A full moon might be to blame for a famous Civil War general’s death.
Two researchers say that the Confederate troops who mistakenly shot General "Stonewall" Jackson during the battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia on May 2, 1863, were fooled by the light of the moon, CNN reports.
Don Olson and researcher Laurie E. Jasinski from Texas State University explained the theory in this month's issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.
“When you tell people it was a bright moonlit night, they think it makes it easier to see,” Olson said.
“What we are finding is that the 18th North Carolina [Infantry] was looking directly toward the direction of the moon as Stonewall Jackson and his party came riding back. They would see the riders only as dark silhouettes.”
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Stonewall lost his left arm to the three musket balls that struck him, but died eight days later from pneumonia. His death is believed to be a turning point in the Civil War, one that directly affected the Confederacy’s fortunes in battle.
On the 150th anniversary of the historic event, the mystery surrounding Stonewall’s death may be answered.
Using maps and astronomical data, the researchers discovered that the 18th North Carolina Infantry was looking to the southeast, right at the rising moon. At 9 p.m. the moon would have put Jackson and his officers in the shadows, the San Marcos Mercury reports.
Eyewitness accounts describe the lunar light.
“The moon was shining very brightly, rendering all objects in our immediate vicinity distinct…,” Confederate Captain William Fitzhugh Randolph wrote in “The Confederate Veteran,” in December 1903. “The moon poured a flood of light upon the wide, open turnpike.”
Jackson and his officers rode ahead of his regiment to look for possible routes. When they returned at around 9 p.m., Confederate officer Maj. John D. Barry spotted them from trees, thought they belonged to Union forces and ordered his men to fire, Hays Free Press reports.
Barry died two years after the war at age 27. “His family believed his death was a result of the depression and guilt he suffered as a consequence of having given the order to fire,” the Virginia Military Institute site says.