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  Name:  Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson
  Born:  January 21, 1824
  Died:  May 10, 1863
 

 
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Jackson, Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” (January 21, 1824–May 10, 1863)  

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a Confederate general and one of the most talented and successful military leaders in American history.  His life was cut short by friendly fire at the battle of Chancellorsville, and his death was a severe loss to the Confederate military effort.

Thomas Jackson was born on January 21, 1824, in Clarksburg, Virginia (today, West Virginia), to Julia Beckwith Neale Jackson and Jonathan Jackson, a lawyer.  His father died in 1826 of typhoid fever, and his mother, who had remarried four years later, died after childbirth in 1831.  Thomas and his sister Laura were then raised outside of Weston, about 20 miles from Clarksburg, on the farm of the Jackson family, headed by their Uncle Cummins Jackson, owner of lumber and grist mills.  Over the next decade, Thomas worked at the family businesses and attended the local school during the winter months.  In 1842, he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He struggled academically, improving his rank from near the bottom to 17 of 54 in the graduating class of 1846 (which also included future Civil War generals George B. McClellan and George Pickett).

As a brevet second lieutenant in the 1st Artillery, Jackson was sent in the summer of 1846 to serve in the U.S.–Mexican War.  The conflict proved his martial skill and he rose rapidly in rank, being brevetted a captain and promoted to first lieutenant after the battle of Contreras (August 20, 1847) and brevetted a major after the battle of Chapultepec (September 13, 1847).  After the war ended, Jackson returned to the United States, serving a month in the late summer of 1848 at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, on court–martial duty, and then took a three–month leave to visit his family in Virginia.  At the end of 1848, he began two years of service at Fort Hamilton, New York, and was then transferred to Fort Meade, Florida, in December 1850. 

In the spring of 1851, Jackson resigned from the U.S. Army to accept a professorship at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, where for the next decade he taught various science courses and artillery tactics.  He was a rigidly strict teacher unpopular with the cadets, who made him the brunt of jokes and tagged him with nicknames such as “Tom Fool.”  He was excessively concerned about his health, and made annual pilgrimages to spas.  While at Lexington, he became a devout Presbyterian, and in 1853 married Eleanor Junkin, whose father, George Junkin, was president of Washington College (today, Washington and Lee University) and a Presbyterian minister.  She died 14 months later.  In 1857, Jackson married Mary Anna Morrison, whose father, Robert Hall Morrison, was a Presbyterian minister and had been the first president of Davidson College (North Carolina).  Jackson and his second wife later had one daughter who survived infancy.  In December 1859, he escorted the VMI cadet corps to witness the execution of abolitionist John Brown.

Days after the Civil War began Jackson led a group of VMI cadets to Richmond on April 21, 1861, to act as drillmasters of Confederate recruits.  Six days later, he was given command of the arsenal at Harpers Ferry at the rank of colonel, and was promoted to brigadier general on June 17 and given command of a brigade of five Virginia Infantry Regiments (2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd).  The first major land battle of the war occurred at Manassas, Virginia, near Bull Run Creek, on July 21, 1861.  As the Union force advanced, Jackson’s brigade stood firm, prompting Confederate General Barnard Bee to order his own retreating men to rally behind Jackson who was “standing like a stone wall.”  The Confederate counterattack led by “Stonewall” Jackson sent panic through the Union troops, who retreated toward Washington, D. C.

On October 7, 1861, Jackson was promoted to major general, and on November 5 took command of the (Shenandoah) Valley District of the Department of Northern Virginia.  Being a natural corridor for invasion of the North and an abundant source of food products, the Shenandoah Valley was strategically important.  Jackson’s two goals were to keep the area under Confederate control and to tie up Union troops so that they could not reinforce General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign toward the Confederate capital of Richmond.  Despite being vastly outnumbered, Jackson took to the offensive in the spring of 1862.  The Confederates lost the first battle of his Valley Campaign at Kernstown on March 23, but it compelled Union General Nathaniel Banks to remain in the northern valley and Union General Irvin McDowell to stay near Fredericksburg, rather than move toward Richmond. 

