On January 21, 1824, Thomas J. Jackson¹ was born in Clarksburg, WV (then Virginia). When he was two years old, young Thomas was at his sister’s bedside, when she died of typhoid fever. Jackson’s father, Edward, would die several days later, leaving his mother, Julia, with three small children. She would teach school, and sew, earning barely enough to support herself and the three children. She would re-marry Blake Woodson. Julia would die, in 1830, after complications delivering Thomas’shalf-brother. After his mother’s death, Thomas would move in with his uncle, Cummins Jackson, and work on their farm. He would receive a rudimentary education, and teach himself to read. In his later years, with his uncle, Thomas would be a school teacher.
In 1842, Jackson would be appointed to West Point. Due to his lack of formal schooling, he would start at the bottom of class, and work diligently to graduate, in 1846 – 17th of 59 students. His class would supply 24 generals, on both sides, during the years of the Civil War.
After graduation, Jackson would serve in the Mexican War, as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment. He would receive brevet promotions to first lieutenant, and major, for bravery.
After returning from the Mexican War, Jackson would accept a teaching position, at the Virginia Military Institute, in Lexington. As a professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, and artillery instructor, Jackson was not well liked by his cadets. He was very strict, and did not have natural teaching talents.
With the outbreak, of the Civil War, Jackson would be made a colonel in the Virginia Militia, and ordered to report to HarpersFerry. The following month, Joseph E. Johnstonwould relieve Jackson who had been promoted brigadier general. His brigade, consisting of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th and 33rd Virginia Infantry regiments would earn the sobriquet - Stonewall Brigade, after being called to Manassas Junction, to relieve CS General P.G.T. Beuaregard. At Manassas, Jackson’s coolness, under fire, would cause CS Brigadier General Barnard Bee to say, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall.” The name would stick, and he and his brigade would become celebrities in the Confederacy.
In November 1862, Jackson would be detached, to the Shenandoah Valley, to relieve pressure from Federal armies, approaching from the north. Over the coming months Jackson, now a major general would use his division to thwart Federal thrusts into the Shenandoah Valley. In the spring of 1863, Jackson would be ordered to attack forces commanded by US Major General Nathanial Banks, to prevent his army from joining with US Major General Irvin McDowell’sforces, near Fredericksburg. CS General Robert E. Lee believed that the combination of Banks, McDowell and the Army of the Potomac, under the command of US Major General George B. McClellan, operating on the peninsula, would be too much for the Confederates to handle. Thus Jackson’s operations became strategically critical to the entire eastern theater of the war.
Stonewall would march south, to McDowell, and defeat troops under US Brigadier General Robert Schenck. From there, he would move north and defeat Banks’s army at Front Royal, and Winchester. He would push Banks clear out of the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson would turn south, and defeat US Major General John C. Fremont, at Cross Keys, andthen turn on US Brigadier General James Shields at Port Republic. Accolades would abound for Jackson after his brilliant Shenandoah Campaign. With the valley secure, Jackson was ordered east, by R.E. Lee to reinforce the Army of Northern Virginia, now under his command. He would arrive in time to participate in the Seven Days battles, pushing McClellan from the peninsula.
Jackson would continue to command brilliantly, with an overwhelming victory at Second Manassas, a tactical, well fought draw at Antietam and another sound victory in December 1862, at Fredericksburg. For his efforts, Jackson would be promoted lieutenant general, along with James Longstreet, in October 1862. But Stonewall’s most brilliant day was still in the future.
In May 1863, with US Major General Joseph Hooker’sArmy of the Potomac, pushing around Lee’s left flank, near the Chancellor Tavern, Lee was unsure how to react. His army was still in Fredericksburg, where at least a full army corps was demonstrating in his front. Lee would send a portion of Longstreet’s 1st Corps to protect his left flank. Once it was determined, that the primary objective of Hooker, was his left flank, Lee pushed the majority of his army west towards Chancellorsville. On the evening of May 1, with his army already divided, R.E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson would have their last meeting on the Orange Plank Road, south of Chancellorsville.
With cavalry reports stating Hooker’s right flank was, “in the air,” Lee and Jackson decided another bold move was required. Jackson would march on a long circuitous route, out of view of the Federals, and attack Hooker’s right flank, commanded by US Major General Oliver O. Howard. When asked what troops he would take, Jackson stated, “my 2nd Corps.” While this would leave Lee with a very small remnant of his army, to man the fortifications in front of the Union forces, Lee agreed.
Stonewall pushed out later than expected, on the morning of May 2. His corps, and artillery, would march all day, before reaching the woods west of Howard’s XI Corps. Once his corps was in position, Jackson turned them loose. The assault was swift, and caught the Federals off guard, many eating dinner. The rout would be complete, with Jackson pushing Hooker’s flank clear to Chancellorsville. Jackson, and Lee, had done the impossible. But there was more work to do. Unfortunately, after dark on May 2, Stonewall, along with A.P. Hill and staff, were reconnoitering the enemy lines – making plans to finish Hooker off, on May 3. When returning, his contingent would be fired on by his own troops. Jackson was seriously injured in the shoulder. He passed command to A.P. Hill, who due to his injury was unable to command, passed it to J.E.B. Stuart. That night, Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Hunter McGuire would amputate Jackson’s left arm. Upon hearing of Jackson’s wounding, Lee was heard to say, “he has lost his left arm; but I lost my right arm.”
The great Stonewall Jackson would be taken by ambulance to the Fairfield Plantation, owned by Thomas Chandler, near Guinea Station. Jackson would show improvement and it was believed that he would be returning to his corps shortly. Unfortunately, Jackson would contract pneumonia, and would die on May 10, 1863. When his wife told him he was dying, Jackson learning it was Sunday stated, “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.” Hunter McGuire stated Jackson’s last words, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell major Hawks….” Then Jackson stopped. Finally, with a faint smile on his face he said, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” At that point, Jackson stopped breathing.
The south would be devastated by his death. Many have speculated the Civil War may have had a different ending if Jackson had lived. Perhaps the outcome at Gettysburgmay have been different – causing the North’s desire to fight to subside. Obviously, we will never know. What we do know is that Jackson was undoubtedly one of the best independent commanders in the Confederacy. The reverence in the southstill remains. With many streets, parks and schools named after the great Stonewall, his memory is still honored.
¹ Generals in Gray, by Ezra Warner and Wikipedia were used to research this article.