Stonewall Jackson: Anecdotes

Thomas J. "Stonewall" JacksonGIVING CREDIT WHERE DUE

          After six tremendous Union assaults on his position on August 29, 1862, Stonewall Jackson’s troops still held Stony Ridge. That night a friend told Jackson, “We have won this battle by the hardest kind of fighting.” Jackson replied, “No, no, we have won it by the blessing of Almighty God !’


          On December 12, 1862, Generals John B. Hood and Stonewall Jackson were riding to Lee's headquarters for consultation. The conversation turned to the future. Jackson asked Hood if he expected to live to see the end of the War. Hood answered that he didn't know, but he was inclined to think he'd be badly shattered before the struggle ended. When asked the same question. Jackson said without hesitation that he did not expect to live to the end of the contest, adding that he could not say he desired to do so. The casually spoken words foresaw the fate of each man: Hood was crippled before the close of the War; Jackson died following his wounding during a battle.


          “I wish all Yankees were in hell,” said a tired, lean member of the Stonewall Brigade. “I don’t, “ said another, “because Old Jack would have us standing picket at the gate before night and in there before morning.”


          In 1862 when he took command of the Union Army of Virginia, Union General John Pope boasted to the troops, "I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemy." When he heard the statement, Richard Ewell joked "Pope would not want to see the backs of my men. Their pantaloons are out at the rear!" Stonewall Jackson was more grim, "They say this new general claims my attention. Well, please God, he shall have it!" (And he did!)


          In late April, 1862, enraged by a terse reply by which Stonewall Jackson dismissed an elaborate scheme of Ewell's, General Richard Ewell exploded to a fellow officer, "Did it ever occur to you that General Jackson is crazy? He is as crazy as a March hare!" About six weeks later he told the officer, "I take it all back... Old Jackson's no fool. He keeps his own counsel, and does curious things, but he has method in his madness." Grinning, he added, "He's disappointed me entirely!"


          "Stonewall" Jackson regarded duty as a calling, not an elective. He remained close to his men and suffered with them. Soldiers arising with snow on their blankets would see their commander rise a few feet away. Jackson ignored grumbling by his men. While he did not remonstrate, neither did he relent; soldiers were meant to endure hardships. Combat and comfort did not coexist in his army. Jackson's concept of war was a simple one: "Armies are not called out to dig trenches, to throw up breastworks, to live in camps, but to find the enemy and strike him..." While many of his men thought him peculiar, they trusted and respected him. They cheered whenever he rode past them, even on forced marches. The Stonewall Brigade fought with distinction from First Manassas to Appomattox. Jackson's most famous nickname never appealed to his troops, who regularly referred to him as "Old Jack", "Old Blue Light", "Hickory", or even "Square Box" (because of his large shoe size).

          Ordered to take command of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley, Jackson was reluctant to leave the Brigade. When he did so, he gave a farewell address at the request of his troops. Rising in his stirrups before the troops, he yelled:

          "In the Army of the Shenandoah you were the First Brigade! In the Army of the Potomac you were the First Brigade! In the Second Corps of the army you are the First Brigade! You are the First Brigade in the affection of your general, and I hope by your future deeds and bearing you will be handed down as the First Brigade in this our Second War of Independence. Farewell!"


          Stonewall Jackson's leadership in the Valley Campaign was evaluated by General Richard S. Ewell: "Well, sir, when he commenced it, I thought him crazy; before he ended it, I thought him inspired."


          On 22 November 1862, as his army was leaving Winchester, Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson was stopped by an old woman asking for her boy, "Johnnie". Jackson asked her son's command. Obviously unaware of Jackson's identity, she replied, " Cap'n Jackson's company." Jackson respectfully identified himself as her son's commander and asked for more information to help locate him. Surprised that "Cap'n Jackson" didn't know all about her son, she tearfully repeated the little she knew, that he was in "Cap'n Jackson's company". Some young officers behind the general laughed about the old woman's expecting Jackson to know all of his men. Jackson turned and with fierce anger made them aware this was no laughing matter, immediately sending them to search until "Johnnie" was found.


