Astronomy Detectives Solve Civil War Mystery (Photos)

Stonewall Jackson

From the collection of Donald Olson

Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was shot by friendly fire during the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. Now astronomers say they know why his own troops couldn't recognize him: The full moon was shining right into their faces, putting the Confederate commander in stark silhouette. [Full story]

Jackson and His Escort Silhouetted

From the collection of Donald Olson

Jackson and his escort appear silhouetted by the light from a rising full moon in this woodcut, titled “ ‘Stonewall’ Jackson Mortally Wounded, May 2d, 1863.” The illustration appeared in John Casler’s 1906 memoir, Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade.

General A. P. Hill Binds the Wounds of Stonewall Jackson

Robert K. Krick

A full moon illuminates the scene as General A. P. Hill binds the wounds of Stonewall Jackson minutes after the fatal volley at Chancellorsville.

Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles' Midnight Attack

From the collection of Donald Olson

By the light of a bright full moon, Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles's corps launched a midnight attack on May 2-3, 1863. According to a New York Times war correspondent, “This night attack was the most grand and terrific thing of the war. The moon shone bright, and an enemy could be seen at good musket range.” This woodcut appeared in the Official and Illustrated War Record (1898).

The Stonewall Jackson Monument

From the collection of Donald Olson

A group in a passing carriage on the Plank Road views the Stonewall Jackson monument in this chromolithograph, titled “The Place Where Stonewall Jackson Fell, Mortally Wounded” and published in 1890 by John House. Modern visitors will find the monument still standing just north of Route 3, adjacent to the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center. The monument was erected in 1888 near the spot where Jackson’s wounds were initially tended. Visitors can follow a short trail east of the visitor center to the actual site of the fatal volley. A text panel on the monument explains the origin of the general’s nickname by reproducing the famous quote attributed to Brigadier General Barnard Bee describing the fighting at First Manassas: “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall.”

Battle of Chancellorsville Map

Sky & Telescope Magazine

This map shows the positions of the Union and Confederate troops on the night of the Battle of Chancellorsville, when Jackson was shot by friendly fire.

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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.