On May 8, 1862, Jackson’s surprise attack at the town of McDowell protected nearby Staunton, an important rail and turnpike junction and military supply center for the Confederacy.  His troops defeated the Union outright at Fort Royal on May 23 and at Winchester on May 25, driving most of the Union troops under Banks northward out of the valley.  President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton then ordered McDowell’s troops, spearheaded by General James Shield, and General John C. Fremont’s troops to converge on Jackson from the east and west, respectively.  Moving southward, Jackson defeated them at Cross Keys on June 8 and at Port Republic on June 9, forcing their withdrawal.  Jackson’s spectacular success in the 650–mile Valley Campaign inflicted 7000 casualties on the Union (against 2500 for the Confederacy), captured large amounts of military supplies, secured the Shenandoah Valley for the Confederacy, contributed significantly to the ultimate failure of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, and boosted Confederate morale.  Jackson became justly famous, and his strategy and tactics in the Valley Campaign are studied to this day.

Jackson was then assigned to General Robert E. Lee’s counteroffensive against the Union’s Peninsula Campaign, called the Seven Days Battles (June 25–July 1, 1862).  It was a tactical draw that produced high casualties on both sides, but a strategic victory for the Confederates when McClellan retreated and ended the Peninsula Campaign.  Jackson’s performance was sub–par, but he and Lee soon evolved into a well matched military duo.  In mid–July, Lee sent Jackson north to block the advancing Union force under General John Pope.  On August 9 at Cedar Mountain, Jackson and A. P. Hill repulsed the Union corps led by Nathaniel Banks.  Jackson then flanked the army of Pope, secretly marching 20,000 men over 50 miles in two days.  Near Manassas, he lured the Union commander into several attacks, which his Confederates deflected until reinforcement from Lee and General James Longstreet led to victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28–30).

Following Confederate success at Manassas, Lee invaded the North through western Maryland in September 1862.  Before joining Lee in Maryland, Jackson captured the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry—taking 13,000 arms, 47 artillery pieces, and over 12,500 soldiers (the largest single capture of Union troops in the war)—on September 15.  Two days later, Jackson’s men on the Confederate left wing at Antietam (Sharpsburg) withstood fierce Union assaults.  It was the bloodiest day of the entire war, with over 22,000 combined casualties.  After retreating to Virginia, Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia, with Jackson promoted to lieutenant general on October 10 and given command of the Second Corps.  The two men along with Longstreet successfully defended Fredericksburg against the Union’s botched invasion on December 13.

In late April 1863, Jackson was called to reinforce Lee against the Union army advancing under General Joseph Hooker toward Richmond.  Before daybreak on May 2, Jackson began leading 28,000 men on a 12–mile flanking maneuver, and in the late afternoon attacked the Union right wing, driving the Union’s vanguard back to Chancellorsville.  On a reconnaissance mission that night, he was accidentally shot by his own men, with the wound requiring amputation of an arm.  Learning of the incident, Lee responded publicly, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right,” and wrote privately, “I know not how to replace him.”  Following surgery, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson developed pneumonia from which he died on May 10, 1863.

Sources consulted:  Byron Farwell, Stonewall:  A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson (New York:  W. W. Norton & Co., 1992); Dennis E. Frye, “Stonewall’s Brilliant Victory:  The Siege & Capture of Harpers Ferry,” Harpers Ferry National Historical Park online, www.nps.gov/hafe/jackson.htm; James I. Robertson, “Jackson, Thomas Jonathan,” American National Biography Online, www.anb.org/articles/04/04–00555.html; D. S. F., “Jackson, Thomas Jonathan,” Dictionary of American Biography, pp. 556–559; “Stonewall Jackson Biographical Information,” Virginia Military Institute Archives, www.vmi.edu/archives/jackson/tjjbio.html; and, James I. Robertson Jr., “The 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign,” The Civil War Battlefield Guild (New York:  The Conservation Fund, 1990, pp. 44–46.

 
 

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