A couple of weeks ago in this space some of you may remember reading about a great local history book called “Sparta, Alabama: 1821-1866,” which was published by former Evergreen mayor Pat Poole in 1984. One piece of information in this book caught the eye of several local Civil War historians, who’ve contacted me in the meantime to clear up a connection between Conecuh County and the death of Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
The bulk of the book is Poole’s effort to pin down exactly where Sparta, now a ghost town, was actually located, but the book also contains a lot of information about local military history. That section of the book mentions that at the start of the Civil War, Conecuh County was the first county in Alabama to form a company of soldiers. This company, known as the “Conecuh Guards,” was attached to the Fourth Alabama Infantry Regiment as Co. E.
The Conecuh Guards went on to fight at Gaines’ Mill, Spottsylvania, Chickamauga, Sharpsburg, Strawberry Plains, First and Second Manassas, Gettysburg, Seven Pines and Petersburg under such commanders as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. In a footnote, Poole’s book mentions that “General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson was killed, accidentally, by a man from Conecuh. The fault was on the side of the general, seeing as he did not give the required password when crossing a line of guards surrounding the Confederate camp.”
Local historian Steve Stacey of Monroeville, an active and longtime member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp in Monroe County, contacted me soon after the column appeared in the paper to say that he’d seen the “Stonewall” Jackson incident applied to Monroe County soldiers as well because the Fifth Alabama was on picket duty and was relieved by the 18th North Carolina. After Jackson’s shooting, the North Carolina troops claimed that troops from the Fifth Alabama hadn’t told them that Jackson had ridden forward, beyond Confederate lines. (The Fifth Alabama’s Co. C was from Monroe County under the command of Thomas Mercer Riley.)
"Stonewall was shot at Chancellorsville,” Stacey said. “He was on the left flank riding ahead to survey the situation. The Fifth Alabama was on guard duty and had just been relieved by the 18th North Carolina. As Jackson approached the pickets, a soldier of the 18th North Carolina fired and mortally wounded Jackson. James Lane, the commander of the 18th North Carolina, returned to North Carolina after the war and the reception of his neighbors blamed him for the death of Jackson.”
Auburn fans in the reading audience may be interested to know that after the war, Lane went on to teach at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, which was later renamed the Alabama Polytechnic Institute and is now known as Auburn University.
“Now we know an Auburn Tiger lost the war because they shot ol' Stonewall,” Stacey joked.
Lane doesn’t appear to deserve all the blame because some sources say that unknown members of the 18th North Carolina Infantry Regiment shot Jackson, and the order to fire was given by Major John D. Barry. Many of his men fired at the same time, and Jackson was struck by three smoothbore musket balls. Barry died two years after the war at the age of 27. His family believed his death was the result of the depression and guilt he suffered as a consequence of having given the order to fire on Jackson. He was never promoted during the course of the war.
In the end, it doesn’t appear that anyone from Conecuh County shot Stonewall Jackson, and if you’re interested in reading more about the incident, Stacey recommended the 2004 book, “The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy: The Death of Stonewall Jackson and Other Chapters on the Army of Northern Virginia” by Robert K. Krick.
Also, if you’re interested in local history and would like to read Poole’s book for yourself, copies of it are for sale at his restaurant, Bubba’s BBQ, on State Highway 83 in Evergreen. They’re $5 each. It’s very good, and I highly recommend it.