Micah Jenkins in the uniform of a colonel
Everyone that studies the Civil War knows that Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville in May of 1863 by his own troops. In every war, there have been incidents of friendly fire, especially when circumstances become confusing.
A year later, in May of 1864, there would be another incident of friendly fire in another battle in the same general vicinity as the Battle of Chancellorsville. This battle has come to be known as the Battle of the Wilderness. It would be Grant's first engagement with General Robert E. Lee and he would quickly learn that he was no longer dealing with the bumbling commanders of the west no longer. He'd faced John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg and Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga, both two of the worst Confederate commanders of the war.
Lieutenant General James Longstreet was leading an assault against Federal General Winfield Scott Hancock. One of his favorite brigade commanders Brigadier General Micah Jenkins was sick that afternoon. He'd ridden to the field in an ambulance, but determined to mount his horse and lead his men into battle. Exiting his ambulance, he threw his arm around Moxley Sorrel, Longstreet's staff officer and said, “We will smash them now.”
Jenkins had always been one of Longstreet's favorites. When Hood was wounded at Gettysburg, Law had taken over the division. When Hood was promoted to lieutenant general and assigned to the army of Tennessee, the position came open permanently. Law stood in line for the promotion, after all, Jenkins brigade belonged to George Pickett's division. Longstreet attempted everything he could think of to give the position to Jenkins, although Law eventually wound up with the promotion and assignment.
When Jenkins mounted his horse on this date, he was just twenty-eight years old. He was a graduate of the South Carolina Military Academy where he finished first in the class of 1854 at the age of nineteen. He entered the Civil War as a colonel and led his regiment at First Manassas, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and the Seven Days Campaign. He was then promoted to brigadier general and given command of a South Carolina brigade. He was wounded at Second Manassas, held in reserve at Fredericksburg, and missed both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg as his division was assigned to different posts. The Wilderness battle would be his first major battle in over a year and a half.
Brigadier General Micah Jenkins
Three Confederate generals would lead the brigade down the plank road and into action. They would be Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Major General Joseph Kershaw, and Brigadier General Micah Jenkins. Unfortunately, Jenkins men were wearing new gray uniforms that appeared blue in the dark woods of the Wilderness. Jenkins was excited to be leading his men into action again.
To Longstreet, he said, “I am happy. I have felt despair for the cause for some months, but I am relieved now, and feel assured that we will put the enemy back across the Rapidan before night.”
Moving down the road, troops under Confederate General William Mahone mistook the brigade in the dark uniforms for Federal troops. They immediately opened fire. One round hit Longstreet in the neck and passed into his shoulder. He left the field critically wounded, coughing up blood. One bullet struck Jenkins in the forehead, the bullet entered his brain and paralyzed one side of his body. Two members of Kershaw's staff were killed instantly. Kershaw rode between the opposing lines and yelled that they were friends. He would not be injured in the exchange.
Severely wounded, Longstreet would survive to fight again, but Jenkins wound was mortal. He was still conscious but couldn't recognize any of his friends or fellow officers. As he lay dying, he continued to call for his men to press forward, obviously thinking he was still leading his brigade into battle. Jenkins would die about five hours after being wounded. His wife would be forced to raise their four young children on her own. His body would be carried back to Charleston, South Carolina for burial.