In Spotsylvania County last week a remarkable historic event was reenacted by a small group of reenactors.
On May 2nd 1863, after a brilliantly executed flank attack on the Union Army at Chancellorsville, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederacy’s most popular figure, was mistakenly shot and fatally wounded by his own troops. That evening General Jackson, so anxious to seal his victory at Chancellorsville, leads his staff out into The Wilderness in an effort to reconnoiter the enemy. Hearing the sounds of spades and axes in their front, Jackson halted his party. The Federals were digging-in and the sounds convinced Jackson that his effort to destroy the Union Army that day at Chancellorsville had come up short.
Turning back and approaching his own lines in the dark Jackson and his party are mistaken for Federals and fired on by soldiers of the 18th North Carolina Infantry. Fatally wounded Jackson is carried from the field and taken to nearby Ellwood Manor. At Ellwood Jackson’s left arm is amputated and the general is taken by ambulance to Guinea Station, a small railroad hub 25 miles away in Spotsylvania County. Weak from his wounds Jackson remains at the depot, develops pneumonia, and dies at Guinea Station eight days later.
In May 2013 a small contingent of reenactors played out the drama of Jackson’s wounding in a non-spectator event designed to commemorate this historic and notorious case of mistaken identity. Jake Jennette, organizer and General Lee for the weekend, arranged for a group of reenactors from North Carolina to reenact the wounding of Stonewall Jackson. These North Carolinians were reenacting in the same unit their forefathers fought in at Chancellorsville, but more importantly, the same unit that mistaken shot Jackson on May 2nd. 1863.
The gentlemen taking the impression of Stonewall Jackson that weekend was a Virginian named Greg Randall. Greg takes the impression of Jackson in events all over Virginia throughout the year and is a dead ringer, no pun intended, for the late general. Not knowing how the scenario would unfold and sure that the pinhole camera would not be able to record this fast moving event, I just hung back and planned to watch.
The site for this reenactment had a dirt road, either side overgrown with weeds, that led to a hill and another clearing above. At the top of this hill I could just make out a few figures in Union blue and the muzzles of some cannon placed up there. As the scenario unfolded, the North Carolina reenactors were deployed across the road about a hundred yards from the hill.
As the scenario began, Jackson and his staff rode down the dirt road, and started to make their way up the hill. Just then, BABOOM!, the cannons go off, some of the horses rearing and Jackson and his staff turn about and quickly ride back the way they came. As they approach the North Carolina troops, I hear one of these troopers scream out, “Union cavalry on the road, open fire!” and a rippling volley of musketry rings out. One of Jackson’s staff yells out, “Stop, you are firing into your own men!”, at which point the North Carolinians retort, “it’s a damn Yankee trick, fire!”, another volley rings out, Jackson slumps in the saddle and his aides ride up to keep the general from falling from his horse. Jackson and his staff ride through these North Carolina troops at which point they are informed that they have just shot Stonewall Jackson. The scenario is over.
Watching this from the sidelines was strange and moving. This back and forth dialogue, for instance, between Jackson’s staff and the North Carolinians is familiar to anyone who has studied the history. The wounding and eventual death of Jackson was so devastating to the South that every aspect of this event has been written about extensively, including what was said that night in the wilderness when Jackson was mistakenly shot.
I walk up at this point and can’t help but notice that the North Carolina reenactors are visibly upset. It was their ancestors who had mistakenly shot Jackson and that burden is still clearly apparent amongst these men. Afterward these troopers knelt in prayer. There wasn’t a dry eye among these grizzled impersonators and I noticed a certain feeling in the air, the atmosphere was charged with something, I could feel it.
Watching this event, along with me, was another reenactor/photographer, Carl Staub, who asks Greg, as Stonewall Jackson, to get down from his horse and lay on the ground and have his staff gather around to reenact the moment of the actual wounding. I generally document these events without imputing myself into the scenes and, aside from portraits, do not set up pictures. But “Stonewall” obliges and gets down from his horse and lies on the ground, the staff gathers and I prepared myself to get a picture of this moment. Standing out of the photographers way, I quickly was able to pull off two frames with the pinhole camera and felt that these images were an unexpected gift.
After I got the film developed I immediately noticed both negatives had a very strange, drastic, light streak across the images. Home-made pinhole cameras can occasionally have light leaks and such but in all the years I’ve worked with pinhole cameras I have never seen anything quite like this. The rainbow-colored light streak obscures most of the subjects in the scene but you can just make out Stonewall’s face below the light streak to the left of the sword hilt. I do not believe in ghosts……..but I am wondering if the ghost of Stonewall Jackson made an appearance for this photo?
Back to: Chancellorsville
Link to: Slide Slow