“It was just a tragedy for the South,” Robertson said in an interview, “the greatest personal loss that the South suffered in that war . . . a horrible blow.”
Civil War scholar Robert K. Krick said: “It’s hard to imagine the war going the way it did with Jackson present.”
And in death, Jackson became the South’s great martyr, like Lincoln later in the North. His body lay in state in Richmond in a casket with a window, and then wound its way through tens of thousands of mourners across Virginia to his adopted home, in Lexington, Va.
To this day, signs on Interstate 95 identify the little house where he died as his “shrine.” There are also schools that bear his name, as well as a hotel, a hospital, a decommissioned submarine, numerous thoroughfares, a lake and several towns across the country. The Virginia Senate recognizes him every year on his birthday.
But all that lay ahead on May 2, 1863.
That evening, bugles sounded down the line as the Confederate host began its advance through the woods, preceded by frightened deer, rabbits and other wildlife.
Jackson rode behind, caught up in the stampede and the excitement, urging his men forward to cut off the Union army. He wanted more than victory. He wanted its destruction.
“Press on!” he cried. “Press on!”
Five months earlier, on a cold, quiet night, Jackson had led his weary and hungry staff toward a grand brick mansion perched on a plateau near the Rappahannock River in Caroline County, Va.
The woman of the house recalled years later that the general had an earache.
The place was called Moss Neck Manor and was the country home of Richard Corbin, the scion of an aristocratic Virginia family. He was fighting in a Confederate cavalry regiment and would be killed in battle nine months later.
It was Dec. 16, and Jackson and his command were fresh from the slaughter at Fredericksburg, a brutal battle that had ended three days before with the Confederates’ thorough defeat of the Union army, about 11 miles upriver.
Jackson had taken his corps downriver to check a report of an enemy crossing, but found it to be a false alarm. Night had fallen and now he and his men had been caught in the open with no food and no place to camp.
Jackson had resisted taking refuge in the house, preferring to stay with his men. But he relented finally in the cold, saying, “Let’s go to the Moss Neck house.”
The stately home — which still stands — was elegant, low-slung and comfortable, and it was part of the Corbins’ 1,600-acre plantation, from which most of the slaves had fled.
At the time, the house was occupied by, among others, the absent owner’s wife, Roberta, their only child, a 5-year-old daughter named Jane, and Roberta’s charming sister-in-law, Kate Corbin.