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American Civil War: Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

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American Civil War: Lieutenant General Thomas

Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, CSA

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Stonewall Jackson - Early Life:

Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born to Jonathan and Julia Jackson on January 21, 1824 at Clarksburg, VA (now WV). Jackson's father, an attorney, died when he was two leaving Julia with three small children. During his formative years, Jackson lived with a variety of relatives but spent the majority of time at his uncle's mill in Jackson's Mills. While at the mill, Jackson developed a strong work ethic and sought out education when possible. Largely self-taught, he became an avid reader. In 1842, Jackson was accepted to West Point, but due to his lack of schooling struggled with the entrance exams.

Stonewall Jackson - West Point & Mexico:

Due to his academic difficulties, Jackson began his academic career at the bottom of his class. While at the academy, he quickly proved himself a tireless worker as he endeavored to catch up to his peers. Graduating in 1846, he was able to achieve class rank of 17 out 59. Commissioned a second lieutenant in the 1st US Artillery, he was sent south to take part in the Mexican-American War. Part of Major General Winfield Scott's army, Jackson took part in the siege of Veracruz and the campaign against Mexico City. In the course of the fighting, he earned two brevet promotions and a permanent one to first lieutenant.

Stonewall Jackson - Teaching at VMI:

Taking part in the assault on Chapultepec Castle, Jackson again distinguished himself and was brevetted to major. Returning the United States after the war, Jackson accepted a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute in 1851. Filling the role of Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery, he developed a curriculum that emphasized mobility and discipline. Highly religious and somewhat eccentric in his habits, Jackson was disliked and mocked by many of the students.

This was worsened by his approach in the classroom where he repeatedly recited memorized lectures and offered little help to his students. While teaching at VMI, Jackson married twice, first to Elinor Junkin who died in childbirth, and later to Mary Anna Morrison in 1857. Two years later, following John Brown's failed raid on Harpers Ferry, Governor Henry Wise asked VMI to provide a security detail for the abolitionist leader's execution. As the artillery instructor, Jackson and 21 of his cadets accompanied the detail with two howitzers.

Stonewall Jackson - The Civil War Begins:

With the election of President Abraham Lincoln and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Jackson offered his services to Virginia and was made a colonel. Assigned to Harpers Ferry, he began organizing and drilling troops, as well as operating against the B&O railroad. Assembling a brigade of troops recruited in and around the Shenandoah Valley, Jackson was promoted to brigadier general that June. Part of General Joseph Johnston's command in the Valley, Jackson's brigade was rushed east in July to aid in the First Battle of Bull Run.

Stonewall Jackson - Stonewall:

As the battle raged on July 21, Jackson's command was brought forward to support the crumbling Confederate line on Henry House Hill. Demonstrating the discipline that Jackson had instilled, the Virginians held the line, leading Brigadier General Barnard Bee to exclaim, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall." Some controversy exists regarding this statement as some later reports claimed that Bee was angry at Jackson for not coming to his brigade's aid faster and that "stone wall" was meant in a pejorative sense. Regardless, the name stuck to both Jackson and his brigade for the remainder of the war.

Stonewall Jackson - In the Valley:

Having held the hill, Jackson's men played a role in the subsequent Confederate counterattack and victory. Promoted to major general on October 7, Jackson was given command of the Valley District with headquarters at Winchester. In January 1862, he conducted an abortive campaign near Romney with the goal of re-capturing much of West Virginia. That March, as Major General George McClellan began transferring Union forces south to the Peninsula, Jackson was tasked with defeating Major General Nathaniel Banks' forces in the Valley as well as preventing Major General Irvin McDowell from approaching Richmond.

Jackson opened his campaign with a tactical defeat at Kernstown on March 23, but rebounded to win at McDowell, Front Royal, and Winchester, ultimately expelling Banks from the Valley. Concerned about Jackson, Lincoln order McDowell to assist and dispatched men under Major General John C. Frémont. Though outnumbered, Jackson continued his string of success defeating Frémont at Cross Keys on June 8 and Brigadier General James Shields a day later at Port Republic. Having triumphed in the Valley, Jackson and his men were recalled to the Peninsula to join General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

Stonewall Jackson - Lee & Jackson:

Though the two commanders would form a dynamic command partnership, their first action together was not promising. As Lee opened the Seven Days Battles against McClellan on June 25, Jackson's performance dipped. Throughout the fighting his men were repeatedly late and his decision making poor. Having eliminated the threat posed by McClellan, Lee ordered Jackson to take the Left Wing of the army north to deal with Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia. Moving north, he won a fight at Cedar Mountain on August 9 and later succeeded in capturing Pope's supply base at Manassas Junction.

Moving onto the old Bull Run battlefield, Jackson assumed a defensive position to await Lee and the Right Wing of the army under Major General James Longstreet. Attacked by Pope on August 28, his men held until they arrived. The Second Battle of Manassas concluded with a massive flank attack by Longstreet which drove Union troops from the field. Following the victory, Lee decided to attempt an invasion of Maryland. Dispatched to capture Harper's Ferry, Jackson took the town before joining the rest of the army for the Battle of Antietam on September 17. Largely a defensive action, his men bore the brunt of the fighting at the northern end of the field.

Withdrawing from Maryland, Confederate forces regrouped in Virginia. On October 10, Jackson was promoted to lieutenant general and his command officially designated the Second Corps. When Union troops, now led by Major General Ambrose Burnside, moved south that fall, Jackson's men joined Lee at Fredericksburg. During the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, his corps succeeded in holding off strong Union assaults south of the town. With the end of the fighting, both armies remained in place around Fredericksburg for the winter.

When campaigning resumed in the spring, the Union forces guided by Major General Joseph Hooker attempted to move around Lee's left to attack his rear. This movement presented problems for Lee as he had sent Longstreet's corps away to find supplies and was badly outnumbered. Fighting at the Battle of Chancellorsville began on May 1 in a thick pine forest known as the Wilderness with Lee's men under heavy pressure. Meeting with Jackson, the two men devised a daring plan for May 2 which called for the latter to take his corps on a wide flanking march to strike at the Union right.

This daring plan succeeded and Jackson's attack began rolling up the Union line late on May 2. Reconnoitering that night, his party was confused for Union cavalry and was hit by friendly fire. Struck three times, twice in the left arm and once in the right hand, he was taken from the field. His left arm was quickly amputated, but his health began to deteriorate as he developed pneumonia. After lingering for eight days, he died on May 10. In learning of Jackson's wounding, Lee commented, "Give General Jackson my affectionate regards, and say to him: he has lost his left arm but I my right."

Selected Sources

  • Virginia Military Institute: Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
  • Civil War: Stonewall Jackson
  • Stonewall Jackson House
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