“There is Jackson Standing Like a Stonewall!”: Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson

Stonewall Jackson Courtesy Library of Congress

Born to Jonathan and Julia Jackson on January 21, 1824 in what is now West Virginia, Thomas Jackson would go on to become a legend. But his life was marked with heartache almost from the beginning. In 1826 his father and sister, Elizabeth died of typhoid fever. Four years later Jackson’s mother Julia married Blake Woodson and the Jackson children were split up. Jackson’s brother Warren was sent to live with his mother’s brother, while Jackson and his younger sister went to live with Jackson relatives. Sadly, a short time later Julia died.

But Jackson pulled through, becoming constable at age 17. He was trustworthy, responsible and hardworking. When he said he was going to do something, he did it. That’s not to say he was without his quirks. The Jacksons had a knack for suing people when they had been wronged. Even if it meant suing their own family members. And they just wouldn’t give up until they felt they had been vindicated. That type of attitude would follow Jackson the rest of his life.

At 19 years old Jackson learned of an opening at West Point. It was a chance to better himself. At first, due to his limited education, another man was chosen. But that man dropped out almost as soon as he got there, upon seeing how hard life was at West Point. This time Jackson’s relatives were not going to let anything get in the way.  They battled hard to get him into West Point, and succeeded. Still Jackson was a ‘country-bumpkin’ in comparison to the spit-and-polish of West Point. To this the Secretary of War told Jackson “Sir, you have a good name. Go to West Point, and the first man who insults you, knock him down and have it charged to my account”. As a plebe Jackson did rather well. His hard life had prepared him for the strenuous time at West Point. That is all except the classroom. As mentioned previously he had  precious little education and at West Point mathematics was a major part of their training and education. Still Jackson again survived,  just as he had for the last 19 years of his life. With help from other cadets and his determination to conquer he had raised his grades. In 1846 he graduated with a rank of brevet 2nd Lieutenant. The ‘call of duty’ brought Jackson into the Mexican War. He served distinguishably and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant.

It was while in Mexico City that Jackson began giving serious thought to Christianity. For awhile he was undecided as far as denominations goes. But in 1849 with the encouragement of his senior officer, Francis Taylor, he was baptized in an Episcopal Church. Later, while a professor at VMI he would regularly attend a Presbyterian Church.

In 1851 Jackson got into a petty argument with a senior officer. The argument got out of hand and soon Jackson and the other man were filing charges against one another. In the end Jackson resigned from the army and took a position at the Virginia Military Institute. Although he had left the army, its characteristics would continue to be evident in Jackson’s life.

Two years after the squabble, Jackson married Elinor Junkins, but not long afterwards she died. In 1859 he married Anna Morrison.

Stonewall Jackson Courtesy: Library of Congress

During the controversy and mounting strife between North and South, Jackson remained steadfast to the Union. But as time passed, the United States began to break apart. One by one Southern States were seceding from the Union and Jackson’s bright flame of loyalty for the US was beginning to flicker. Then it happened. On April 12, 1861 Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter. On the 14th Ft. Sumter surrendered. In the quickly forming Confederate Army Jackson was made a colonel.

Jackson was a force to be reckoned with. He pushed his men hard, training them almost without mercy. He was given command of the famed 1st Brigade, which some of you may have heard via the song Proud Valley Boys. It happened one day, that Yankee troops were but five miles away when it became known to Jackson. Quite outnumbered, Jackson began an orderly retreat. During this period Jackson proved his worth that would earn him the promotion of Brigadier General.

Amid the Battle of Bull Run Jackson got his name. The battle took place on a Sunday, which didn’t exactly thrill Jackson, but he soldiered on. Before going into battle he ordered his men to tie pieces of white cloth on their hats. This was done so that they would be able to identify one another once in the thick of the battle. At the time many Confederates were wearing blue and could easily be mistaken for US troops.  It happened that while conversing with another man Jackson was shot in the left hand. He bandaged it with a handkerchief. Later he would not allowed it to be looked after, until others who were worse off were cared for. General Bernard Bee, commanding the 4th Alabama Brigade, christened Jackson with the name he would come to be known by throughout history. Bee’s men were retreating, but he encouraged them to return and fight saying, “Look, men, there is Jackson standing like a stonewall! Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer!” Bee and his troops braved the fire, but Bee was killed during the battle. Jackson had his men ‘hugging’ the ground while artillery whistled overhead. He would not allow them to attack until the enemy was “within fifty yards”. And then they would have to “yell like furies”. Hence the Rebel Yell. The South earned the victory that day as Union forces hightailed it back to Washington.

On October 1861 Jackson was promoted to major general. He nearly lost his position though during the Romney Expedition. Soldiers were upset with Jackson having pushed them through the winter weather. They arrived in Romney cold and sick. Angered officers began complaining about Jackson until those complaints went all the way up to top officials in the Confederate government. The officials ordered him to remove the troops from Romney. Jackson obeyed, also informing them that he was resigning and going back to VMI. Confederate General Joe Johnston protested. He didn’t believe civilians should be meddling in military affairs. They had caused quite a bit of strife. After much convincing, Jackson returned to the army. General William Loring, the man who had caused the letter to ‘go to the top’, had an enemy in Jackson, who wanted him court-martialed. Instead Loring was transferred to Georgia. Till his death Jackson would continue to serve with distinction, while at other times he seemed to be ‘slipping up’.

During a return from a ‘reconnaissance mission’ Jackson and a group of his men came under friendly fire. Hit in three different places, he was in bad condition. His left arm was amputated.  Lee in response stated “He has lost his left arm; but I have lost my right arm”. In the end, pneumonia got him as he was recovering. It was May 10, 1863 when he issued his last words. “Let us pass over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees”. He was gone, but his memory lived.

Source: Davis, Donald A. Stonewall Jackson

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8 thoughts on ““There is Jackson Standing Like a Stonewall!”: Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson

  1. My wife and I visited VMI a number of years ago. We didn’t trace the Valley Campaign and moved on to other battlefields. We’d like to get back to the Shenandoah sometime. Nice blog!

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  2. As a teen I read a biography of Jackson and I remember two things clearly. One, he had the ability to fall asleep on a moment’s notice whenever he needed a nap; and two, he took an ice cold bath on a regular basis. He was certainly a fascinating individual.

    His last words have always had special meaning, as well. Nice post.

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    • Yes, he was a very interesting person. Regarding the ‘champion sleeper’, according to Wiki, he may have suffered from Asperger syndrome. I’ve always found it curious how he would raise his one arm up because he thought it was longer.

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  3. “Sir, you have a good name. Go to West Point, and the first man who insults you, knock him down and have it charged to my account”. This will be my new saying.

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