          One day Stonewall Jackson rode up to a Confederate picket on the Rappahannock River and was greeted as usual by a cheer. From across the river came a shout from Northern troops, "What's the matter over there, Johnny ?" "General Stonewall Jackson !" yelled a Southern sentry. An astonishing yell came over the river from the "bluebellies", "Hurrah for Stonewall Jackson!"


          Captain Charles M. Blackford rode on scout duty with Stonewall Jackson one dark night. Jackson led the party over by-paths and unused roads all through the night, with no evident destination or purpose. Blackford muttered comments from time to time to Sandie Pendleton who was riding beside him. At one point Blackford drowsed off in the saddle, then awoke and spoke in a petulant undertone to Pendleton,"Sandie, where is that old fool taking us ?" From the dark figure on the next horse, the unmistakable voice of Jackson responded, "What ?" Thankful for the darkness, Blackford reined in his horse and continued the trip, wide awake once more.


          Lt. General Dick Ewell looked on as Stonewall Jackson knelt hatless before his tent on the morning of one of his great victories, praying to his Lord. Aware of the great faith and military talent before him, Ewell commented, "If that is religion, I must have it."


          In July, 1891, when the impressive statue of Stonewall Jackson was dedicated over his grave, 30,000 people gathered in Lexington, Virginia. On the day before the dedication, survivors of the Stonewall Brigade, dressed in faded and tattered gray uniforms, were the center of attention in the town. That night when citizens of the town wanted to ensure the old soldiers comfortable lodging, a diligent search of homes and hotels yielded not one of the men. Near midnight the Brigade was found, huddled in blankets around Jackson's statue in the cemetery. Urged to leave the damp ground and partake of the town's hospitality, none of the men stirred. Finally one said, "Thank you sirs, but we've slept around him many a night on the battlefield, and we want to bivouac once more with Old Jack." And they did. The next day, 21 July, was the thirtieth anniversary of the memorable battle where Thomas Jonathan Jackson became forever "Stonewall". The day began with a procession featuring a brand-new Confederate battle flag made especially for the occasion. When the graveside ceremonies ended, the Stonewall Brigade fell into ranks and marched slowly to the cemetery gate. There one of the veterans paused and gazed around at the land he had defended with the general. When his eyes reached Jackson's grave, he removed his hat and shouted in a choking voice, "Goodbye, old man, goodbye! We've done all we can for you!"


          As panic-stricken Union troops fled Winchester, Virginia, ahead of advancing troops of Stonewall Jackson on 25 May 1862, General Nathaniel Banks attempted to stop them and restore order. To a mob of running soldiers, Banks shouted, "My God, don't you love your country ?" "Yes," came a reply from an unknown soldier, "and I'm trying to get back to it as fast as I can !"


          Late one day in May of 1862 Stonewall Jackson was about to order a night attack on the Federals in Winchester. He summoned the five regimental commanders of the Stonewall Brigade for a council of war. He then issued orders incorporating their advice. When the desired assault failed to work out, Jackson was furious. "That is the last council of war I will ever hold." He kept his word!


          Stonewall Jackson’s practicality was not as recognized as his religiousness. In discussing preparations for battle in one campaign, one of Jackson’s officers stated he was planning on praying. Jackson agreed that praying would be a very good idea , adding, “But, colonel, don’t forget to drill.“


          Stonewall Jackson's chief commissary of subsistence was Major Wells J. Hawks. In March of 1861, after Jackson had halted his troops for the night, Hawks moved his wagon train off the road and into a field. Wanting to waste neither time nor resources, the conscientious Hawks sought to organize the train to be ready to move promptly when morning came. He asked Jackson which way the troops would go the next morning so that he would know which way to head the train. Jackson knew the importance of keeping his plans from the enemy and was secretive even with his own staff. Jackson told Hawks to arrange the train with the horses' heads toward the pike. Hawks persisted, asking whether to head up the pike or down it. "I said towards the pike, sir," Jackson fumed, refusing to divulge even the least bit of intelligence


          As the battle at Fredericksburg was about to begin, Generals James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson eyed the long lines of advancing Federals. In an attempt to remove the grim look from Jackson's face, Longstreet joshingly asked Jackson if all those Yankee troops didn't scare him. Never noted for his jocularity, Jackson somberly replied that he guessed everyone would soon find out; either they would scare him or he would scare them!


