If anyone inspired the South in their cause for independence, General Thomas Jackson is considered first. Jackson’s legacy as a Christian warrior who put into practice the Calvinistic doctrine of divine providence remains invigorating to Americans today. Jackson’s men were deeply affected by his reliance on providence, and many of them followed his example and accomplished the impossible. The courageous general told them not to flinch when the bullets came, because he knew that none of them would be pierced by one until the day that God had ordained. Just the name “Jackson” echoed from these brave warriors in an advance was enough to send Federal troops into a frenzied retreat. From Haines Farm to Chancellorsville, the faith of this amazing man built him into a “stonewall.”
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born at Clarksburg, West Virginia on January 21, 1824, and was orphaned as a boy. Later, he joined the army and became renowned during the Mexican War for his courage in the artillery. After the Mexican War, Jackson, eagerly searching for religious stability, visited a Catholic Cathedral in Mexico City, but was unimpressed with Catholic ceremony, which he felt separated himself from God. Priests, as emphasized by Catholicism, distanced Jackson from a sense of God’s imminence. Leaving the army, Jackson became a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in the Shenandoah Valley in 1851, and there met with a culture that would change his life. Scotch-Irish Presbyterians had settled the Valley, and Jackson was now confronted with the doctrines of Reformed providential sovereignty and predestination. Here, Jackson became a Christian convert. Having won the internal battle of the soul, Jackson was more than ready to meet the harsh external conflicts of the dark war that was ahead of him.
Several years later when Virginia seceded from the Union, Major Jackson (for so we must call him) was summoned to take his corps of cadets from Lexington (see map) to Richmond on April 21st of 1861. Before departing, he and his wife read Second Corinthians Five, beginning with these words, “For we know, if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (Williamson 70). Kneeling down, they both prayed that God would give their country peace.
Upon reaching Richmond, Major Jackson was promoted to colonel, and deployed to Harper’s Ferry in order to keep an eye on Federal troop movements in the area. Regarding this event, Colonel Jackson wrote to his wife on April 29, 1861:
...I am thankful to say that an ever kind providence, who causes all things to work together for good to them that love Him, has given me the post which I prefer above all others. To His name be all the praise.General Joseph E. Johnston soon took command of Colonel Jackson’s position, and Jackson was given a brigade consisting of Virginia’s 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, 23rd (a little later), and finally Pendleton’s battery. General Johnston, after learning that he could not hold against General Patterson’s advancing army, pulled back to Bunker Hill, leaving Jackson to remain a little north of Johnston at Martinsburg. Colonel J.E.B. Stuart’s bold cavalry unit provided Jackson with support. General Patterson prepared to meet Colonel Jackson’s forces at the battle of Haines Farm. At this encounter, Jackson, with only the 5th Virginia regiment and some cavalry, captured 45 prisoners, wounded and killed much of the enemy, and lost only two men with ten wounded. General Robert E. Lee was so impressed that he promoted Jackson to Brigadier General. Jackson wrote to his wife, “Through the blessing of God, I have now all that I should wish in the line of promotion. May His blessing rest on you in my fervent prayer” (73).
You must not expect to hear from me very often, as I shall have more work than I have ever had in the same time before; but don’t be troubled about me, as an ever kind Heavenly Father will give me all needful aid. (73)
Confederate General Beauregard, now facing the thirty-five thousand strong Federal army of General McDowell, summoned Johnston (and with him came Jackson) for aid. The vast armies met on July 21st, 1861 near Manassas Junction. The fighting was tough, but General Jackson didn’t flinch. Riding back and forth in front of his men who were ruthlessly being hammered by shot and shell, he cheered them on. According to custom, commanders were protected in battles for obvious reasons, but Jackson persistently broke this convention and voluntarily put himself in as much danger as his men. After being beaten back for several hours, General Jackson decided to lead a bayonet charge crying, “Reserve your fire until they come within fifty yards; and then fire and give them the bayonet; and when you charge, yell like furies” (93). General Bee observed Jackson’s plan and commanded, “There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” And so, as Jackson saw it, the enemy turned and fled before the cry of Jackson’s Israelite army of God. Victory was soon in the hands of the Confederates. General Jackson wrote later to his wife, “Yesterday we fought a great battle and gained a great victory, for which all the glory is due to God alone... God made my brigade more instrumental than any other in repulsing the main attack” (97-98). His battle report reads as follows, “they, in the order in which they were posted, rushed forward obliquely to the left of our batteries, and through the blessing of God, who gave us the victory, pierced the enemy's center, and by co-operating with the victorious Fifth and other forces soon placed the field essentially in our possession” (Jackson, Thomas). General “Stonewall” Jackson had now become famous and adored by all his men for his loyalty and commitment to them all, and especially to the “Stonewall Brigade” as they were now called.
Jackson was then promoted to Major-General in October, and commissioned back to the Shenandoah Valley. The Stonewall Brigade would remain behind, which caused much sorrow to both Jackson and his faithful men. In farewell, the endearing general said to the brigade, “You are the First Brigade in the affections of your General; and I hope, by your future deeds and bearing; you will be handed down to posterity as the First Brigade in this, our second War of Independence.” (Williamson 102). However, this separation was short-lived, as the brigade would join Jackson in November at Winchester (see map), to remain with him until his death at Chancellorsville.
