What Actually Happened With Smedley D. Butler And Stonewall Jackson's Arm?

by Jonah Begone

One morning in 2007 I snuck off to the Wilderness/Chancellorsville battlefield; it's about a 50 minute drive south for me. As it was a beautiful day it was good convertible weather.

I went partially to either prove or debunk something I was told when I was in the Marine Corps. The story goes like this: At the Battle of Chancellorsville in May, 1863, "Stonewall" Jackson was hit by his own men while doing some nighttime scouting. His left arm was amputated and he later died of complications. (In fact he died of clumsy and ignorant medical treatment, but that's neither here nor there.) There are three places in Virginia associated with this: a stone next to the visitor's center that marks where he was hit, the house on the other side of I-95 where he died (called the Stonewall Jackson "Shrine" - which tells you something about the South), and the place where his arm was buried.

The story I was told when I was in the Marines was that legendary Marine Corps General Smedley D. Butler a.k.a. "Old Gimlet Eye" (pictured above), came across Jackson's arm sometime in the 1920's, dug it up, examined it, and reburied it with a new marker.

The old marker said simply (small font), "Here lies buried the arm of Stonewall Jackson." The new one, according to the tale I was told, said, (small font): Here lies buried the arm of Stonewall Jackson. (Large font): REBURIED BY GENERAL SMEDLEY D. BUTLER, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS. The point being, apparently, what a colossal, self-promotional egotist Butler was. Or how commendably bold Marines were and are. I was never sure!

Stonewall Jackson's arm is buried in the Jones Family cemetery of "Ellwood," a small farm house located within the Wilderness Battlefield site. After checking with an ever-helpful National Park Service employee at the Chancellorsville Visitor's Center I drove to Ellwood, where I spoke to a volunteer docent there. She smiled and nodded as I related the tale I was told.

The facts: General Smedley D. Butler, U.S.M.C. was indeed in the area supervising maneuvers in the 1920's, and came upon Jackson's arm. He did indeed have it exhumed and examined, and was convinced of its authenticity. He had it reburied, with a new brass plaque made up for the occasion. The Park Service removed the plaque when it acquired the Ellwood property in 1977, and have it stored away someplace. They had an image of it at Ellwood which I photographed.

Here it is:

No promotional text, no Smedley D. Butler name in large font. The moral of this story is, as always, do your own research!

A photograph of the Stonewall Jackon's arm marker is here:

A nearby interpretive display is here (note no mention of Butler):

There's a blog on this very subject, here. Guess what? The arm is missing.