          Stonewall Jackson believed that he and the other Confederates had left their homes to do a job and the sooner they did their work, the sooner they would return home. To him speed was a weapon which could save lives and he suffered no qualms about asking his men to make long fast marches. When a Valley woman berated Jackson for driving his men too hard on a strenuous march, Jackson tersely replied, "Legs are cheaper than heads, madam."


          One evening Stonewall Jackson called in Captain Myers, one of his veteran officers, and pointed out the urgency of building a bridge over a small creek. Jackson told Myers he would send plans for the bridge as soon as they were completed by his colonel of engineers. The next morning Jackson asked Myers if the plans had arrived. “Well,” said the captain, “the bridge is built, but I don’t know whether the picture is done or not !”


          Stonewall Jackson was shot in the hand at First Manassas. After the fighting was over, he sought out a surgeon. The surgeon examined Jackson’s hand and said a damaged finger would have to be amputated. He turned to find his instruments and when he turned back again, Jackson had ridden away.


          Stonewall Jackson was noted for the rapid movements of his “foot cavalry”. One struggling veteran was heard to avow that Jackson was bound to have been a better general than Moses. It took Moses forty years to lead the Israelites through the wilderness and Old Jack would have double-quicked them through it in three days !


          At a council of generals early in the War, one remarked that a certain officer was wounded and would not be able to perform a duty that had been proposed for him. Said Stonewall Jackson in surprise, “ Wounded ? If it is really so, I think it must have been by an accidental discharge of his duty !"

Stonewall JacksonSTONEWALLING IT

          News of the First Battle of Manassas spread throughout a jubilant South and Stonewall Jackson was mentioned prominently. Having received garbled reports, the people of Lexington awaited reliable news. Finally the minister of Jackson’s church received a letter from Jackson, written the morning after the battle. Telling his eager parishioners, “Now we shall know all the facts”, the minister opened the letter to read the following: ”My dear pastor, in my tent last night, after a fatiguing day’s service, I remembered that I had failed to send you my contribution for our colored Sunday School. Enclosed you will find my check for that object, which please acknowledge at your earliest convenience, and oblige yours faithfully, T.J. Jackson.”


          An incident near Chambersburg indicates the tender memory and sense of duty Stonewall Jackson left behind him. The Assistant Quartermaster of the Second Corps had spent the evening in town and was returning late at night when he was halted by a sentry. Having neither pass nor countersign, he finally produced an old pass signed by General Jackson. After reading the pass and lingering over the signature, the sentinel handed it back, looked up at the stars for a moment, then said sadly and firmly, “Captain, you can go to heaven on that paper but you can’t pass this post."


          Stonewall Jackson was calm even in the excitement of battle. During one battle an officer rode up to him from another part of the field and exclaimed, “General, I think the day is going against us !” In his usual curt manner Jackson responded, “If you think so, sir, you had better not say anything about it !”


          Stonewall Jackson instantly corrected an officer’s reference to his men as “poor devils”, stating that they were “suffering angels”.


          Stonewall Jackson was not always grim. He laughed loudly at a story told by Major Wells Hawks: In the early days a Pilgrim father was going out in the woods with his gun. He met a man who asked ,”Where are you going ?” “Out in the woods,” he replied. “I thought you were a Calvinist.” “I am a Calvinist.” “Don’t you believe you can’t die till your time comes ?” “I know I can’t die till my time comes.” “Then why carry a gun ?” “Because I might meet an Indian whose time had come !”


          Stonewall Jackson usually thought only in terms of attack. This attitude was exemplified on December 14, 1862, at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Vastly outnumbered by the Federals, Jackson was asked by a staff member, “How shall we ever cope with the overwhelming numbers of the enemy ?” Jackson’s reply was to the point, “Kill them, sir, kill every man!”


