Personal Reminiscences of "Stonewall" Jackson, by William B. Taliaferro - Part 1

Confederate General William Booth Taliaferro        William Booth Taliaferro delivered this address on Javckson to the Lee Camp of the United Confederate Veterans, in Richmond, Virginia. The transcript of Taliaferro's address appears here through the courtesy of the Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. For ease of reading, the address has been edited and some archaisms and misspellings in the original (mainly slips of the pen) have been corrected. Punctuation and capitalization are modernized.

        I have been asked to relate a few of my personal reminiscences of Stonewall Jackson. The request does not imply any discussion of his character or any critical review of his military performances. Still, the simplest narrative of the few incidents I may recount will necessarily involve, to some extent, an estimate of his character and genius as a man and a soldier.

        My acquaintance with Jackson commenced shortly after the Mexican War when, as one of the members of the Visitorial Board of the Virginia Military Institute, I found him the newly appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery in that institution. The impression he produced upon me at that time was that he was a man of peculiarities, quite distinctly marked from other people – reserved, yet polite; reticent of opinions, but fixed in the ideas he had formed; essentially averse to obtruding them upon others, but determined and unflinching in their advocacy when pressed to any expression of them.

        The striking characteristic then, as it remained (only intensified) in after life, was his strict sense of duty. This abrupt manner and a crisp but not brusque form of expression did not tend to render him popular with the young men under his charge; and ‘Old Jack’, who measured other men by his own standard and required them to come to his own ideas of duties to be performed, was thought by them to be rather hard and sometimes rather unforgiving.

        He had been a lieutenant of artillery in Mexico in the famous battery of “El Captain Colorado”, John Bankhead Magruder, who gained that sobriquet from the flashy uniform which he wore which rivaled that of Murat in the gold lace and red stripes with which it was decorated.

        Jackson was by no means, however, the counterpart of this commander, for more antithetical characters I never knew. The gay, rollicking, devil-may-care traits of Magruder were never cut from the same parchment upon which were inscribed the peculiarities of his subaltern….

        The artillery arm of his profession was always Jackson’s favorite. He loved his guns, and for the little brass pieces which were served and manned by the cadets under his instruction he seemed to have the affection and pride of a mother who launched upon society her young and blushing daughters. I never knew him to ignore or decline the use of artillery but twice in my service with him. The battle of McDowell (Pittington’s Hill in the Federal reports) was fought without artillery on the Confederate side. It was rough ground almost as rough as Cerro Gordo – but still guns might have been dragged up the heights. He was urged to send them but declined – why, nobody knows. He rarely gave reasons, he gave orders, that was all – short, sharp, quick, decisive. The tone and manner stopped inquiry.

        When we lay along the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg to Port Royal, after the battle with Burnside’s army, the pickets in front of our lines, which were well drawn back from the river, were necessarily heavy. Riding with my chief of artillery to (Jackson’s) headquarters, I suggested the propriety of reinforcing the regiments on picket in my front with a few guns. He curtly replied, “No, I had rather rely upon the infantry”, to the surprise of the officers of artillery, who although saved a disagreeable duty were mortified at the implied affront to their arm of the service. Nothing of the sort, however, was intended; he believed in their efficacy and efficiency but he was satisfied Burnside had no intention to renew the attack.

        I reported to Jackson as colonel with a brigade of troops from Georgia, Arkansas, and Virginia in December, 1861, at Winchester. We had crossed the Alleghenies with Garnett, participated in his Northwest Virginia campaign, and had suffered the terrible hardships of his retreat before McClellan, and afterwards of the rugged service of the Allegheny and Cheat Mountain country with (Brigadier) Generals (William W.) Loring and Henry R. Jackson. We were rejoiced to return to civilization; and the charming hospitalities of the people of Winchester in a large degree compensated us for the hardship of our unfortunate campaign…

        Jackson, at Winchester, disclosed to me a trait which had not struck me before. There is a great difference, however, in looking at a brevet major and a full major general. I had not noticed the saliency of his character – I will not say restlessness, but the desire to do, to be moving, to make, and to embrace opportunity. At the Institute he was more than ordinary passive. The fire was there, but he was a soldier engrain and he believed it to be his duty in his subordinate place to execute, not to suggest.

        His command was greatly augmented by the troops of Gen. Loring, and the combined forced were known as the Army of the Valley. I will not describe our march in January, 1862, to Hancock and Romney, nor notice the campaign more than to say that it illustrated the go-aheaditiveness of Jackson’s character. It was in the depth of winter, in a harsh climate, and over mountain roads which would have appalled and deterred most men; yet Jackson was apparently unconscious of either cold or suffering. He had his object in view and saw nothing else. His orders were to go, and we had to go. The hills were glaciers – neither horses nor mules could gain a foothold. What then? A corps of pioneers was organized with pickaxes, and the steep declivities were literally trenched from top to bottom to enable the animals to stick their feet upon an unyielding surface. In this way we made, one day, only two miles, but that much had been accomplished. Jackson had a lively horror of the impedimenta of any army. We were ordered to leave the wagons behind. The guns, of course, had to go – prolongs and pickaxes did it. When we reached the river opposite Hancock, there was neither tent nor camp equipage. No house was there, hardly a tree. The weather was intense, and a hard, crisp snow sheeted the landscape. It is a fact that the enemy literally snowballed us, for the missiles from their guns scattered the hard snow and hurled the fragments upon us, almost as uncomfortable to us as the splinters from their shells. Days and nights we were there without shelter of any kind….

        That Jackson was not popular with his officers and men, even of his old brigade, at that time, is undeniable, for the true secret of the power of the American soldier is his individuality, the natural result of American citizenship….Jackson’s men thought, and thinking, did not think that the ends accomplished by the Romney campaign justified the sacrifices which were made. It was their later common baptism of fire in the battles which were not long after fought, and his absolute fearlessness…which endeared him to his men…

        When Jackson followed Milroy, after the battle of McDowell down the valley of the South Branch of the Potomac, he had with him several regiments of Garnett’s old command (which) had been chased up the same valley by those they were now pursing. He fully entered into the feeling of these men and grimly enjoyed the joke of their turning the tables upon their former pursuers.

        At Staunton, on this march, he had picked up the Institute cadets. The boys seemed to enjoy the idea of serving with their old professor and ….taking part in real warfare. One night, returning from the front in the darkness, I hailed a sentinel and asked whose command I was passing. He replied, with a chuckle which I did not understand, ‘Smith’s Division, Sir.” “Ah,” I rejoined, “Gen. G.W. Smith’s Division has reinforced us. Is that possible?” He burst out into a loud laugh as he cried, “No, Sir, Brevet Major General Francis H. Smith’s Division, Corps of Cadets”. I pardoned his impudence for his wit and left him convulsed with laughter at the idea of “selling” a general officer.

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