A Long Retinue of Mourning Friends: The Remains of Union General James S. Jackson
The Trust secured the northern slope of a hill commonly referred to as “Parson’s Ridge” or “The Open Knob.” This acquisition means that most of the northern end of the battleground is now preserved.
When the Battle of Perryville raged on October 8, 1862, this hill protected the Federal left flank. Union Brigadier General William R. Terrill’s brigade, consisting of troops from Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, defended the ridge.
Terrill’s immediate commander, Brigadier General James S. Jackson, who led the Army of the Ohio’s 10th Division, was also on the hill. A native of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Jackson was an attorney, pro-slavery politician, and Mexican War veteran who had resigned his seat in the U.S. Congress to raise the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry Regiment. With limited combat experience, Perryville was his first time commanding a division.
As I explain in my book Maney’s Confederate Brigade at the Battle of Perryville, Confederate Brigadier General George Earl Maney was tasked with striking the Union left flank. To be successful, Maney had to drive the Federal troops from the Open Knob. After intense fighting, Maney’s Georgians and Tennesseans drove off Terrill’s inexperienced troops and took the hill.
Among the casualties scattered along the ridge was General Jackson. When the fight began, Jackson mumbled, “Well, I’ll be damned if this is not getting rather particular.” He was immediately shot twice in the chest. Percival Oldershaw, Jackson’s assistant adjutant general, said that he found Jackson “on his back struggling to speak, but unable to do so. He died in a few moments.”
Two of Jackson’s aides carried the general’s corpse behind the hill. With Maney’s Confederates pressing the Union line, the aides dropped the corpse and ran to the rear to find an ambulance to transport the body. By the time they returned, the rebels had taken the hill.
Upon crossing the ridge, Maney’s adjutant, Thomas Malone, found Jackson’s corpse. Malone said that Jackson was “lying on his back, with his feet toward the front, as gallant looking a soldier as I ever saw.” Malone cut off one of Jackson’s buttons and eventually gave the souvenir to his sister.
Maney’s men continued their assault, took the next hill, and were finally blunted along another ridgeline. Several of these rebel units, including the 1st, 6th, and 9th Tennessee Infantry regiments, suffered around fifty percent casualties.
The attacking Confederate army shoved back both flanks of Union Major General Alexander McCook’s corps. After nearly five hours of fighting, however, night fell and ended the battle. More than 7,500 men had been killed and wounded.
While most of the dead Union soldiers were initially buried in regimental plots located where they fell, Jackson’s aides treated the general’s corpse with more ceremony.
The day after the battle, Union Captain Samuel Starling returned to the Open Knob and found Jackson’s remains. Confederate soldiers had taken the general’s boots, hat, and buttons.
Starling and Oldershaw put Jackson’s body in an ambulance and drove toward Louisville. When they reached Mackville, ten miles from the battlefield, they washed Jackson’s body, put it in a box, and filled the box with salt to preserve his remains. Upon reaching Bardstown, they telegraphed Louisville for a carriage and hearse, which met them in Mount Washington.
Starling and Oldershaw reached Louisville on October 11. Jackson’s body was professionally embalmed and then it lay in state at the Galt House Hotel for a day. Starling later wrote that Jackson’s remains were “put into a large metallic box (not coffin) & the next day was taken to Christs [sic] Church where on entering several Ladies threw wreaths of flowers upon it.”
A large crowd attended the funeral. The Reverend Jeremiah Talbot, who had also conducted the service for the murdered Union General William “Bull” Nelson, gave the eulogy. On September 29, 1862, Nelson and Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis had quarreled at the Galt House. Insulted, Davis shot and killed the irascible Nelson. Davis was never prosecuted for the killing. Nelson and Jackson had been good friends.
During Jackson’s service, Talbot expressed disbelief that Jackson had attended Nelson’s funeral and now Jackson also lay dead. “But ten days ago,” Talbot said, “he sat before me here, the chief custodian of the mortal remains of General Nelson . . . Little did I think when I beheld him quivering with emotion here, that so soon his manhood should be stricken . . . Oh! Kentucky! Kentucky! How are thy mighty ones fallen.”
“There was hardly a dry eye in the church,” a reporter wrote.
Pallbearers included Starling, Oldershaw, and Charles A. Wickliffe, a member of congress who had also been governor of Kentucky. The 25th Michigan Infantry and part of the 4th Indiana Cavalry accompanied Jackson’s remains from Christ Church to Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery. The Louisville Daily Journal said that the procession included “a long retinue of mourning friends.”
At the cemetery, the soldiers fired a salute before placing Jackson’s corpse in a vault. His remains would rest there until he could be moved to his hometown of Hopkinsville. One of Jackson’s friends later lamented, “The army feels the sting of a great loss in the death of James S. Jackson; his friends bear upon them the pall of a great affliction . . . we sit apart and mourn for him, in the silent autumn night . . . for our true friend is dead.”
In March 1863, more than five months after Jackson was slain, the general’s remains were sent back to Hopkinsville, where he was reinterred at Riverside Cemetery. When his body reached Russellville, Kentucky, several Union regiments, a soldier wrote, “formed the procession, which escorted the corpse through the town.”
Members of Jackson’s original regiment, the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry, made up the cortege. “It was indeed an affecting scene to see veteran soldiers, who are victors of so many conflicts, so bowed down with grief as were those representing the 3d Kentucky cavalry,” the soldier wrote. Watching the sadness of Jackson’s former comrades made the soldier “think of the great sacrifices” that troops “have made during this war.”
For many Kentucky Unionists, the death of James S. Jackson at Perryville was among the greatest of those sacrifices.
Stuart W. Sanders is the author of four books, including “Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky’s Largest Civil War Battle,” “The Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky,” and “Maney’s Confederate Brigade at the Battle of Perryville.” His latest book “Murder on the Ohio Belle,” examines violence, Southern honor, vigilante justice, and the Civil War through the lens of an 1856 murder on a steamboat. He is the former executive director of the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association.