James Alexander "Stonewall Jim" Walker
Few Virginia leaders were more stormy, or more lovable, than "Stonewall Jim" Walker. James Alexander Walker was the son of Alexander Walker and Hannah Hinton, whose ancestors had been among the early Scotch-Irish settlers of the valley of Virginia. He was born in Augusta County on the 27th of August 1832. After receiving the best elementary education that the schools of the neighborhood afforded, he entered the fourth class at the Virginia Military Institute in 1848. Here he remained until the spring of 1852, and was in the graduating class of that year, when he took offense at some remark made to him by Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson (then Professor Jackson), in the lecture room, and a passage of sharp words took place between the two. The episode left Walker with malice in his heart, and he sought satisfaction by hurling a brick at the professor "with all his strength," reported a fellow student. The aim was poor, and Jackson failed to even notice the lame assault. The next morning, as Jackson walked to class, young Walker heaved another errant brick, this time from the 4th story of the barracks. Although Professor Jackson continued on his way, he later queried friends about the merits of arming himself and killing his assailant if another attack occurred. This ended Walker's career at the Institute. Though Walker stood high in his class, and was popular with all who knew his honest heart and chivalric qualities, he was court-martialed and dismissed from the institution.
In after years, when Jackson and Walker met, as officers in the field, the former saw his wayward pupil in the front of every fight, always prompt, never shirking the most arduous duties, nor flinching in the most trying and dangerous situations, he freely blotted from his remembrance all thought of the occurrence between them at the institute, and pushed him for promotion whenever there was an opportunity to do so. They became friends and no officer in the army stood higher in the esteem of Jackson than Walker. After the war General Walker's diploma was sent to him by order of the board of visitors, and he is enrolled as a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute.
After leaving the institute, Walker accepted a position in the engineer corps, then engaged in locating the line of the Covington & Ohio (now Chesapeake & Ohio) railroad, from the Big Sandy river to Charlestown, and in this rough and unexciting life he spent eighteen months. He then resigned and returned to his home in Augusta County. Shortly afterward he began to read law in the office of Col. John B. Baldwin at Staunton. During the session of 1854-55, he took a law course at the University of Virginia, and immediately afterward began to practice his profession at Newbern, Pulaski County, Va. In 1860 he was elected commonwealth's attorney of that county and filled that position until the spring of 1863. Immediately after the John Brown raid, Walker organized a local militia company, the Pulaski Guards, and being elected their captain, drilled them so faithfully that when Governor Letcher called for troops from Virginia, his was one of the best companies mustered into the service.
In April, 1861, Captain Walker and his company were ordered to report for duty at Harper's Ferry, and there joined Stonewall Jackson's command. Captain Walker remained with the 4th Virginia Infantry until after the skirmish at Falling Waters, and for conspicuous gallantry and exhibition of high soldierly qualities, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant- colonel and assigned to duty in the 13th Virginia Infantry, of which A. P. Hill was colonel. Hill was made brigadier in March 1862, and soon afterward Walker was made full colonel. When General Jackson left Manassas for Yorktown, Colonel Walker's regiment formed part of General Ewell's division. Later he joined Jackson's command, and participated in the battles of the famous Valley campaign, distinguishing himself at Cross Keys on June 8, 1862. Colonel Walker commanded a brigade nearly all the year of 1862. At Sharpsburg he commanded Trimble's brigade, and at Fredericksburg, Early's.
Although one of Walker's soldiers called him "rough in his manner," he seemed to be popular. He was, a member of his staff reported, "bold in battle and everywhere else." A Virginia woman, on seeing Walker for the first time, focused on his appearance and found him to be "a noble looking officer." Another observer saw him as "a very large man with a massive head." These physical characteristics united with a fearless demeanor in battle to earn his first nickname: "Bull Dog Walker."
In the spring of 1863 Walker was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general, and by the request of Stonewall Jackson was ordered to take command of the old Stonewall brigade, and the more casual nom de guerre "Stonewall Jim" soon replaced the menacing "Bull Dog." At the head of this famous body of soldiers he fought at Winchester, Gettysburg, Mine Run, Fredericksburg, Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, and at the latter place, the 12th of May, 1864, received a musket ball in the elbow of the left arm, which caused an excessively painful wound, which compelled resection of the bones and his temporary retirement from service.
At Spotsylvania Jim Walker's highly developed passion for action came into full play. He was "a splendid soldier" and gloried in "the thrilling excitement of battles" according to one subordinate, although he was "nervously constituted and could not help dodging bullets." During the fighting at Spotsylvania someone even overheard the general exclaim, "If this is war, may it be eternal."
In July 1864, with his arm still in a sling and his health feeble, he was again called into service and assigned to the defenses of the Richmond & Danville and "Southside" railroads, these roads covering Lee's main line of communication and supplies. He was successful in holding back the raiding cavalry, and in keeping the railroad communications open with the south and west, and for this service received warm commendations of his superior officers. In February, 1865, General Walker asked leave to return to the front once more, and solicited the favor of taking charge of the brigade, which, by the death of the gallant Pegram, was left without a brigadier, and in which was his old regiment, the 13th Virginia, a body of troops than whom, he has often been heard to say, no braver ever fought in all the famous armies of the world. His request was granted. Being the senior brigadier, during Early's absence in the valley of Virginia, with an independent command, he led two brigades of the division in a successful attack on Hare's hill. Still at the head of this division General Walker retreated, with General Lee, fighting all the way at Sailor's Creek, High Brigade and Farmville to Appomattox, where he surrendered himself and about 1,500 officers and men to Grant.
The war over, General Walker returned to his home in Pulaski County, and immediately went to work putting out a crop of corn, with the two mules he had brought home from the army with him. As soon as possible he began to practice law, and gave his entire time to his profession until the summer of 1868. In that year, without any solicitations on his part, he was nominated as the conservative candidate for lieutenant-governor, and he canvassed several counties before the election was postponed by order of the military authorities, and Congress commenced reconstructing the State. When later it was found expedient to nominate a Northern Democrat and Gilbert C. Walker's name was mentioned, General Walker withdrew his name and canvassed the State for Walker against Wells.
In 1871 he was elected to the house of delegates. Election to lieutenant governor followed six years later. Cast aside for governor by fellow Democrats, Walker angrily joined the Republican ranks and ultimately won two terms in the U.S. Congress. A gunfight following another, contested election left Walker crippled.
In the official records of the War, published by the government, General Walker's name, coupled with honorable mention for gallant conduct or faithful services, occurs a number of times in the reports of Confederate officers. One interesting fact connected with him is this, that he is the only officer who ever commanded the Stonewall brigade who survived the war. All of the others, Generals Jackson, Winder, Garnett, and Paxton were killed in battle. Colonels Allen, Botts, and Baylor, while in temporary command of the Stonewall Brigade, also fell at the head of their troops. As the sole surviving commander of this famous brigade, General Walker was an object of much interest in the North and West, and was a number of times invited to make addresses on commanders of the War and kindred subjects, in the cities of those sections. General Walker died on October 20, 1901 and was buried in Wytheville, Virginia.
Walker's daughter stated of the colorful soldier-politician: "Though in every great fight of his life he lost, he never recognized defeat nor knew malice, and always bore about him the manner of a conqueror."