for the third straight game) beat the Cubs and went on to their second World Series in franchise history, eventually defeating the New York Yankees. Steve Bartman, meanwhile, became the scapegoat in Chicago, blamed for the defeat.

In the film, Cub fans going to Game 6 are seen admitting their nervousness, and one stated “I’ve never been so nervous before a game.” Steve Lyons, who called the game for Fox Sports, said the whole stadium was “waiting for something crazy to happen.” Some people felt it in the 7th Inning Stretch, when Bernie Mac sang “champs” in Take Me Out to the Ballgame. But the Bartman play in the 8th (in the words of Cubs 1st Baseman Eric Karros) “took the air out of the stadium.” The team seemed to tense up, and that explains both Gonzalez’ error and the meltdown of Chicago pitching. After Game 6 many in Chicago felt it was already over; some Cubs players even booked flights home after Game 7, expecting not to go to the World Series.

This, in broad parallel, is the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville. After an energetic winter and spring during which Major General Joseph Hooker reformed, rebuilt, and re-energized the army, in late April 1863 it set off for its next contest against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The last clear-cut offensive victory the Army of the Potomac had won over the Confederates was at Williamsburg, almost exactly a year earlier. A year is a long time to an army in combat, and that record weighed on the Federals as much as the 95-year drought weighed on the Cubs in 2003. Indeed, a sense of nervous energy emanates from some of Hooker’s statements before the battle and the way some of his commanders strained to get into the fight.

Lee’s unexpected strong reaction on May 1 caused Hooker to pull back, and a strange lethargy set in among the Federals. Seizing the opening created by this passivity, Lee flanked the Army of the Potomac, launching Stonewall Jackson’s famed flank attack on the evening of May 2. Jackson’s corps routed the Union XI Corps on the army’s western flank, driving it back over 2 miles before darkness ended the fighting. The attack did not win the battle, but left the Confederates threatening to win. A strong Federal defense, and/or a resolute counterattack, would recover the Army of the Potomac’s fortunes.

Yet the Army of the Potomac was like the Cubs after Bartman – the air had gone out of them. The troops themselves fought well on May 3, but the leadership was defeated and steadily pulled back. Hooker also ordered the 20% of his army at Fredericksburg to save the other 80% at Chancellorsville – a panicked order which shows how far he had melted down mentally.

Even thought the fighting on May 3 ended with the Federals in a strong position south of U.S. Ford, the battle was all but over in the mind of Hooker and many of his commanders. After some skirmishing on May 4 and 5, the Army of the Potomac quit the field. After the battle the XI Corps became the scapegoat for the army because of its failure to hold Jackson – much like Steve Bartman became the scapegoat for the foul ball play in 2003.  In both cases, the overall group saw these events as the turning points where it all went wrong and spiraled into the inevitable defeat.

The next time Catching Hell is on, take the time to watch it, as the group dynamics among the Chicago Cubs fans and players echo those of the Army of the Potomac leadership 140 years before.

Top: Steve Bartman and Moises Alou go for a foul ball in Game 6, with one out in the Top of the 8th. 

Bottom: Jackson’s flank attack on May 2.

Notice the reorientation of the Union line and the isolated position of the XI Corps “behind” the new Union position.