Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson
Thomas Jonathan Jackson, more commonly known as Stonewall Jackson, was born January 21, 1824 to Jonathan and Julia Jackson in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). Death plagued Thomas’s young life. His sister, Elizabeth, died when Thomas was only 2, and twenty days later his father passed away. One day after his father’s death, Thomas’s sister Laura Ann was born. Widowed and living in debt with three children, Julia Jackson moved her family to a one-room house. After four years of poverty, she remarried, but her husband did not like his new stepchildren. The next year, Julia died, and Thomas’s stepfather orphaned the children.
At seven years old, Jackson was sent to live with his uncle, who owned a gristmill. A former education was not obtained easily, but he managed to get somewhat of an education, though most of it was self-taught. Jackson once taught one of his uncle’s slaves to read, in exchange for some pine knots. Following this role, he later became a schoolteacher at the mill. But Stonewall Jackson was meant to become something more than a schoolteacher at a gristmill.
In 1842, Jackson was accepted into the United State Military Academy at West Point, New York. Because of his lack of a formal education, he had trouble with the entrance exams, and started at the bottom of his class. But Jackson was determined, a trait that characterized him his entire life, and he worked harder than anyone on his studies. In 1846, he graduated 17th out of 59 students. It was said by his peers that if they stayed at West Point another year, he would have finished first.
Jackson, fresh out of the Military Academy, was sent to fight in the Mexican-American War as a temporary officer, called a brevet. The troops under his command fought four major battles, including the battle at Chapultepec. This is were Jackson first showed his initiative as an officer. During the assualt of the Chapultepec Castle, he refused to carry out an order to withdraw his troops. His defiance payed off, and the battle was won. His intuition on the battlefield earned him a brevet promotion to the rank of major. But the best thing to come out of Mexico was not his promotions… Jackson met future General Robert. E. Lee during the Mexican-American War.
In 1851, Jackson became a teacher at the Virginia Military Institute, teaching Artillery. Although he had vast knowledge of the subject and taught it well, he was not particularly like in the school. The students made fun of his strict religious attitude. The African American people, slaves and freemen, adored him, however. He owned six slaves throughout his life, and treated them all with kindness.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Jackson became a drill master for many of the new recruits of the Confederate Army. But he would not remain a drill master for long. On April 27th, 1861, the Governer of Virginia order Jackson to take command of the troops at Harper’s Ferry. Here he would form the famous “Stonewall Brigade”. Jackson was known for his relentless drilling of his troops; he believed that discipline was key to victory on the battlefield. On June 17 he was promoted to Brigadier General.
General Jackson first became known throughout the Confederacy after the First Battle of Bull Run. This was the battle where he earned his nickname, Stonewall. As the Confederate troops under General Bernard B. Elliot, Jr. began to crumble, Jackson’s own troops came and reinforced the line, holding the oncoming Union Army. Moments before Elliot was killed on the battlefield, he shouted, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Follow me.” And the name stuck. After the battle, Jackson was promoted to Major General. But the Stonewall Brigade, under Major General “Stonewall” Jackson, still had a lot of fighting left to do.
The Union armies marched toward Richmond in the spring of 1862. General George B. McClellan’s army was marching from the north, and it was to be reinforced by other Union armies to the south and the west. The only thing standing in their way was a stone wall. That stone wall happened to have about 40,000 troops less than its Union counterpart, but that didn’t stop Jackson from outmanuevering and outflanking McClellan’s armies. After several months of fighting, the Stonewall Brigade drove the Union armies out of the Shenandoah Valley, situated near Richmond. The strategies were not the only noteworthy thing to come from the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson’s troops marched a total of 646 miles in 48 days, earned them the nickname “foot calvary”. With this campaign came a well earned reputation in the south for General Jackson. He became the most celebrated and honored Confederate officer until his friend, Robert E. Lee, came into the picture.
Jackson was ordered to join up with General Lee, and their armies fought a series of battles, the most notable victory being the Second Battle of Bull Run. It was much like the first, and ended in an embarrassing Union retreat. The Confederacy could not gloat long though, for when Lee took his armies into Maryland, the Confederate Army was severly wounded at the Battle of Antietem. Both sides took heavy losses, but Lee was forced to retreat. Just before winter came, the North attacked Stonewall’s army, situated on the right flank of the Confederate line. The Stonewall Brigade held strong, and the battle became a decisive Confederate victory.
During the Battle of Chancellorville, one of the most successful attacks of the war would be employed by Generals Lee and Jackson. Lee sent Jackson on a wide flanking manuever, to come upon the Union army from the rear side. Jackson sent out his calvary to report on the location of the Union rear flank. The news that came back was almost too good to be true. The Union army was camped less than a mile away from Jackson’s position, facing the opposite direction. And better yet, the soldiers were playing games and eating, unaware that an entire Confederate corps, commanded by the infamous Stonewall Jackson, was a mere mile away.
Jackson’s army crept up until they were within 700 feet of the Union flank, and then they let out an earsplitting cry and charged. Many of the Union soldiers surrendered and taken prisoner without a single shot fired, the rest were driven out in a full-scale rout. Jackson pursued until dark, when he returned to his camp. But on return to the camp, Jackson and his staff were mistaken for Union calvary, and were fired upon. Jackson himself was shot three times, twice in the left arm, which was amputated. The doctors thought he would recover, but they did not know that he was already suffering from pneumonia. Eight days, later Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson died in a plantation office building from complications of pneumonia. Upon hearing of his commander and friend’s death, General Lee mourned the loss. He told his cook “I have lost my right arm” (in contrast to Jackson’s left).
Stonewall Jackson is considered one of the greatest figures of the American Civil War. He was an avid Christian, and disliked fighting on Sundays, though that would not stop him from doing so for a Confederate victory. The south mourned him dearly, for he was an important figure and a hero to the southern community.
There have been four U.S. Navy ships named after Jackson, among numerous towns, schools, hospitals, and he even has his own day (Lee-Jackson Day) in Virginia. Stonewall Jackson even made it on to a stone wall, in the enormous carving on Stone Mountain, Georgia. General Thomas J. Jackson’s legacy is quite literally carved in stone, and he has earned his namesake.