Tags: jackson | civil | war | moon

Civil War Mystery Solved: Moon Spelled Doom for Stonewall Jackson

Image: Civil War Mystery Solved: Moon Spelled Doom for Stonewall Jackson

Friday, 03 May 2013 12:44 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

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A mystery that has perplexed Civil War historians for 150 years — why legendary Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was fatally shot by his own troops — has been solved.

After years of painstaking research, astronomers have determined that light from the Moon on the night of May 2, 1863, when Jackson was fired upon, would have only revealed him as a dark silhouette.

With battle-fatigue at an all-time high, it’s believed his troops mistook him for the enemy during the fierce Battle of Chancellorsville in northeastern Virginia, according a study cited by Space.com.

Astronomer Don Olson of Texas State University and Laurie Jasinski, editor at the Texas State Historical Association, used a detailed program to computer calculate the Moon's position on the night of the shooting.

Then they compared the compass direction of the moon with detailed Civil War battle maps published by Robert Krick.

“It quickly became obvious how Stonewall Jackson would have been seen as a dark silhouette, from the point of view of the 18th North Carolina regiment,’’ Olson told Space.com.

The fatal shooting of Jackson — considered one of the most skilled Confederate military leaders — was a huge blow to the morale of the South.

And some historians believe the North might have been defeated if Jackson had survived, as his death came just two months before the defining Battle of Gettysburg.

Olson, who along with Jasinski reported their findings in the May issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, said, “We are always interested in any historical event that happened at night — very often, the moon plays an important role, as happened here.’’

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