The turning point in the Civil War occurred 150 years ago Thursday, when Confederate Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson was shot and fatally wounded by his own men while planning a night assault following the Rebel victory at Chancellorsville.
Now, researchers at Texas State University tell 1200 WOAI news they have determined why the Confederate troops, namely the 18th North Carolina regiment, failed to recognize the famous general on the evening of May 2, 1863, even though several men who were present at the time recall 'the moon shining very brightly that night.'
A team led by forensic astronomer Prof. Don Olson studied the position of the moon that evening, and calculated how far up in the sky the moon would have risen by the time Jackson was shot, about 9PM. Olson says he also used Civil War era charts to determine the direction the Rebel soldiers were heading when they encountered Jackson and his party.
He says the North Carolina solders would have been looking toward the southeast that night, or directly into the rising full moon. In addition, at 9PM, the moon would have been directly in front of the men, shining into their faces. Olson says the Rebel soldiers would only have seen silhouettes of men suddenly looming in front of them, and, considering they were in the middle of a battle, it would have been logical to assume they were the Union troops.
"When you tell people it was a bright moonlit night, they think it makes it easier to see," Olson says. "What we are finding is that the 18th North Carolina was looking directly toward the direction of the moon. They would see the riders only as dark silhouettes. Now, 150 years later, we can explain why they didn't recognize this famous general."
He says his findings 'absolve the 18th North Carolina of blame' for the wounding of Jackson.
Jackson died of his wounds ten days later, a development Confederate General Robert E. Lee realized had deprived him of his best field commander.
Most historians agree that had Lee had Jackson at his side two months later at the Battle of Gettysburg, the outcome of that pivotal battle may very well have been a Confederate victory, potentially convincing the Lincoln Administration to sue for peace.