Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
I Rode with Stonewall
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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