Letter From May 2007 America’s Civil War Magazine

3/16/2007 • ACW Issues, OK Corral

When pursuing the truth about history, few would be able to use, and few would likely approve of, the methods of Major General Smedley D. Butler. In 1921, when he doubted that “Stonewall” Jackson’s amputated left arm had been buried in a small cemetery on a tranquil Virginia farm, he ordered some of his Marines to dig deep and find out if the story was true, a frontal assault for finding facts. The controversy such a rash action would cause today can only be imagined.

When his dutiful Marines did in fact find the remains of the general’s arm, a chastised Butler had it reburied and had the brass plaque pictured here placed at the grave. The plaque is currently kept in a National Park Service storage facility.

Alexandra Filipowski and Hugh T. Harrington were also skeptical about the contents of a grave, but they took a much more unobtrusive approach to checking their hunch that Edwin Jemison, whose famous image graces this month’s cover, was not buried under his tombstone in Milledgeville, Ga. They were correct. Using a variety of sources, they determined that Jemison was in fact not buried in Georgia.

America’s Civil War published their findings in May 2004, and that article is available online at www.historynet.com/acw for you to read again if you like. In that same issue, we also published a story by Civil War historian William J. Miller that dealt with the manner in which Jemison reportedly died at Malvern Hill. Miller based that article, “The Two Pictures of Private Jemison,” on a Confederate veteran’s recollections that he had found at the Richmond National Battlefield.

Miller is a respected, thorough historian, and his article reflected his skills. But when Fili­powski and Harrington read it, something triggered a Butlerian skepticism, and they again begin to dig — no pun in-tended — into the Jemison story. The results of their second round of research follow on P. 28. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that they come to a different conclusion about what happened to young Jemison. The duo also uncovered interesting information about the Rebel soldier who claimed to have witnessed Jemison’s demise.

For years, skeptics have said that everything about the Civil War has already been revealed, and there is nothing new to learn. Don’t tell Filipowski and Harrington that. In the interesting new information department, they’re two for two.