          The Stonewall Brigade once defended a railroad cut against a bayonet charge by the 52nd New York Infantry Regiment. The Brigade exhausted all ammunition then threw rocks. The major of the New York unit bravely led their charge and was forcing the Brigade back until Jeb Stuart’s cavalry arrived and saved the day for the Southerners. In Stuart’s attack the major fell with a severe wound and was left on the field when his men retreated. Jackson immediately sent his surgeons to care for the Federal officer and do all they could for him. The news of Jackson’s kind treatment shortly reached the New Yorkers and you can bet other Union troops were amazed to hear the 52nd shouting, “Three cheers for Stonewall Jackson !”


          One evening in 1862 Jed Hotchkiss was given an assignment by Stonewall Jackson to locate some needed wagons which had become separated. Hotchkiss told Jackson, “I fear we will not find our wagons tonight.” Jackson replied earnestly, “Never take counsel of your fears.”


          Stonewall Jackson was known to keep his plans to himself. Those plans often came as complete surprises to his subordinates. Major General Richard Ewll, Jackson’s second in command, said he never saw a courier from Jackson approaching without anticipating orders to attack the North Pole.


          Stonewall Jackson was a regular visitor to Dr. Moses Hoge’s Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond, but Jackson quite regularly went to sleep when Dr. Hoge started his sermon. It was once suggested that a tablet should be erected at the church to say : ”Stonewall Jackson slept here.”


          Bringing up the reserves for the fighting near Kernstown, Stonewall encountered men going to the rear. He asked why they were leaving the fight. When he was told because they had fired all their cartridges and didn’t know where to get anymore, Jackson shouted, “Then go back and give them the bayonet !”


          Jubal Early once remarked to D.H. Hill that Union General “Commissary” Banks overestimated the numbers of Southern troops because he saw them through a magnifying glass whenever Stonewall Jackson was about.


          This story circulated among Stonewall Jackson’s men after his death : Two angels came to carry Stonewall back to Heaven with them. They searched all through his camp but couldn’t find him. They went to the prayer meeting, to the hospital, every place they thought he might be, all to no avail. They finally returned to Heaven to find Stonewall had executed a splendid flanking movement and gotten to Heaven before them.


          The night after the Battle of Fredericksburg, General Robert E. Lee held a council of war and invited all his generals. General Jackson slept throughout the proceedings. Upon being awakened and asked his opinion, Stonewall Jackson curtly said, “Drive ‘em into the river; drive ‘em into the river !”


          Stonewall Jackson once demanded an explanation from Jubal Early of why he had seen so many stragglers behind Early’s division. Early replied that Jackson had seen so many stragglers because he rode behind the division. Contrary to the general expectation, Jackson only smiled and dismissed the subject


          On Thursday, September 4, 1862, Lee’s army was headed north, crossing the Potomac at White’s Ford. A bottleneck developed in midstream when a wagon train became entangled. Stonewall Jackson’s quartermaster, Major John Harman, got the train moving again with a spectacular exhibition of profanity. The pious Jackson reprimanded Harman for his profanity, then smiled and accepted his explanation : “Ther’s only one language that will make a mule understand on a hot day that they must get out of the water.”


          One of his commanders galloped up to Stonewall Jackson at Malvern Hill. He asked, “Did you send me an order to advance over that field ?” “I did, sir,” was the cold reply. “Impossible, sir !” exclaimed the officer, “My men will be annihilated ! Annihilated, I tell you, sir !” With his voice showing repressed anger, Jackson told the officer, “I always endeavor to take care of my wounded and bury my dead. Obey that order, sir !”


          Before Second Manassas Union General John Pope allegedly reported his headquarters to be in the saddle. Stonewall Jackson was amused to hear the report and remarked that he could whip any man who didn’t know his headquarters from his hindquarters.


