"I Rode With Stonewall" by Henry Kyd Douglas

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James N.

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I listed this title in my thread A Stonewall Jackson Bookshelf based on my reading of it many years ago and a few times since, but I hadn't read it since joining the forums or my recent visits back to the scenes of the activities discussed herein, so I decided it was time to revisit this as well. Henry Kyd Douglas is best known, as the blurb on my 1965 edition pictured above states, as The Youngest Member of Jackson's Staff. As such, his memoir is a treasure trove of information about Stonewall and the workings of his various commands, and it is for this reason it is best remembered and recommended. However, it has also been I think unfairly criticized by wags who've said things like the title should've been Stonewall Rode With Me. In fairness to the author, the book wasn't published until 1940 - thirty-seven years after Douglas' death from the effects of tuberculosis in 1903.

Like any memoir, this is the story of the author and not Jackson or any of the other commanders he happened to serve during the war, including Elisha V. Paxton, Jubal Early, John B. Gordon, John Pegram, Stephen Ramseur, or Edward Johnson, although perhaps naturally his time spent with Stonewall receives the lion's share of attention. Douglas enlisted in Spring of 1861 in the 2d Virginia Regiment of what became the Stonewall Brigade, serving in that unit for a year before being selected by Jackson for his staff. The twenty-one-year-old was the son of a minister - always a plus with Stonewall - a college graduate, and a newly-practicing lawyer with a preference for classical literature; he served in various assistant adjutant and inspector positions, rising from private to captain before the untimely death of his chief at Chancellorsville.

I remembered Douglas' service on Jackson's staff, both from previous readings and the fact that he is so often quoted or referenced in any biographies of the general, so it was largely his later career that interested me. Perhaps unfortunately from that perspective, nearly two thirds of the 300+ pages deal with events prior to Jackson's death. After that event, Douglas went to serve on the staff of Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson until he was wounded at Gettysburg on Culp's Hill. He was left in a field hospital and captured there before being transferred to the large hospital in the Lutheran Seminary. Taken to Johnson's Island Prison he remained a prisoner-of-war until being exchanged in Spring of 1864, then returning to duty with Johnson's Division of the Second Corps of Lee's Army. He barely missed being captured again along with Johnson and most of the headquarters at Spotsylvania, serving for a time Maj. Gen.'s John Gordon and Jubal Early.

Douglas returned along with the Second Corps to the Shenandoah Valley, serving throughout Early's campaigns into Maryland all the way to Washington, D. C., and against Phil Sheridan that fall until final defeat there at Cedar Creek. He returned to Lee's army with Gordon and the remnants of Early's force and eventually commanded what was left of A. P. Hill's famous Light Brigade at Appomattox. According to Douglas, his brigade was by agreement with Gordon the last in line to march in and stack its arms there and was cheered by the watching Federals! Even then, his adventures weren't yet over, for upon returning to his home at Shepherdstown, by then West Virginia, he was arrested and forwarded to give evidence at the trial of the Lincoln Conspirators. On striking feature of Douglas' narrative is the remarkable way he seemed to make friends wherever he went, even among his captors like Gen. John Hartranft and former foes like Maj. Gen's George McClellan and Ben Butler!

Douglas' memoir was crafted from diaries, journals, letters, and other documents, both published and private, largely by himself soon after the war with revisions around the turn of the century; it remained unfinished at the time of his death. Although he had intended to publish a book of reminiscences and anecdotes about Jackson under a working title Stonewall Papers, I suspect it was his 1940's editor Fletcher M. Green who coined the eventual title. Green also produced a set of footnotes which explain the things he saw fit to leave unchanged, making one wonder exactly what it was he did change. Regardless, this remains one of the best sources for information about Jackson and the service of a dedicated member of his staff and a fascinating look at his view of the Confederacy.
 
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TerryB

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It's an excellent read and by far one of my favorites. I found my copy (cover shown in your post) at a book fair many years ago. He really had a very good writing style...or was that his editor? BTW, it's this book that is responsible for the tale (which I believe) that Jackson once used a lemon like a baton while giving orders during a battle.
 

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This book is a pretty good story and easy to read and entertaining, but I am convinced that some of Jeff Shaara's stuff is more historically accurate. And calling it right on the cover "a contemporary account" while written mostly in the 20th century and not published before WWII is a bit of a stretch :wink:

Not a bad book by any means and it has a lot of anecdotes, but lots of them are fictional... Definitely not a good book to use as a source while researching something.
 
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Drew

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This is one of my favorites, also. It's a wonderful read and I wouldn't discount it for research purposes - trust, by verify.

A couple of points have stuck with me. Jackson had a penchant and I've seen it elsewhere, for identifying young officers with local knowledge and keeping those officers close, young men who'd fished every creek and hunted every hill in an area under scrutiny.

Having grown up in Shepardstown, a couple of miles from Antietam Creek, Douglas was that officer leading to and during the eponymous battle. It was Douglas who pointed out the debacle at "Burnside Bridge" could have been avoided, had the Federals known the creek was barely waist deep - they could have forded easily and not concentrated their force across the bridge under withering Confederate fire.

