Without doubt ‘Stonewall’ Jackson is the most famous of the Confederate commanders of the American Civil War after General Robert E Lee. They enjoyed a close working relationship that Lee never developed with any of his other subordinates and much like Lee was idolised by his men, his death in action was a serious blow to the Confederate war effort.
Jackson was born on 21st January 1824 at Clarksburg in West Virginia, son of Jonathan and Julia Jackson who sadly were to die during Thomas’ childhood. His uncle Cummins E. Jackson brought up the young Thomas, who added Jonathan to his own name. He entered West Point in July 1842 but was at a considerable disadvantage due to his poor early education. He worked hard at his studies and passed out 17th out of 59 in his class in 1846. He was quickly sent to the War in Mexico where much like Lee he distinguished himself at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec gaining the rank of Brevet Major only 18 months after leaving West Point and was publicly congratulated by General Winfield Scott. After returning from Mexico in 1848 he spent 3 years at forts in New York and Florida and resigned his commission in 1852 to become a professor in military tactics and natural philosophy at the Lexington military academy. Accounts indicate he was a dull teacher and often the target of student humour but he did get to travel, including a trip to Europe in 1856. He was also present at the hanging of John Brown on 2nd December 1859 but played no part in public life before the outbreak of the civil war. Although loyal to the South he hated the idea of the war.
He was summoned to Richmond in April 1861 and was then sent to Harper’s Ferry as a colonel of infantry. In June 1861 Jackson was promoted to Brigadier-General and on 21st July 1861 at the First Battle of Bull Run his Virginia Brigade withstood attacks by the Union General MacDowell’s Army. A colleague General Bee remarked “There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall” and the nickname ‘Stonewall’ stuck. Jackson took command of the Confederate troops in the Shenandoah Valley as a major general in November 1861. After bad weather and an aborted raid on Romney in January 1862 Jackson was judged by some to be an unreliable and excitable commander. He quickly silenced his critics by his conduct of the Valley Campaign of March-June 1862, conducting a skilful campaign of movement, feints and deception against a foe that out numbered his 17,000 men by more than 4 to 1. Jackson showed a clear scientific method and a grasp of his enemies’ intentions, preventing the Union armies of MacDowell and McClellan from linking up by threatening an attack on Washington. The high point was the tactical victory on 9th June at Port Republic where escaping from the Union forces he smashed the Union advance guard and forced it to retreat over 20 miles.
Jackson was a thin man of average height with large hands and feet who was a reserved man who deliberately didn’t mix with his subordinates, and was stern and formal in company. He was religious and often prayed before a battle and was disdainful of flash uniforms and trappings unlike his contemporaries who commanded Cavalry and was often seen in an old battered hat on a ugly but serviceable horse (he was a good but not a graceful rider.)
Recalled to Richmond for the Peninsula Campaign Jackson showed none of his previous energy probably due to exhaustion and the fact he was fighting on unfamiliar ground during the Seven Days Battle. Despite this he was soon back on form with a famous forced march just before the Second Battle of Bull Run, leading his troops 54 miles in two days to attack General Pope on 29-30 August at Manassas. During the Battle Jackson used his own command as bait so that General Longstreet could strike the Union flank. Following the bloody battle of Antieam in September Jackson became a Lieutenant General and was given command of half the Army of Northern Virginia fighting well at Fredericksburg in December 1863.
Jackson’s last battle was also to be his greatest. In May 1863 while General Lee faced General Hooker at Chancellorville, Jackson outflanked the Union forces with half of the Confederate Army. As dusk fell on 2nd May Jackson’s forces fell upon the Union right wing and destroyed it. In one of the most pointless deaths of the war, Jackson while out on looking to see how best to exploit this victory was shot by one of his own men in the darkness. Eight days later he died of pneumonia (10th May 1863) south of Fredericksburg at Gurney’s Station. He was buried in Lexington. Jackson had a mixed reputation, some thought him a little mad but much like his superior General Lee he had a gift for inspiring his men to great acts of endurance and bravery. His reputation for striking from unknown directions gave many Union Generals sleepless nights.