Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson
(January 21, 1824 – May 10, 1863) was an American teacher and soldier. He
became a famous Confederate general during the American Civil War, and was
killed midway through the conflict. Jackson is often considered one of the most
gifted battlefield commanders in American history, and his death was a severe
setback for the Confederacy.
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was the third child of Julia Beckwith (née Neale)
Jackson (1789–1831) and Jonathan Jackson (1790–1826), an attorney. Both of
Jackson's parents were natives of Virginia. The family already had two young
children and were living in Clarksburg, in what is now West Virginia, when
Thomas, their third son, was born.
Two years later, tragedy struck the family when Jackson's father and sister
Elizabeth (age six) died of typhoid fever. Jackson's mother gave birth to
Thomas's sister Laura Ann the next day. Julia Jackson was widowed at 28 and was
left with much debt, selling all the family's possessions to pay them. She
declined family charity and moved into a small one-room house. Julia took in
sewing and taught school to support herself and her three young children for
about four years. In 1830, she remarried, but her new husband, also an attorney,
did not like his stepchildren, and there were continuing financial problems.
Then, after giving birth to Thomas's half-brother, she died of complications,
leaving her three children orphaned. Julia was buried in an unmarked grave in a
homemade coffin in Ansted, West Virginia.
Jackson was seven when his mother died, and he and his sister Laura Ann were
sent to live with their paternal uncle, Cummins Jackson, who owned a grist mill
in Jackson's Mill (near present-day Weston near Pittsburgh). Cummins Jackson was
strict to Thomas Jackson, often giving his own views on things. Thomas Jackson
looked up to Cummins as a schoolteacher. Their older brother, Warren, went to
live with other relatives on his mother's side of the family, but he died of
tuberculosis in 1841 at the age of 20.
Jackson helped around his uncle's farm, tending sheep with the assistance of
a sheepdog, driving teams of oxen and helping harvest the fields of wheat and
corn. Formal education was not easily obtained, but he attended school when and
where he could. Much of Jackson's education was self-taught. He would often sit
up at night reading by the flickering light of burning pine knots. The story is
told that Thomas once made a deal with one of his uncle's slaves to provide him
with pine knots in exchange for reading lessons. This was in violation of a law
in Virginia at that time that forbade teaching a slave to read or write, but
nevertheless, Jackson taught the man as promised. In his later years at
Jackson's Mill, Thomas was a schoolteacher.
In 1842, Jackson was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West
Point, New York. Because of his inadequate schooling, he had difficulty with the
entrance examinations. As a student, he had to work several times harder than
most cadets to absorb lessons. However, displaying a dogged determination that
was to characterize his life, he became one of the hardest working cadets in the
academy. Thomas Jackson graduated 17th out of 59 students in the Class of 1846.
U.S. Army, the Mexican War
Jackson began his U.S. Army career in the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment and was
sent to fight in the Mexican War from 1846 to 1848. Again, his unusual character
emerged. When he refused what he felt was a "bad order" to withdraw his troops,
he was confronted by another superior. He explained his rationale and claimed
that, with only 50 more troops, he could persevere and win the particular
situation. His judgment proved correct, earning field promotion to the temporary
rank of major.
He served at Veracruz, Contreras, Chapultepec, and Mexico City, eventually
earning two brevet promotions. While serving in Mexico, Jackson first met Robert
Virginia Military Institute
In the spring of 1851, Thomas Jackson accepted a newly created position to
teach at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), in Lexington, Virginia. He
became Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of
Artillery. Jackson's teachings are still used at VMI today because they are
military essentials that are timeless, to wit: discipline, mobility, assessing
the enemy's strength and intentions while attempting to conceal your own, and
the efficacy of artillery combined with infantry in a literal combined attack.
However, despite the quality of his work, he was not popular as a teacher. The
students mocked his apparently stern, religious nature and his eccentric traits.
Little as he was known to the white inhabitants of Lexington, he was revered by
the slaves, to whom he showed uniform kindness, and for whose moral instruction
he worked unceasingly. During this time Jackson even began a Sunday school for
blacks, both slave and free.
While an instructor at VMI, in 1853, Thomas Jackson married Elinor "Ellie"
Junkin, whose father was president of Washington College in Lexington. A son was
born to them but unfortunately, Ellie died during childbirth and the newborn
child died immediately following the birth.
After a tour of Europe, in 1857, Jackson married again. Mary Anna Morrison
was from North Carolina, where her father was the first president of Davidson
University. They had a daughter named Mary Graham on April 30, 1858, but the
baby died less than a month later. Another daughter was born in 1862, shortly
before her famous father's death. The Jacksons named her Julia Laura, after his
mother and sister.
In November 1859, at the request of the governor of Virginia, Major William
Gilham led a contingent of the VMI Cadet Corps to Charles Town to provide an
additional military presence at the execution by hanging on December 2, 1859 of
militant abolitionist John Brown following his raid on the federal arsenal at
Harpers Ferry. Major Jackson was placed in command of the artillery, consisting
of two howitzers manned by 21 cadets.
American Civil War
In 1861, as the American Civil War broke out, Jackson became a drill master
for some of the many new recruits in the Confederate Army. On April 27, 1861,
Virginia Governor John Letcher ordered Colonel Jackson to take command at
Harpers Ferry, where he would assemble and command the famous "Stonewall
Brigade", consisting of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia infantry
regiments. All of these units were from the Shenandoah Valley region of
Virginia. He was promoted to brigadier general on June 17.
Jackson rose to prominence and earned his nickname after the first battle of
Bull Run (known as the First Battle of Manassas in the South) in July 1861, when
Brigadier General Barnard E. Bee exhorted his own troops to reform by shouting,
"There stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians!" Jackson
was quickly promoted to divisional command.
