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May 12, 2013

Surgeon: Stonewall’s death likely pneumonia

NORMAN — Historians and doctors have debated for decades what medical complications caused the death of legendary Confederate fighter Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, felled by friendly fire from his troops during the Civil War.

Shot three times while returning from scouting enemy lines in the Virginia wilderness, Jackson was badly wounded in the left arm by one of the large bullets the night of May 2, 1863. Blood gushed from a severed artery. It took at least two hours to get him to a field hospital, and Jackson was dropped twice in a stretcher before his arm was amputated. He died days later at 39.

Scholars have long questioned whether it was an infection or pneumonia that killed Jackson, who gained the nickname “Stonewall” early in the war and went on to be lionized in the South and feared in the North because of his military exploits.

On Friday, the 150th anniversary of Jackson’s death, a trauma surgeon with experience on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan revealed his diagnosis of Jackson’s death after reinvestigating the medical record. After reviewing the 1860s files and subsequent reports, University of Maryland surgeon and professor Joseph DuBose told The Associated Press that Jackson most likely died of pneumonia.

DuBose is confirming the original diagnosis given by Jackson’s personal physician, the famed Confederate doctor Hunter H. McGuire.

“You would be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified than him for the treatment of this injury and taking care of Stonewall Jackson,” DuBose said. “I do defer to him in some regard. I kind of have to. He’s not only the treating physician; he’s also the only source of information.”

McGuire’s original medical notes were lost when he was captured by Union soldiers. He recreated them from memory three years later for the Richmond Medical Journal.

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