Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson
Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was one of the finest officers in the Confederate army, a consummate professional who, though a strict disciplinarian, earned the respect and loyalty of all who served with him. So famous are his exploits on the battlefield that his name is practically synonymous with the War for Southern Independence, even though he died in battle midway through the conflict.
Jackson was born in Virginia (in a region that is now West Virginia) in 1824; he was orphaned as a youngster and raised by an uncle. Coming to West Point as an awkward, ill-educated boy in homespun clothes, Jackson was not an impressive plebe. After struggling to maintain minimum academic proficiency the first few months, he gradually improved his class standing; “and it was a frequent remark amongst his brother cadets that if the course had been a year longer he would have come out first”. He studied with such vigor and determination that he graduated 17th in a class of 59. Jackson's first taste of combat was in the Mexican War; under John B. Magruder, he fought with distinction in numerous battles, including Vera Cruz, Contreras and Chapultepec, and won two brevets. After the Mexican War, Jackson was transferred to a number of different posts, for example, in Florida, where he helped quell the Seminole uprising. In 1852 he resigned to teach at the Virginia Military Institute and become a professor of military tactics and natural philosophy. Jackson’s first wife died 14 months after their marriage, and he remarried a few years later. While still in Mexico he had joined the church, and during his 10 years in Lexington he became a zealous and hardworking Presbyterian. In his personal habits he became increasingly austere. “He never smoked, he was a strict teetotaler, and he never touched a card. His diet, for reasons of health, was of a most sparing kind…”
As events led up to the Civil War, Jackson commanded a company of V.M.I. cadets at John Brown’s hanging in 1859 and on 21 April 1861 took the battalion of cadets to Richmond, where they were wanted as drillmasters for the mobilizing troops of Virginia. Appointed Colonel of C.S.A. Infantry, he was then ordered to Harpers Ferry where he organized what was shortly to become famous as the Stonewall Brigade. Appointed Brigadier General C.S.A. 17 June 1861, he and his brigade distinguished themselves at 1st Manassas, where they both won the nickname “Stonewall”. He was promoted Major General 7th October 1861 and sent back to the Valley. Here, after the unsuccessful winter operation against Bath and Romney, the Loring-Jackson incident, and his defeat at Kernstown, he conducted the campaign that ranks with the most brilliant in history. In March 1862 he began a march through the Valley, facing a number of armies that greatly outnumbered his own. But what he may have lacked in manpower Jackson more than made up for in fantastic strategy. Deploying his men quickly and for optimum effect, Jackson managed an impressive diversion that effectively kept Union forces in northern and western Virginia from attacking Richmond.
Joining Lee on the Peninsula, he then exhibited an amazingly inept leadership, the reasons for which still have the analysts baffled. At Mechanicsville and White Oak Swamp, for example, he failed to position his troops as ordered by Robert E. Lee, placing the Army of Northern Virginia in serious jeopardy. Then, however, his genius showed itself again in his lightning envelopment of Pope’s army and the battle of 2nd Manassas. He and his men made a grueling march through Virginia to Manassas Junction in just two days. After arriving at the scene, Jackson performed a disappearing act that thoroughly confused Union General John Pope, who was never able to accurately pinpoint Jackson's location. This gave Jackson and the other Confederate troops the upper hand, and though facing superior numbers, they managed an impressive victory. In the Antietam campaign he continued to excel as a commander of independent operations, while Lee accompanied the slower-moving Longstreet. Jackson arrived just in time to save Robert E. Lee's army from complete annihilation.
He was appointed Lieutenant General on 10 October 1862 and given command of the newly-established II Corps, A.N.V. He had a prominent part in the battle of Fredericksburg, where he held the right of the line. As Lee’s strong right arm, it was Jackson who executed the audacious plan that resulted in the masterpiece of Chancellorsville. On 2 May 1863 he was mortally wounded by his own men and died eight days later of pneumonia resulting from his wounds. Lee said: “I know not how to replace him.” Freeman sums up the defeat at Gettysburg with the statement, “Jackson is not here.”
“A man he is of contrasts so complete that he appears one day a Presbyterian deacon who delights in theological discussion and, the next, a reincarnated Joshua. He lives by the New Testament and fights by the Old. Almost 6 feet in height and weighing about 175 pounds, he has blue eyes, a brown beard and a commonplace, somewhat trusty appearance” (Lee’s Letters).
Called “Old Jack” at West Point; “Tom Fool Jackson” by his V.M.I. cadets; “Old Blue Light”, “Stonewall” and then “Old Jack” by his soldiers, he is “Stonewall” to posterity...