Some of Jackson’s greatest victories transpired during his Shenandoah campaign (refer to the map). The goal of this campaign was to protect Johnston’s flank, and later to prevent the Northern armies from joining forces with McClellan in his march to Richmond. In a brilliant move during the sleet and snow of winter, General Jackson bravely marched his men to amazing victories at Bath and Romney, and returned safely back to Winchester, stationing General Loring at Romney. All of a sudden, Jackson received a telegraph from Richmond requesting that Loring return to Winchester from his post at Romney. Evidently, Loring thought himself too exposed to the enemy, and had requested the government to pull rank on Jackson and send him back. This vexed Jackson greatly, and he actually resigned immediately. Some may find fault with Jackson here, and doubt his humble character. Indeed, one historian put it this way, “A superb commander, he had several faults. Personnel problems haunted him, as in the feuds with Loring and with Garnett after Kernstown...” (Sifakis, Stewart). However, one must look at the strategic implications of the Richmond’s mandate before accessing Jackson’s character. Mrs. M.L. Williamson writes;
In a few days after General Loring left Romney, the Federals again took possession of that town and the country around. So all the efforts of Jackson and the trials of his soldiers were undermined. This was a great blow to General Jackson, for Winchester was again exposed to the advance of the foe from four directions. (Williamson 115)In other words, the Loring blunder put Jackson directly in harms way. The government somewhat apologized, and Jackson quietly resumed his post. All considering, Jackson carried himself with dignity, despite a deliberate attempt from the government to pull rank.
On February 26th 1862, Union General Banks (thirty-five thousand strong) closed in on Jackson at Winchester when he had only six thousand men at his command. Slowly, Jackson fell back to Mt. Jackson, but General Johnston commanded him to get nearer to the enemy since part of Bank’s division planed to threaten Johnston’s left wing. Jackson’s army, now only numbering twenty-seven hundred, pressed on and engaged Banks. Amazingly, Jackson’s ranks held out from noon to nightfall as force upon force vainly attempted to turn his lines. In fact, he would have won the day had ammunition held out. As Jackson retreated to Newton, the fifteen-thousand Federals headed toward Johnston were recalled to the Valley. The mission had accomplished its goal. Williamson summarizes, “In this battle of Kernstown twenty-seven hundred Confederates, with eleven guns, attacked eleven thousand Federals and gained the victory” (120).
Through that winter, spring, and into summer, Jackson kept the Union army busy in a series of chases and engagements. Victory after victory followed him wherever he went and his ranks were replenished as new recruits swelled, desiring to serve under this great man. These victories included McDowell, Cross Keys, and Port Republic, and Lee now summoned him to respond to General McClellan’s gigantic threat.
Under Lee’s brilliant direction and with Jackson’s vigor, the battles of Cold Harbor and Malvern Hill were Confederate victories. Jackson now thought it high time to try something new: a march to Maryland in order to threaten Washington City. News soon arrived that forty-thousand Federals under General Pope’s leadership were making their way down to aid McClellan. Jackson was immediately commanded to engage them. The battle that ensued is know as Cedar Run, and Jackson once again succeeded in pushing the Federals back. During the darkest part of the fight, one of the Confederate regiments began to give way. Jackson immediately put himself between them and the enemy and shouted, “Rally, brave men! Jackson will lead you! Follow me!” (170). The tide turned, and the Federal army fled in full retreat. Before the battle, some officers from the camp asked Jackson’s servant Jim Lewis if there were signs of a battle soon (Jackson always kept his plans secrete). Mr. Lewis replied, “Oh, yes, sir,... the General is a great man for praying night and morning; all times; but when I see him get up in the night and go off to pray, then I know there is going to be an important battle; and I go right straight and pack his haversack, for I know he will call for it in the morning” (170). If Jackson’s men didn’t know his battle plans by his words, they could deduce them from his prayer habits.
Leaving a small force with McClellan, Lee joined Jackson. In one of his famous sneak-attack moves, Jackson swept behind Pope’s lines (while Lee remained at the front), and took Manassas Junction. Pope swung around and faced Jackson, but the Confederates won the battle at nightfall. Pope retreated to Washington. Lee’s next move was to threaten Washington so as to pressure McClellan to move further north. He sent Jackson to Harper’s Ferry to engage the Federals there. The entire union force surrendered unconditionally after only a short while of fighting. Jackson then whipped around to save Lee from McClellan’s forces. This became known as the Battle of Antietam. Neither side could prevail, and both sides lost many men. While the battle raged on, a massager found Jackson observing the commotion. His only words were, “With the blessing of providence, they will soon be driven back” (179).
