Trickles of white light fell from the rising moon and dripped softly through the canopy of pines, illuminating the outlines of thirty mounted men that rode dangerously close to enemy lines. They were traveling in close-quarter and the horse’s hooves landed softly on the bed of needles that blanketed the forest floor. An occasional snap of a twig punctuated the silence. As they reached the Mountain Road, the group dug their heels in and the horses broke into a gallop. The sound of their charge reverberated like an advancing brigade.
“Halt! Who goes there?! Surrender yourselves!” came a cry.
But the whooshing wind across their ears kept the riders from hearing the warning. One rifle-shot crackled through the night, and then another.
“Pour it into them, boys!” a major yelled and a blind volley from the nervous regiment exploded upon the cavalrymen. Most of the balls whizzed harmlessly through the trees but there were enough on mark that a dozen horses fell and their riders skidded to their ends.
In the middle of the frenzy, Thomas whirled on his copper-red steed and made flight for the trees. He hurtled through the low-lying limbs and raised his arms to shield his face. A bullet ripped into his right hand and then two more through his left arm, one splitting the artery just below his shoulder joint. The intense pain blurred his vision and his head thundered as it smashed against the branch of a young oak. Still in his saddle, he crumpled forward and waited for the firing to cease.
Early in the morning on May 3rd, 1863, his left arm was amputated and subsequently buried. A week later, its owner, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, followed it into eternity, killed by his own men while returning from a reconnaissance mission.