In May and June of 1862, he was given an independent command in the
Shenandoah Valley. There he soundly thrashed the Union forces by a combination
of great audacity, excellent knowledge and shrewd use of the terrain, added to
the ability to inspire his troops to great feats of marching and fighting. With
fewer than 17,000 men, he defeated 60,000 Union troops through a series of
lightning marches and brilliant battles. Stonewall Jackson's reputation for
moving his troops earned them the nickname "foot cavalry".
In the spring of 1862, McClellan led the Peninsula Campaign, a major Union
advance from Hampton Roads at Fort Monroe up the Virginia Peninsula between the
York and James Rivers. Union forces reached the defenses of Richmond on June 1.
After the campaign in the Shenandoah Valley ended in mid-June, Jackson and his
troops were called to Richmond, Virginia to help there. By utilizing a railroad
tunnel under the Blue Ridge Mountains he knew of which had been engineered and
built by VMI founder Claudius Crozet, and then transporting troops to Hanover
County on the Virginia Central Railroad, Jackson and his forces made a surprise
appearance in front of McClellan at Mechanicsville. Reports had last placed
Jackson's forces in the Valley, and their presence near Richmond added greatly
to the Union commander's overestimation of the strength and numbers of the
forces before him. This proved a crucial factor in McClellan's decision to
retreat toward the James River.
Jackson's troops served well under Robert E. Lee in the series of battles
known as the Seven Days Battles, but Jackson's own performance in those battles
is generally considered to be lackluster. The reasons are disputed, although a
severe lack of sleep after the grueling march and railroad trip from the
Shenandoah Valley was probably a significant factor. Both Jackson and his troops
were completely exhausted.
Jackson was now a corps commander under Lee. At the Second Battle of Bull Run
(or the Second Battle of Manassas in the South), he helped to administer the
Federals another defeat on the same ground as in 1861. When Lee decided to
invade the North, Jackson took Harpers Ferry, then hastened to join the rest of
the army at Sharpsburg, Maryland, where they fought McClellan in the Battle of
Antietam. The Confederate forces held their position, but the battle had been
extremely bloody for both sides, and Lee took the Army of Northern Virginia back
across the Potomac River, ending the invasion.
Jackson's troops held off a ferocious Union assault at Fredericksburg,
Virginia. At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson's forces flanked the Union
army, and in an intense battle deep in the tangled woods drove them back from
their lines. Darkness ended the assault, and by bad luck Jackson and his staff
were mistaken for a Union cavalry force by Confederate troops and fired upon.
Jackson was hit by three bullets; his left arm had to be amputated by Dr. Hunter
McGuire, and he died seven days later of pneumonia. Jackson's dying words: "Let
us cross the river and rest in the shade of the trees".
Upon hearing of Jackson's death, Robert E. Lee mourned the loss of both a
friend and a trusted commander. The night Lee learned of Jackson's death, he
told his cook, "William, I have lost my right arm" (deliberately in contrast to
Jackson's left arm) and "I'm bleeding at the heart."
Jackson is considered one of the great characters of the Civil War. He was
profoundly religious, a deacon in the Presbyterian Church. He disliked fighting
on Sunday, though that did not stop him from doing so. He loved his wife very
much and sent her tender letters. In command Jackson was extremely secretive
about his plans and extremely punctilious about military discipline. He
generally wore old, worn-out clothes rather than a fancy uniform, and often
looked more like a moth-eaten private than a corps commander. He was known to
chew lemons regularly during marches, a habit he had acquired during his time in
Mexico. He held a lifelong belief that one of his arms was longer than the
other, and thus usually held the "longer" arm up to equalize his circulation. He
was described as a "champion sleeper", even falling asleep with food in his
mouth occasionally. He also became noted throughout the Confederate Army for
leading his troops in complete circles.
The South mourned his death; he was greatly admired there. Many theorists
through the years have postulated that if Jackson had lived, Lee might have
prevailed at Gettysburg. Certainly Jackson's iron discipline and brilliant
tactical sense were sorely missed, and might well have carried an extremely
close–fought battle. He is buried at Lexington, Virginia, near VMI, in the
Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. He is memorialized on Georgia's Stone
Mountain, in Richmond on historic Monument Avenue, and in many other places.
After the War, his wife and young daughter Julia moved from Lexington to
North Carolina. Mary Anna Jackson wrote two books about her husband's life,
including some of his letters. She never remarried, and was known as the "Widow
of the Confederacy", living until 1915. His daughter Julia married, and bore
children, but she died of typhoid fever at the age of 26 years.
A former Confederate soldier who admired Jackson, Captain Thomas R. Ranson of
Staunton, Virginia, also remembered the tragic life of Jackson's mother. He went
to the tiny mountain hamlet of Ansted in Fayette County, West Virginia, and had
a marble marker placed over the unmarked grave of Julia Neale Jackson in
Westlake Cemetery, to make sure that the site was not lost forever.
West Virginia's Stonewall Jackson State Park is named in his honor. Nearby,
at Stonewall Jackson's historical childhood home, his Uncle's grist mill is the
centerpiece of a historical site at the Jackson's Mill Center for Lifelong
Learning and State 4-H Camp. The facility, located near Weston, serves as a
special campus for West Virginia University and the WVU Extension Service.
The United States Navy submarine U.S.S. Stonewall Jackson (SSBN 634),
commissioned in 1964, was named for Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan
"Stonewall" Jackson. The words "Strength -- Mobility" are emblazoned on the
ship's banner. The words are taken from letters written by General Jackson, and
were said to apply to the Polaris submarine as well as to the tactics he used so
successfully. The submarine was decommissioned in 1995.
Jackson was played by Stephen Lang in the film adaptation of Gods and