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Jackson, “Stonewall” (Thomas)

Jackson, “Stonewall” [Thomas] (1824–1863), Confederate army general.Born in what is now West Virginia, Jackson was orphaned at an early age and raised by paternal relatives. Although he had little formal education, he was appointed to West Point and by diligent study graduated in 1846. He distinguished himself as an artilleryman in the Mexican War, serving under Winfield Scott and winning brevets to major. After the war, as a lieutenant, he served in Florida, where he quarreled with his commanding officer, Capt. (later Union Maj. Gen.) William French, whom he did his best to have court‐martialed. In 1852, when opportunity offered, Jackson resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to accept a position as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington. Although a poor teacher, he remained there until the beginning of the Civil War.

In 1861, when Virginia seceded from the Union, Jackson was commissioned a colonel in the Confederate army and put in charge of the defense of Harpers Ferry. Although superseded there by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, he was soon promoted to brigadier general. He earned the enmity of his men, even many of his most senior officers, by pushing them through a punishing, futile midwinter campaign; but he distinguished himself in the First Battle of Bull Run, winning the sobriquet of “Stonewall” when Gen. Barnard E. Bee called out to his troops, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”—or words to that effect. The name stuck, though it seems inappropriate when applied to a man who proved one of the South's most aggressive generals.

In spring 1862, Jackson fought the brilliant Shenandoah Valley Campaign that brought him his greatest fame, for he performed best as an independent commander. Here he proved himself a brilliant strategist, and his attack upon Front Royal and Winchester drove the Union army of Gen. Nathaniel Banks across the Potomac and out of Virginia. Although he pressed his men relentlessly, he earned their respect, for troops will endure much for generals who provide victories.

Serving directly under Gen. Robert E. Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia, Jackson took part in the Seven Days' Battle, where he was less than his best, his judgment and mettle blunted by fatigue and above all by an overpowering need for sleep, which even his iron will could not overcome.

In August 1862, he advanced against Union Gen. John Pope, capturing and destroying the Union army's principal supply depot in Virginia at Manassas and driving Pope's forces north. He played a notable part in the Second Battle of Bull Run and defeated the Union forces at Chantilly. He commanded a corps in the invasion of Maryland, and it was he who captured some 12,000 Union troops at Harpers Ferry.

At the Battle of Antietam, Jackson ably commanded a corps on the left of the Confederate line; at Fredericksburg, he held fast on the right of Lee's line. At the Battle of Chancellorsville, he attacked with great élan the right of the line of Gen. Joseph Hooker, resulting in one of the most remarkable victories of inferior over numerically superior forces in the history of warfare. But there, on the night of 2 May 1863, while making a personal reconnaissance in front of the lines with a few other officers, his returning knot of horsemen was mistaken for enemy cavalry and Jackson was shot by Confederate pickets. His shattered arm was amputated, but he died eight days later of complications of pneumonia.

Like Lee, Jackson was a bold, aggressive soldier. Unlike most Civil War generals, he did not try to aggrandize himself, and he was so secretive that he refused to re‐veal his plans even to key members of his staff—a policy that would have proved disastrous had he succeeded to a higher command. A stern disciplinarian, he held his officers to exacting standards, and no general North or South court‐martialed or tried to cashier so many sub ordinates.

An austere man, deeply religious, Jackson did not drink, gamble, or smoke, and his years as an artilleryman had left him partially deaf, a severe handicap to a lively social life. He was by nature a reserved man but not a cold one. His few intimates found him a warm friend, and he was a loving, even playful husband to two successive wives, both daughters of Presbyterian ministers who were college presidents.

He died at an early age, not yet forty, at the pinnacle of his reputation, which has proved enduring.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


R. L. Dabney , Life and Campaigns of Lieut.‐Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, 1885.
Byron Farwell , Stonewall: A Biography of General, 1992.
James I. Robertson, Jr. , Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend, 1997.

Byron Farwell

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