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'Stonewall' theory: He could have lived
Residents can enjoy special candlelight tour of Jackson Shrine this week and also learn more about the Confederate general's death.

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Date published: 5/6/2002

Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson may have been at the pinnacle of his military career when he was wounded during the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, but he was at a physical low point that eventually contributed to his death.

That's the theory of National Park Service historian Frank O'Reilly, who said he's been obsessed with the taciturn general's death for 15 years.

O'Reilly is convinced Jackson was suffering from a pre-existing respiratory infection that went untreated prior to the battle. Had it not been for that, Jackson most likely would not have died seven days after being shot three times by friendly fire.

"If Jackson had only been wounded, he most assuredly would have survived," said O'Reilly, who works for Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

This is just one of many stories that park service historians will share with the public Friday during three free candlelight tours marking the 139th anniversary of Jackson's death.

The hourlong tours, which will be held at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine in Caroline County, will explore Jackson's last days, the history of Guinea Station--the railroad stop where Jackson was brought after he was wounded--and the Chandler family plantation, where Jackson was treated and later died.

This elaborate tour is new for park visitors.

"Before, we focused exclusively on the man," said O'Reilly, who will be the evening's host historian. "Now, we're putting him in the context of what was going on around him and the ramifications of what happened, as well."

Those who take part in the tour will surely find O'Reilly's spin on Jackson's death compelling.

After slogging through hundreds of official documents, memoirs and letters, O'Reilly, who is stationed at the shrine, arrived at his conclusion.

The evidence reveals the following: The waning days of April 1863 had been cool and rainy. But by May 1, when the fighting started in Chancellorsville, the skies began to clear. By May 2, the temperature was steadily on the rise.

"The moisture became trapped in the trees, creating a sauna effect," O'Reilly said.

As a result, men began stripping off heavy coats and shirts. There are even eyewitness accounts of soldiers collapsing from heatstroke and having full canteens poured over their heads to revive them.


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