During October of 1862, Lee placed half of the entire Confederate force under Jackson’s command, promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant-General. Around this same time, Union General McClellan was replaced by General Burnside because McClellan wasn’t moving fast enough. Burnside resolved to move toward Richmond through Fredericksburg. Lee and Jackson immediately fell back to Fredericksburg, and waited for Burnside there. After building pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River, Burnside advanced on the Confederates. He charged Jackson and then attacked Longstreet, but again and again these attempts ended in failure. Finally on December 16th, Burnside retreated to Stafford Heights. After that, both sides settled in for winter.
This winter was very refreshing for General Jackson. He lodged at Moss Neck at Mr. Corbin’s home, where he wrote battle reports on all his encounters. General Stuart’s visits were a source of great enjoyment for Jackson, who admired Stuart’s happy laughter and humorous jokes. Jackson’s faith grew during the winter. When talking about a battle with one of his staff one day, he said, “My trust is in God,” and after a brief silence, “I wish they would come” (190). Jackson also met Jane Corbin, a six-year old girl who gave him much company. Williamson informs us that Jackson, “ripped off the one band of gold braid from around his new cap, and placed it upon her sunny brow” (189). Unfortunately, the same day that Jackson left Moss Neck in the spring, little Jane died of scarlet fever. Jackson mourned her death severely. After this he returned home to his wife for a short while, and met and named his new born daughter Julia. However, Jackson’s respite ended all too quickly when he was summoned to his very last encounter; Chancellorsville.
General Hooker was now in command of the Union forces, and planned to cut Lee off from Richmond by destroying the railroads with cavalry while at the same time attacking Lee’s flank. However, Lee was ready for this plan, and General Stuart kept a close eye on Hooker’s movements. After helping repulse Hooker’s attack, Jackson devised a plan that would allow him to once again sneak up on the enemy’s rear. Lee agreed with the plan, and Jackson at once got to work. He and his men ran with a surprising vigor, as if they knew that some great providence would befall them there. With the queerest energy, Jackson kept repeating to his men “Press on, press right on” (195). After a fifteen mile march, Jackson sent his last military message to Lee, “The enemy has made a stand at Chancellorsville. I hope as soon as possible to attack. I trust that an ever kind Providence will bless us with success” (195). Still trusting God for strength, in two miles Jackson had sneaked up on Hookers right wing (Oliver Howard’s Eleventh Corps), who were cooking and eating their evening meal. For the last time, Jackson witnessed the panic of the Federals at the battle cries of his men. He chased them for three miles, saying only, “Press forward” (197). Soon the Federals reformed their lines and engaged the Confederates. After riding a little way down the turnpike, Jackson noticed that the enemy was advancing, and rode back to his own line. However, on his way back, some of his men mistook him and his staff for a Union cavalry dispatch. Jackson’s men were dead shots, and their bullets pierced Jackson’s right hand, broke his left arm, and entered into his lower body. On the way back to the hospital, Jackson met up with Confederate General Pender. Pender said, “Ah! General... I am sorry to see that you have been wounded. The lines here are so much broken that I fear we will have to fall back” (200). Near fainting, Jackson gave his last field order, “You must hold your ground, General Pender! You must hold your ground!” (200). Next morning, Stuart and Lee led many charges, and when the Stonewall Brigade advanced they yelled, “Charge, and remember Jackson!” (203). Once more, victory was given to the Confederates, and Lee took Chancellorsville on the 3rd of May.
After the amputation of his left arm, Jackson caught pneumonia and died on Sunday, May 10th. On his deathbed, he said of his men, “They are a noble body of men. The men who live through this war will be proud to say; ‘I was one of the Stonewall Brigade’” (204). Ever humble about himself, this quote demonstrates Jackson’s deep love and admiration for his men, without whom all his victories would be impossible. Just before expiring, Jackson deliriously called out, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for actions!” “Move the infantry to the front!” “Tell Major Hawks to send forward provisions for the men!” (207). Then the general’s expression changed, and he peacefully muttered, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees” (207).
General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s legacy is one of inspirational victory. His internal assurance of the eternal good in Providence, enabled him to become the battle cry of the South. Always in front, he put himself in positions that were more dangerous than even his men’s positions. Following in the footsteps of the Puritans, Jackson was a Calvinist in deed as well as in word. His men were deeply motivated by his faith, and fought alongside him to the last.
Image of Stonewall Jackson from Wikipedia
Jackson, Thomas. “Report of Brigadier General T. J. Jackson CS Army, commanding First Brigade, Army of the Shenandoah Headquarters First Brigade, Camp near Manassas, Va., July 23, 1861.” General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson - 1st Bull Run/1st Manassas. Copyright 2007. 11 Nov. 2008. http://www.civil-war.net/searchofficialrecords.asp?searchofficialrecords=Jackson%201st%20Bull%20Run
Sifakis, Stewart. “Thomas Jonathan Jackson (1824-1863).” Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War. 2 Sep. 2008. 11 Nov. 2008. http://www.civilwarhome.com/jackbio.htm
The Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. 1862. 31 Dec. 2006. 11 Nov. 2008. http://www.nelson.talkingrelics.com/images/1862vamap2.jpg
Williamson, Mrs. M.L. The Life of General Stonewall Jackson. Arlington Heights: Christian Liberty Press, 1989