Meet Thomas Jonathan Jackson, ladies and gents, better known as Stonewall Jackson. If you still don’t know who he is, General Jackson was a Confederate hero in the American Civil War.
Now, I could go off on an entire tangent about this amazing man, but I’ll settle with a heavily shortened version. He was born on January 21, 1824, in Clarksburg, Virgina (now West Virginia). When he was two years old, Thomas’s elder sister Elizabeth died of typhoid fever, and his father died of the same illness only twenty days later. His younger sister Lisa Ann was born the day after their father’s death. Julia, Thomas’s mother, took up a teaching job to repay the debts left behind by her late husband, and later got married to Blake Woodson. Simply said, he was not all that fond of his stepchildren. In 1831, after giving birth to Thomas’s half-brother, Julia died, leaving her three eldest children orphaned. Thomas and Lisa Ann went to go live with their uncle, while their older brother Warren went to live with other relatives of their mother’s.
Fast-forward almost a decade, Thomas Jackson is accepted into the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1842. As a child Thomas had very little formal schooling, and struggled on his entrance exams. Even after he was accepted, he had to work harder than most other cadets to keep up with his classes. He was, however, one of the hardest working students in the entire academy, and graduated 17th out of the 59 other students in his Class of 1846. Many of his peers said that if he had stayed, Thomas would have graduated first. His roomate in his junior year was George Stoneman, who would grow up to become a Union cavalry general and Governor of California.
Thomas began as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S Artillery Regiment during the Mexican War. He fought in the Siege of Veracruz, and at the battles of Contreras, Chapultepec, and Mexico City, earning himself two brevet promotions and the regular army rant of first lieutenant. It was there in Mexico that he first met Robert E. Lee. Following a spotty record of obedience, Thomas was recognized by Winfield Scott at a celebratory banquet for earning more promotions than any other officer throughout the course of the war.
For all of his military genius, Thomas wasn’t a very popular professor when he came to work at VMI as an artillery instructor. Though his lectures are still used there today, Thomas would memorize the lesson and then recite it to the class, and when a student asked him to repeat something, they were given the exact same explanation as before. If they asked again, Jackson viewed this as insubordination and punished them as such. He was mocked for his stern nature and eccentric traits, often referred to as “Tom Fool”. In 1856, a group of students tried having him removed from the institute.
As side note, even though Thomas wasn’t very well-known among the white citizens of Lexington, he was revered by the African-Americans, both slaves and freed men. He helped organize Sunday school classes for blacks at the Presbyterian Church in 1855, and his second wife Anna taught with him there. Dr. William Spotwood White, the pastor, described the relation between Thomas and his Sunday school students as “systematic and firm, but very kind… His servants reverenced and loved him, as they would have done a brother or father. … He was emphatically the black man’s friend.” Thomas referred to his students by name and they in turn referred to him as “Marse Major”.
After the American Civil War began in 1861, Thomas became a drill master in the Confederate Army. Virginia Governor John Letcher ordered Colonel Jackson to take command at Harper’s Ferry on April 27, 1861, where he would assemble the famous “Stonewall Brigade”. Thomas’s real rise to fame, however, didn’t occur until the First Battle of Manassas, on July 21, 1861. As the Confederate lines crumbled, Thomas’s brigade provided crucial reinforcements at Henry House Hill, easily demonstrating the discipline of the men he commanded. Brigadier General Barnard Elliot Bee, Junior called his own forces to reform by shouting, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!” No one is sure whether the statement was meant to insult or compliment, though, for Bee was shot merely moments later. Some say that Bee was angry at Jackson’s failure to provide aide to Bee and Bartow’s brigades while under heavy pressure. Regardless, the name stuck, and from then on Thomas was renowned as the famous Stonewall Jackson.
Afterwards, Thomas was promoted to the rank of major general. Several victories followed, most notably those of the Seven Days Battles, the Second Manassas, the Battle of Antietam, and the Battle of Fredricksburg. It was after Antietam that Thomas was promoted to lieutenant general, and on October 10, 1863, his command was redesignated to the Second Corps.
As another vaguely amusing note, after Fredricksburg, the cavalry general J.E.B Stuart (who was renowned for his rather flamboyant style and feathered hat) presented Jackson with a new frock coat, made by the finest tailors of Richmond. Thomas was not a man who put much stock in appearance; his usual garb consisted of an old, faded major’s coat whose buttons had been cut by admiring ladies and an old squished cap. Jackson’s staff insisted that he wear it to dinner, and many soldiers flocked to see their commander in such handsome clothes. Thomas had been so embarrassed that he hadn’t worn the new frock again until months afterward.
Thomas’s fortune ended at Chancellorsville. After surrounding the Union troops on both sides, Major John D. Barry mistook them for Federals and ordered his men to fire. Thomas had been shot three times; twice in the left arm and once in the right hand. Several men from his staff were killed, as well as many horses. The confusion prevented him from receiving immediate care, and he was dropped from his stretcher because of incoming artillery fire. Thomas’s left arm was amputated by Dr. Hunter McGuire. He was offered Thomas C. Chandler’s home for recovery, and suggested using Chandler’s office building instead. Just as he was thought to be recovering, Thomas began displaying the classic signs of pneumonia, complaining of a sore chest. On his death bed, Thomas clung to his fervent faith, saying, “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”
General Jackson died on May 10, 1863, suffering from delirium and pneumonia. His daughter, Julia Laura, had been born only weeks before. Lee, upon hearing of Thomas’s death, told his cook, “William, I have lost my right arm. I am bleeding at the heart.”
tldr; Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, while not being the most attractive man, and not having the best of upbringings, was extremely intelligent and a revered military genius. There’s just something rather entrancing about his life that I can’t explain.
(if there’s any mistakes, come talk to me here.)