This is a great book, all around.
 
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E_just_E

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This is one of my favorites, also. It's a wonderful read and I wouldn't discount it for research purposes - trust, by verify..
Absolutely true. But lots of researchers/historians are taking it for gospel. I will give you an example: After Jackson's death, there is a fictional dialog between Kyd Douglas, Sandie Pendleton, and Dick Garnett, that was assumed to mean that Garnett said that he forgave Jackson for what he did to him, and he would love to be his pallbearer, for Jackson's Richmond funeral. That's what it was written (and propagated ad nausem) .

Matter of fact was that 2 of Pickett's brigades (Garnett's and Kemper's) were at Richmond at the time. So their men were the honor guard. All CSA Generals in Richmond were pallbearers. Including Kemper. Garnett could not get away from doing it.
 
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It's an excellent read and by far one of my favorites. I found my copy (cover shown in your post) at a book fair many years ago. He really had a very good writing style...or was that his editor? BTW, it's this book that is responsible for the tale (which I believe) that Jackson once used a lemon like a baton while giving orders during a battle.
I think most of it is pure Douglas - he was classically-oriented and well-educated and one of his staff duties included writing orders, reports, and other papers. He agreed to keep the eventual three-volume "diary" at the request of his then-fiance and expanded it greatly at the end of the war. He writes of spending a great deal of his "down time" during winter months doing an incredible amount of reading of all kinds. One comment by the editor I found interesting was that Douglas revised his manuscript around 1900 removing much that was critical of his former foes, some of whom he had castigated severely in his wartime through 1866 writing.
 

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I love it, too. The Belle Boyd story is just wonderful.... and his voice as a writer is clear as a bell.
The Boyd story is one example where Editor Green stepped in to point out the discrepancy between Douglas' version and Belle's own version. I think his is the more likely - as are many of his others - because most of his weren't intended (not at the time at least) for publication; whereas Belle was literally "in the business" of promoting herself for her lecture tours, emphasizing and probably exaggerating her own adventures.

I actually "caught" Green in a small mistake: in another footnote, he questions Douglas' reference to a contemporary militia manual he'd never heard of, but I have! When Jackson was challenged by a sentry from the 2d Virginia at Harpers Ferry in 1861, he called in then-sergeant-of-the-guard Douglas in what may have been their first personal encounter and asked by what authority he'd instructed his guardsmen to issue challenges before tattoo at 9pm. Douglas replied it was in Gillham's. Green had obviously never heard of this popular manual from the Mexican War and suggested something else.
 
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I think most of it is pure Douglas - he was classically-oriented and well-educated and one of his staff duties included writing orders, reports, and other papers. He agreed to keep the eventual three-volume "diary" at the request of his then-fiance and expanded it greatly at the end of the war. He writes of spending a great deal of his "down time" during winter months doing an incredible amount of reading of all kinds. One comment by the editor I found interesting was that Douglas revised his manuscript around 1900 removing much that was critical of his former foes, some of whom he had castigated severely in his wartime through 1866 writing.
I remember well the ed saying that Douglas had revised the most bitter anti-Yankee parts of the diary. I'm glad to think that the ed didn't change the style---it's too good.
 

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The Boyd story is one example where Editor Green stepped in to point out the discrepancy between Douglas' version and Belle's own version. I think his is the more likely - as are many of his others - because most of his weren't intended (not at the time at least) for publication; whereas Belle was literally "in the business" of promoting herself for her lecture tours, emphasizing and probably exaggerating her own adventures.

I actually "caught" Green in a small mistake: in another footnote, he questions Douglas' reference to a contemporary militia manual he'd never heard of, but I have! When Jackson was challenged by a sentry from the 2d Virginia at Harpers Ferry in 1861, he called in then-sergeant-of-the-guard Douglas in what may have been their first personal encounter and asked by what authority he'd instructed his guardsmen to issue challenges before tattoo at 9pm. Douglas replied it was in Gillham's. Green had obviously never heard of this popular manual from the Mexican War and suggested something else.
Still another very revealing vignette shining light on Jackson's character.
 

mkyzzzrdet

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Absolutely true. But lots of researchers/historians are taking it for gospel. I will give you an example: After Jackson's death, there is a fictional dialog between Kyd Douglas, Sandie Pendleton, and Dick Garnett, that was assumed to mean that Garnett said that he forgave Jackson for what he did to him, and he would love to be his pallbearer, for Jackson's Richmond funeral. That's what it was written (and propagated ad nausem) .

Matter of fact was that 2 of Pickett's brigades (Garnett's and Kemper's) were at Richmond at the time. So their men were the honor guard. All CSA Generals in Richmond were pallbearers. Including Kemper. Garnett could not get away from doing it.

I read the books, but a gazillion years ago. Does it say somewhere that this was a "fictional dialogue"? What evidence do we have that it was, indeed "fictional"?
 
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mkyzzzrdet

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This book is a pretty good story and easy to read and entertaining, but I am convinced that some of Jeff Shaara's stuff is more historically accurate. And calling it right on the cover "a contemporary account" while written mostly in the 20th century and not published before WWII is a bit of a stretch :wink:

Not a bad book by any means and it has a lot of anecdotes, but lots of them are fictional... Definitely not a good book to use as a source while researching something.


