By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 9:43 AM EDT, Wed May 1, 2013
- General Stonewall Jackson was shot at the battle of Chancellorsville
- The angle of the moonlight proved fateful on May 2, 1863, an astronomer says
- It obscured the view of his own men, researchers say
- Confederate infantrymen mistook him for the enemy and opened fire
Though they were outmanned and outgunned, the momentum of the war seemed to be on the side of Generals Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson in Northern Virginia.
But the tide turned in the American Civil War not long after Jackson's own men inadvertently shot him that May night at the battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia.
And for that, say two researchers, Americans can thank that full moon.
It's an intriguing concept put forth by astronomer Don Olson and researcher Laurie E. Jasinski from Texas State University in a study appearing in this month's issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.
They say that when the men of the 18th North Carolina Infantry Regiment fired upon Jackson, the whitish lunar light likely obscured the target.
They didn't know it was him.
In other words, they say, a moon phase is partly responsible for the molding of a nation "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," as President Abraham Lincoln put it in the Gettysburg Address.
The two reconstructed the scene of the shooting using moon phases and maps, and published the results 150 years after the incident.
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Sources: Sky and Telescope Magazine, Cable News Network.
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