1902 Encyclopedia > Thomas Jonathan Jackson ("Stonewall Jackson")

Thomas Jonathan Jackson
(often known as: Stonewall Jackson)
American Confederate general in American Civil War

THOMAS JONATHAN JACKSON (1824-1863), "Stone-wall Jackson," a distinguished Confederate general in the American civil war, was born in Harrison county, Virginia, 21st January 1824, and came of that Scotch-Irish stock to whose hardy virtues the middle States of America are largely indebted for the pure and resolute virtues of their people. His early education was only such as could be furnished by an obscure country school. Thence he passed to West Point military academy, where, though he was at first impeded by his meagre acquirements, his indomitable courage and conscientious diligence eventually raised him to a foremost place. At West Point he exhibited the qualities by which he was distinguished in the splendour of his career,—courage, patience, constancy of purpose, inflexible fidelity to duty, and an artless simplicity of character which engaged instant and universal confidence. Graduating at twenty-two, he was appointed lieutenant of artillery in the army of the United States, and participated, with distinction, in several of the most important battles in Mexico. After the war he resigned his commission, and accepted the professorship of natural philosophy in the Virginia military institute at Lexington, a position which he held until the outbreak of hostilities between the Union and the Confederate States. During his sojourn at Lexington, he entered the Presbyterian communion, and was remarkable ever after for the fervour of his religious devotion. In political discussions or agitations, Major Jackson—such was his title by brevet—had never engaged ; but in principle and by profession he was a State-right Democrat of the Virginia school; in other words, he maintained the legitimacy of negro slavery and the sovereign right of a State to withdraw from the Union, and therefore to the secession movement of 1861 he at once accorded his sympathy. On the organization of the Virginia troops he was commissioned colonel of infantry by Governor Letcher, who, long intimate with him, adequately appreciated his yet undisclosed military genius.

Jackson's first exploit in the war of secession was the capture, on May 3, 1861, of the Federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. Soon afterwards he received the command of a brigade—the brigade which, by its immovable fortitude at Bull Bun, turned the tide of battle in that long doubtful struggle, and, from the admiration of its comrades, extorted for itself and its chief the now historic name of " Stonewall."

Detached from the army at Manassas for separate service in the Shenandoah Valley, Jackson soon signalized his genius for war. Placing himself between the converging columns of Shields, Milroy, and Banks, he struck one after the other; and, with a force inferior to his adversaries separately, he eventually drove them back upon Washington in utter defeat. In this " campaign of the valley " Jackson displayed true military instinct and the highest military art. By vigilance, sagacity, celerity and secrecy of move-ment, and faultless tactical skill on the field of battle, he achieved the greatest possible results with the smallest possible means. His reputation was now fixed in the estimation alike of friend and foe ; and, while the Confede-rate States were filled with the renown of his achievements, the Federal forces were in constant terror of his prowess. Having stayed the invasion of Virginia along the line of the valley, Jackson repaired to Richmond to concert with Lee the deliverance of the Confederate capital, then closely pressed by M'Clellan. Appointed, meanwhile, to the com-mand of a corps, he suddenly revealed himself on the right flank of the Federal army at Mechanicsville ; and in a series of desperately fought engagements he routed the besieging army, and drove M'Clellan to shelter at Harrison's Landing. Richmond relieved, Jackson, without pause, hastened to confront Pope, who was menacing the city from the north. In the battle of Cedar Run he inflicted signal defeat upon that general, and compelled him to retrace his steps across the Rappahannock.

Reinforced by M'Clellan's army and fresh troops from the northern States, Pope made a stand at Manassas; but in the second battle on that field he suffered an overthrow as decisive as that sustained by M'Dowell in the first fight at Bull Run. As usual Jackson's corps bore the brunt of the battle; and as usual to his skill and courage the Con-federate army was mainly indebted for its success. Follow-ing up the victory by the invasion of Maryland, Lee detached Jackson for an attack on Harper's Ferry, again in the hands of the Federalists, and garrisoned by 12,000 troops. In a few days the surrender of the place, with all its force and munitions of war, was announced to Lee, who, slowly retiring before M'Clellan, anxiously expected the arrival of Jackson, that he might turn and crush his pursuer. But before he could effect the desired junction Lee was brought to bay at Antietam, and com-pelled to accept battle under every disadvantage. Jackson now arrived, however, with two of his divisions, and his presence not only averted an otherwise inevitable disaster, but rescued the Confederate army from the destruction which awaited it if defeated with its rear resting on the river. Henceforth Jackson's operations were under the immediate eye and command of Lee; and, while at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville his gallantry was as conspicuous as ever, to his illustrious chief belongs the glory of those hard-fought fields.
On the afternoon of May 2, 1863, Jackson fought his last battle. Executing a plan of his own conception, he suddenly struck the flank of the 11th Federal corps, and drove it pell-mell before him. Night fell with the hostile forces in close proximity ; and, while Jackson was making a reconnaisance with a view to pressing the pursuit, he was fired on in the dark by men of his own command, and received wounds of which he died on May 10, 1863. His death smote the Confederates with a pang of unspeakable anguish. The fall of their foremost chieftain was bewailed as the omen of the fall of the party.

In deportment Jackson was grave and measured ; but he relaxed on approach, and his address was bland and gracious. In conversation he conveyed the impression of a frank,
firm character, and of an intellect clear and direct, but in no wise of superior order. No opinion floated languidly in his understanding ; he held all his beliefs with an intense earnestness of conviction, and he was prompt and resolute in carrying his convictions into action. He engaged in the war of secession with an unfaltering faith in the justice of the cause and an unhesitating persuasion of its triumph. He was the idol of his troops. At his command they would cheerfully endure any sacrifice or confront any peril. On the field of battle he was never known to lose his self-possession, or to be surprised by any fluctuation of fortune ; his quick eye would detect the exigent moment, and his unerring judgment direct the decisive manoeuvre. (E. A. P.*)

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