The Dying Words of Stonewall Jackson

      "Order A. P. Hill to prepare for battle."
      "Tell Major Hawks to advance the Commissary train."
      "Let us cross the river and rest in the shade."

    THE stars of Night contain the glittering Day
    And rain his glory down with sweeter grace
    Upon the dark World's grand, enchanted face --
    All loth to turn away.

    And so the Day, about to yield his breath,
    Utters the stars unto the listening Night,
    To stand for burning fare-thee-wells of light
    Said on the verge of death.

    O hero-life that lit us like the sun!
    O hero-words that glittered like the stars
    And stood and shone above the gloomy wars
    When the hero-life was done!

    The phantoms of a battle came to dwell
    I' the fitful vision of his dying eyes --
    Yet even in battle-dreams, he sends supplies
    To those he loved so well.

    His army stands in battle-line arrayed:
    His couriers fly: all's done: now God decide!
    -- And not till then saw he the Other Side
    Or would accept the shade.

    Thou Land whose sun is gone, thy stars remain!
    Still shine the words that miniature his deeds.
    O thrice-beloved, where'er thy great heart bleeds,
    Solace hast thou for pain!

    Sidney Lanier (1842-1881)

Most if not all of Sidney Lanier's work reflects his love of music, poetry, nature, and the Old South of his boyhood. Born in Macon, Georgia his education at Oglethorpe College was interrupted when the war between the states broke out. Enlisted in the Second Georgia Battalion of the Macon Volunteers, he saw action during the Seven Days' Battle. Captured for running blockades between Wilmington, North Carolina, and Bermuda, Lanier was freed after a year in a prisoner of war camp both impoverished and in poor health. Contracting tuberculosis during the war he died at the age of 39. He is truly one of the South's forgotten poets.

Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was an exception as far as generals go. Civil War historian Shelby Foote tells this story about Jackson.

    One day, during the Valley Campaign, a courier bearing orders from Jackson didn't get through. When Jackson was informed that the man had been killed in the line of duty, the general hesitated a moment as if at a loss for words. Then a solemn look came over his long, bearded face. “Very commendable,” he said gravely. “Very commendable.”
Born on January 21, 1824, Jackson came to be Robert E. Lee’s most trusted lieutenant and he felt himself obliged to none other than himself and God. Surely he understood the horrific business of war as well as any man of his time and the strengths behind his accomplishments were his sense of duty and deep religious belief. Jackson is also well remembered because he fell before he could fail. In the wake of the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, his own men accidentally fired upon him and his left arm had to be amputated. He died 9 days later; Lee never did get over the shock.
    The death of Stonewall Jackson by a tragic mistake -- a volley from his own men, who thought him too far in advance of their line to be anything but a member of a Union patrol -- was one of the fatalities that decided the war. If Jackson had been present at Gettysburg, I think Lee would have won. Lee himself said to Professor White, years later, "If I had had Stonewall Jackson with me, so far as man can see, I should have won the battle of Gettysburg." Such are the fortunes of war.

Robert E. Lee: The Hero of South and North
E. Merrill Root

The poet begins by introducing the reader to two of Jackson’s men. A.P. Hill refers to General A.P. Hill, a Major General in Confederate service who took command after Jackson was wounded. Oddly enough Robert E. Lee also called for Hill during his own death deliriums. Major W. J. Hawks was chief commissary in charge of the regiment’s supplies. Dr. McGuire who attended Jackson's death from pneumonia as a result of his wounds noted in on Sunday, May 10, 1863, as to how he had lost all hope for Jackson’s recovery. The General was notified of his condition. Even as Jackson grew physically weaker, he remained spiritually strong. "It is the Lord's Day; my wish is fulfilled," said Jackson. "I have always desired to die on Sunday." Jackson realized he was dying and as his mind began to fail and wander Dr. McGuire carefully noted, "He talked as if giving commands on the battlefield--then he was at the mess table talking to his staff--now with his wife and child--now at prayers with his military family."

    "A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, 'Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks' -- then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, 'Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.'"

The South suffered a huge blow and Rebel Jackson's immortal deathbed command has been much remembered. It's plain to see that Jackson was preparing for his death by naming a new command and getting supplies prepared for his men. As for ‘Let us cross the river' —nobody knows whether he meant the Jordan or a river from his beloved boyhood home at Jackson's Mill, West Virginia.

Lanier tries to comfort those mourning through the tragedy of friendly fire that, sadly, occurs in every war. He uses metaphor to get his admiring lament across. He sets the scene with Jackson's final orders to get things organized for his men before he crosses the river for a rest in the shade. The stars are his men, the night, death, and the glittering Day is Jackson himself. A poem that expresses the dedication and influence Stonewall Jackson had while he was alive and then even after his death. Lanier wasn't the only writer to use Jackson's dying words. Ernest Hemingway also drew his title for his 1950 novel about an aging soldier chasing a younger woman in post-war Venice called Across The River and Into the Trees.


Blair, Bob:

Public Domain text taken from the Poet’s Corner:

Stonewall Jackson: biography of a confederate general:

CST Approved.

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