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‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s Death Made Headlines in Wheeling

May 31, 2013

Editor's Note: This article is part of an occasional series on the Civil War sesquicentennial provided by members of the Wheeling Civil War 150 Committee.

In the month of May 1863, Wheeling newspapers were full of the shocking news of the death of Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Eight days after being shot accidentally by his own men, Jackson died of pneumonia weakened by the shock of having his left arm amputated. Born in Clarksburg, the general earned his nickname "Stonewall" at the First Battle of Manassas, where other generals exclaimed that Jackson and his men stood like a stone wall in the face of Union forces. Others say he obtained the nickname because his men fought from behind a stone wall and won the day.

Jackson attended West Point with George McClellan and others, then fought in the Mexican War and lost his hearing standing too near artillery. Returning from that war, he and his wife purchased a house in Lexington, home of Virginia Military Institute. This house later served as the county hospital. It is said that as a professor at VMI, Jackson memorized his lectures and if interrupted by a question, would have to start from the beginning of his lesson.

T.M. Harris, a colonel in the 10th Virginia, wrote to The Intelligencer from Webster in Taylor County stating that he had met and interviewed deserters from Jackson's brigade who claimed that "he would be shot by his own men, the first engagement they should get into." These men listed their grievances as being forced into service against their will; that they were treated worse than dogs; that Jackson was "the greatest old tyrant in the world"; that he did not regard the life of a man; that his troops were kept at half rations; that some were shot for desertion and that they were tied up and whipped for being absent without leave.

Robert E. Lee held Jackson in his highest esteem and wrote to him after his injury, "You have lost your left arm and I, my right arm and my heart."

In Wheeling, meanwhile, all talk was of the Jones-Imboden raiders who the citizens feared would attack the city. Confederate cavalry Gen. William "Grumble" Jones and Gen. John D. Imboden had three goals in mind: disrupt the B&O Railroad at Oakland, Md., and Grafton, cut telegraph lines and weaken federal control of the area.

At Fairmont, they threw Gov. Francis Pierpont's library into the street and burned it.

In Morgantown, they captured horses and supplies.

One of the raiders later returned to the town to become postmaster and later president of West Virginia University. At Burning Springs, Jones set fire to barrels of oil, which set the Little Kanawha River afire.

In all, the raid netted 700 prisoners, 1,000 cattle, 1,200 horses, 16 railway bridges burned plus one tunnel, two railway cars and several boats. Thankfully, the raid was short-lived and Wheeling was never in any real danger.

In other news, there was speculation of a war with England over their propensity to build and supply war ships to the Confederacy. "A day of reckoning" was threatened and many felt we had "an account to be settled."

As relief from the trials of war, Wheeling anxiously awaited the Robinson Circus, which featured Arabian horses, ostriches, "the horned horse," "the last of his race" and a splendid performing zebra.

Master James Robinson had "just returned from abroad, the Prince Equestrian in the world" who was described as "the naked horse champion - in all his wonderful achievements." It was not stated whether it was Master James or the horse who was naked. The circus proudly touted a "huge waterproof firmament," 170 men and horses, and "two great clowns."

A plague of 17-year locusts infested the city, and citizens were told that locusts "do not eat during migration."

Also in the news were Gov. Pierpont's plans to go to eastern Virginia to set up a capital.

At Parkersburg, Arthur Boreman was elected governor of the new state of West Virginia, while Pierpont continued as governor of the Restored Government of Virginia, living above his office in Alexandria.

Mysteriously, there was no mention in the May newspapers of plans for a day of celebration of our statehood on June 20.

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