I took "contemporary account" to mean that the author lived in the same times he was writing about. For example, if a Vietnam vet wrote a book today about his war adventures, could it not be called a "contemporary account?" Also, I am not sure what difference it makes when it was published. And when you state that it was "written mostly in the 20th century", I might refer you to jamesn's last paragraph in his initial entry above where he begins with "Douglas memoir was crafted from...."
 

mkyzzzrdet

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This book is a pretty good story and easy to read and entertaining, but I am convinced that some of Jeff Shaara's stuff is more historically accurate. And calling it right on the cover "a contemporary account" while written mostly in the 20th century and not published before WWII is a bit of a stretch :wink:

Not a bad book by any means and it has a lot of anecdotes, but lots of them are fictional... Definitely not a good book to use as a source while researching something.


One other question - what evidence do you have that Douglas' anecdotes are fictional? He sometimes made some errors, in names and dates and references, but these were understandable and pointed out by the editor - although jamesn showed how Green himself could slip up. Douglas seemed a man of high integrity and well educated. And he was THERE. Should we not give him the benefit of the doubt unless we have actual evidence that he was lying? Why is it NOT a good book to "use as a source for referencing something?" Of course, I also agree it should not be the ONLY source a person uses - that goes without saying. The book should be used in research, ALONG WITH other sources.
 

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I took "contemporary account" to mean that the author lived in the same times he was writing about. For example, if a Vietnam vet wrote a book today about his war adventures, could it not be called a "contemporary account?" Also, I am not sure what difference it makes when it was published. And when you state that it was "written mostly in the 20th century", I might refer you to jamesn's last paragraph in his initial entry above where he begins with "Douglas memoir was crafted from...."
A contemporary account was published close to the thing it describes. Otherwise it is a reminiscence, memoir, etc. And those are biased by other accounts of the same event as well as by fading memories. Even Douglas himself admitted to have "edited" a lot of the things that were written there to sound better than they were.
 
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One comment by the editor I found interesting was that Douglas revised his manuscript around 1900 removing much that was critical of his former foes, some of whom he had castigated severely in his wartime through 1866 writing.
It's been several years for me since reading the book, but I suspect this may have had something to do with the 'modern politics' of Douglas' day. I remember him being much kinder to McClellan, for example, than one would expect. I was surprised by this and attributed it to Douglas writing as an older man, with issues before him. Just a guess.
 
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A contemporary account was published close to the thing it describes. Otherwise it is a reminiscence, memoir, etc. And those are biased by other accounts of the same event as well as by fading memories. Even Douglas himself admitted to have "edited" a lot of the things that were written there to sound better than they were.
It's been several years for me since reading the book, but I suspect this may have had something to do with the 'modern politics' of Douglas' day. I remember him being much kinder to McClellan, for example, than one would expect. I was surprised by this and attributed it to Douglas writing as an older man, with issues before him. Just a guess.
I agree that one should use caution when reading memoirs such as this, especially when the author was apparently deeply involved in contemporary issues, in this case what has been called the Politics of Reconciliation. He was especially interested and involved in the Maryland National Guard and was supposedly offered a Spanish-American War commission in the manner of Joe Wheeler and Fitz Lee, one he turned down on the grounds of health. He befriended McClellan when the latter was writing his memoirs and accompanied him and William B. Franklin on a tour of Antietam battlefield shortly before McClellan's death. One purpose I had in re-reading Douglas was in fact to see if I could detect any bias or obvious exaggeration and I'm happy to say that nothing leaped from the pages. I've read the criticism about the Garnett story before, but since the other principals were dead I think it sounds plausible enough to at least give Douglas the benefit of the doubt.
 

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Having grown up in Shepardstown, a couple of miles from Antietam Creek, Douglas was that officer leading to and during the eponymous battle. It was Douglas who pointed out the debacle at "Burnside Bridge" could have been avoided, had the Federals known the creek was barely waist deep - they could have forded easily and not concentrated their force across the bridge under withering Confederate fire.
Douglas is absolutely, completely and utterly wrong about this. I volunteer at Burnside Bridge and I have forded the creek just below Burnside Bridge, so I know whereof I speak. There is no way the federals could have forded the creek at the bridge for several important reasons:

1. A squad tried during the first assault on the bridge. They were all shot dead.

2. The sides of the creek bed are too steep near the bridge - you might get yourself in, but getting out is another question.
And you would never get your cannon, etc. in and out there. Cannon would topple directly into the creek bed because of the steep sides and stay there.

3. The bottom is uneven there - some rock, some silt, all slippery. Try getting across without falling. You fall, your powder is wet, you are useless as a soldier, and the Confederates would have killed you anyway.

4. Water slows you down even if it just ankle deep. When men are shooting at you, you can't be slowed down. They can and did kill you.

Sorry, but Douglas is just wrong when it comes to fording that creek under battle conditions. He was thinking with his brain as a seven-year-old playing in the creek, not a soldier trying to ford it with military equipment under battle conditions.
 
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