Five U.S. Generals Killed By “Friendly Fire”
The term "Friendly Fire" was catch phrase created during the Vietnam War to explain when a soldier on your side was shot by one of his own. Prior to that terminology, there were other names for it. Some called it "shot from the rear" or "accidental fire". In any case, it was the case of mistaken identity or nerves that most often got a friendly soldier caught and it happened a lot. Friendly fire didn't discriminate by rank, either. While there have been many enlisted men who have been killed by their own men, only five generals in the history of U.S. warfare have met this fate. Here they are:
Possibly the most famous case of friendly fire in the entire history of the United States, Stonewall Jackson was an excellent and heroic leader. He is probably the most well-known Confederate commander after General Robert E. Lee. Jackson partook in 20 Confederate victories during the Civil War, including: The First and Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness Campaign, and the Battle of Chancellorville, where he was accidentally shot by his own troops while returning after the assault under the cover of darkness. They were mistaken for a Union cavalry force by a Confederate North Carolina regiment who shouted, "Halt, who goes there?", but fired before evaluating the reply. Frantic shouts by Jackson's staff identifying the party were replied to by a Major Barry with the retort, "It's a damned Yankee trick! Fire!" Jackson was hit by three bullets: Two in his left arm and one in his right hand. It took him awhile to get to a doctor and he was dropped from the stretcher while being evacuated because of Northern artillery fire. When they finally got him to a doctor, his left arm needed to be amputated. He developed pneumonia and died eight days later at the age of 39. General Lee commented when hearing of Jackson's wounds, "He has lost his left arm but I my right."
The Confederate Army didn't have much luck when it came to shooting their own troops. This general was wounded and died from his wounds during the Battle of the Wilderness. He fought alongside Major General Thomas Pickett and Lieutenant General James Longstreet, yet missed the Battle of Gettysburg, because his troops were held in reserve near Richmond, Virginia. He did command at both battles of Bull Run and Chickamauga. During the Battle of the Wilderness, he was riding with General Longstreet when both were shot down by Confederate troops who mistook them as Northern officers. Longstreet would live from his wounds, though Jenkins was struck in the head and died at the age of 28 from his injuries a few hours later.
The Confederates lost, yet a third, and last general during the Civil War (this could have almost been a list of Confederate Generals killed by friendly fire!). Actually, he was the first general in the history of the United States to be killed by his own troops. Johnston's death came early in the Civil War, at the Battle of Shiloh. As a testament to his leadership skills, he was said to have been everywhere during the battle, personally leading charges up and down the lines. Finally, he was struck by three Union bullets, yet none of them penetrated his skin! The shot that finally did get Johnston came from behind him - by one of his own troops. He was hit in the back of the knee by a bullet that clipped his popliteal artery and his boot began to fill with his blood. Within a few minutes Johnston was observed by his staff to be nearly fainting off his horse, and asked him if he was wounded, to which he replied "Yes, and I fear seriously." It is possible that Johnston didn't know that he was hit before he noticed the blood in his boot. He had been shot in the pelvis in 1837 in a duel to see who would control the Texas Army during the Mexican War and had lost feeling in his leg. His aides got him into a ravine to take a look at his injuries, but it was too late. He bled to death within minutes. Johnston would be replaced as head of the Confederate forces by General Robert E. Lee.
McNair was the only general in the U.S. Forces to be killed by friendly fire in World War II. He was the highest ranking American to be killed during the entire war. It happened at the Battle of Normandy (D-Day) after the initial landings. He was responsible for the organization, training and preparation of the U.S. Army for overseas service. He was instrumental in preparing large-scale divisional and corps exercises to provide Army commanders with some experience in controlling large forces in simulated combat. During Operation Cobra, eight weeks after the famous landing, near the town of Saint-Lô, McNair was killed when an U.S. Eighth Air Force bomb accidentally landed on his foxhole, killing him instantly. To add to the tragedy, his son, Colonel Douglas McNair, was killed just two weeks later by a sniper in Guam. The elder McNair was 61 at the time of his death.
This person on the list is most likely to raise a bit of an uproar. No one (well, no non-Indian) knows exactly the circumstances that led to George Custer's death at the Battle of Little Bighorn, at the age of 36. As the story goes, General Custer was leading the Seventh Cavalry into Sioux Lakota and Cheyenne Indian territory, when he refused to listen to orders and attacked the Indians - numbering 1800-2000 - with his much smaller force of just over 300 men. Custer split up his troops, thinking the Indian force was much smaller than it actually was. The Indians wiped out Custer's troops almost to the man. Only 55 soldiers survived the attack and all of them were wounded. Custer was killed, himself, along with his younger brother, Thomas. So how does the massacre at Little Big Horn considered death by "friendly fire"? When Custer's body was examined after the battle (which was days after his death), he had three wounds: One to his arm, a bullet wound in his chest (which would have killed him) and another in his left temple. Almost all of the U.S. soldier's bodies had been scalped and mutilated, yet Custer's body was untouched. According to the government at the time, this was done to show respect to General Custer, whom the Indians called "Yellow Hair", due to his long, blonde hair. The Indians actually hated him. Years later, after the battle had been over and it was unlikely that there would be repercussions on those involved, the Sioux Indians claimed that it was White Bull, the nephew of Sitting Bull, who had killed Custer. This was done because of an offer of $1000 and food for the Indians if they finally put the mystery to rest. They also claimed they didn't scalp Custer out of respect. However, most likely, Custer killed himself. The Lakota Indians, and some U.S. Army survivors of the battle mentioned that several soldiers shot themselves instead of resisting capture. The wound to Custer's temple was shot at extreme close range, resulting of powder burns on his hair and face. Perhaps the most damning evidence, though, is the Sioux scalped only the soldiers they killed. This one will remain a mystery. Too much time has passed and people still have strong emotional ties to the occurrences. Did Custer die from the fight with the Indians or did he take his own life?