Friday, August 20, 2010

"I Rode With Stonewall" A Great Read

Maj. Henry Kyd Douglas,
By Mike Jones
It has probably been over 20-years since I last read Henry Kyd Douglas' classic war memoir, "I Rode With Stonewall." I purchased a vintage early hardback (a 1945 ninth printing) at the SCV Reunion in Anderson, S.C. last month. It had been so long since I read it, it was like reading it for the first time and I had forgotten why it was so good. Douglas was the youngest staff member on the staff of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Douglas is the source of much of what is known about Jackson's wartime activities and many personal anecdotes.

Douglas was born in Shepherdstown, West Virginia (then Virginia) in 1840, graduated from Franklin and Marshal College in 1860 and had just started his practice of the law as an attorney in St. Louis, Mo. when the war started. He returned to Virginia and joined Company B, 2nd Virginia Infantry as a private. The 2nd Virginia became a part of the brigade commanded by the soon be be famous Brig. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. By the time of the First Battle of Manassas, he was an orderly sergeant and took part in the battle as such. He doesn't got into a lot of detail about the battle, frankly admitting he knew only what came into his immediate vision. To the soldier in the ranks, he wrote it seemed they were being moved from place to place in a meaningless way.

"My  part of the line was driven back at first; then we went in again and fought it through, and found, when the smoke cleared and the roar of artillery died away and the rattle of musketry decreased into scattering shots, that we had won the field and were pursuing the enemy. This is not very historical but it's true," he wrote of the battle.

Douglas performed his first great service for history after the battle. In August he was made second lieutenant of his company and had the occasion to meet Jackson for the first time shortly after that. In November, when Jackson was promoted to major general and left the First (Stonewall) Brigade, he gave his first and only speech to his troops. With a remarkable sense of history, Douglas immediately afterwards went to his tent and wrote down Jackson's words as he remembered them. He then had other officers check his recollection for accuracy, and when satisfied, he sent a copy of the speech to Richmond Dispatch, which published it. That speech was used in one of the finest scenes in the movie "Gods and Generals." Actor Stephen Lang performed the role of Jackson giving the speech superbly.

(Gen. T.J. "Stonewall" Jackson)
Douglas soon joined the Jackson's military family as part of his staff and served in the capacity until shortly before the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, when he rejoined his old company as its captain. Following Jackson's death Douglas went on to serve on the staffs of a number of other generals taking part in many of the great battles of the Army of Northern Virginia, was captured and imprisoned at Johnson's Island, wounded six times, and near the end of the war promoted to colonel and commanded the Light Brigade in the Appomattox campaign. His troops fired the last shots and were the last to surrender their arms at Appomattox.

After he returned home to Shepherdstown, he was harassed by unionists and arrested and imprisoned for wearing his Confederate uniform for a photograph requested by a lady. Douglas then got snared in the investigation of the Lincoln assassination. A deserter from both Union and Confederate armies falsely testified that members of the Stonewall Brigade had something to do with the assassination. Douglas was arrested and had to testify but was easily cleared of complicity. He did get to see the conspirators on trial and had strong opinions of the unjust conviction and execution of Mrs. Mary Surratt.

Douglas returned to civilian life and built and successful law practice in Hagerstown, Maryland. He was devoted to Confederate veterans affairs and worked for memorializing Stonewall Jackson. He died in 1903. His excellent memoir, based on his wartime diary and letters, didn't get published until 1940. "I Rode With Stonewall" is one of the real classics of War for Southern Independence history. I highly recommend it.

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