          Just before the Second Battle of Manassas, Stonewall Jackson and his staff were met on the old Warrenton Road by Jeb Stuart and his men. Stuart had made a raid around Pope’s army and captured Pope’s headquarters. Stuart called out to Jackson, “Hello, Jackson, I’ve got Pope’s coat. If you don’t believe it, there’s his name”, holding out a magnificent new major general’s coat for Jackson’s examination. Stuart’s staff expected a loud laugh but Jackson’s response was, “General Stuart, I would much rather you had brought General Pope than his coat.”


          Noting that Stonewall Jackson’s uniform and cap had become quite dingy, Jeb Stuart presented him with a fine new uniform, including cap and overcoat. The first time that Jackson appeared in his new clothes, his men did not immediately recognize him. There was silence until someone shouted, “Come out of them, Jackson, you can’t fool us.”


          German-born troops under Federal General Franz Siegel marched toward the Battle of Cross Keys singing, "Shackson [Jackson] in a shug [jug], boys, Shackson in a shug!” When they came back worse the wear after meeting Jackson, young Virginia ladies cried out, “Hey, thought Jackson was in a jug!” prompting the response, “Ach, der stopper flew out!”


          It was an extremely hot day in July, 1862, when a group of Confederate officers stopped at a house near Richmond. None of the officers were dressed in a fine uniform. When the lady of the house was asked for a drink of water, she eyed the men and unenthusiastically agreed. She went into the house and brought out a stone pitcher of water with no dipper or cup to drink from. She handed it to the first man in line who, unknown to her, was Stonewall Jackson. Noting the deference of the other men, she asked one of them who was drinking from her pitcher. Learning it was Jackson, she gazed at him intently as if to engrave the scene in her memory. When Jackson finished drinking and handed back the pitcher, the lady emptied the contents onto the ground and took the pitcher into the house. She returned with another pitcher and gave it to the staff. Asked why she had taken the other pitcher away, she replied that after it had touched the lips of Jackson no one else would ever drink from it. It would be kept as a family memento of Stonewall’s visit to her home.


          In some ways ill-prepared for his teaching responsibilities at VMI, Major “Stonewall” Jackson stayed ahead of his students only by reading and memorizing the textbooks used in the course. His lectures were essentially quotes from the books. He was precise to a fault in small details. He once asked a cadet, “What are the three simple machines?” When the cadet proudly replied, “The inclined plane, the level, and the wheel”, Jackson snapped, “No sir, the level, the wheel, and the inclined plane.” That was the order they were listed in the textbook and therefore the way they were to be identified.


          Stonewall Jackson was beside Richard Taylor as the Louisiana Brigade advanced under heavy artillery fire near Winchester. When some of the troops ducked, Taylor rasped at them, “ What the hell are you dodging for?” Jackson stared reproachfully at Taylor, saying there was no excuse for such language, especially on Sunday. He placed his hand on Taylor’s shoulder and commented, “I am afraid you are a wicked fellow”.


          Late in August, 1862, Stonewall Jackson seized the Federal supply depot at Manassas Junction. His men were soon feasting on delicacies such as ham, lobster, cakes, fruits, etc. Fine cigars circulated freely. Salt, clothing, and wagons were also secured. Jackson wanted his troops to stay ready for battle and tried to ensure they would not partake of the abundant quantities of whiskey and brandy found in the supplies. Stating that he feared the liquor more than Union General Pope’s whole army, Jackson ordered some of his most trusted officers to spill the liquor on the ground. Try as they may, those hard-working officers were unable to prevent all of the fast-thinking troops from filling their canteens with the sought after liquids. (Some walked away with canteens filled half with brandy and half with strawberry syrup.) With stomachs and thirsts sated and military accoutrements refitted, the Confederates destroyed what they could not cart away. When resultant fires reached the ammunition trains, it was reported that the explosions rivaled the loudest of battles.


          Stonewall Jackson was so strong in his regard of the sacredness of Sunday as a holy day, that he would not send a message if it would be carried on its way on Sunday. He is said to have refused a batch of gunpowder because it had been procured on Sunday. 

Taken from SIDELIGHTS AND LIGHTER SIDES OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES: A Feast of History in Small Bites Cooked Up by Ralph Green, Past Commander-in-Chief Sons of Confederate Veterans. Used with permission.

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