Stonewall Jackson

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Stonewall Jackson

Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson (January 21, 1824May 10, 1863) was an American teacher and soldier. He became a famous Confederate general during the American Civil War, and was killed during the conflict. Jackson is often considered one of the most gifted battlefield commanders in American history, and his death was a severe setback for the Confederacy.



Thomas Jonathan Jackson was the third child of Julia Neale Jackson (17891831) and Jonathan Jackson (17901826), an attorney. Both of Jackson's parents were natives of Virginia. The family already had two young children and were living in Clarksburg, in what is now West Virginia, when Thomas, their third son, was born.

Two years later, tragedy struck the family when Jackson's father and sister Elizabeth (age six) died of typhoid fever. Jackson's mother gave birth to Thomas' sister Laura Ann the next day. Julia Jackson was widowed at 28 and was left with much debt, selling all the family's possessions to pay them. She declined family charity and moved into a small one-room house. Julia took in sewing and taught school to support herself and her three young children for about four years. In 1830, she remarried, but her new husband, also an attorney, did not like his stepchildren, and there were continuing financial problems. Then, after giving birth to Thomas' half-brother, she died of complications, leaving her three children orphaned. Julia was buried in an unmarked grave in a homemade coffin in a small town along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike in Fayette County.

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Jackson's Mill, owned by Cummins Jackson.

Jackson was seven when his mother died, and he and his sister Laura Ann were sent to live with their paternal uncle, Cummins Jackson, who owned a grist mill in Jackson's Mill (near present-day Weston). Cummins Jackson was strict to Thomas Jackson, often giving his own views on things. Thomas Jackson looked up to Cummins as a schoolteacher. Their older brother, Warren, went to live with other relatives on his mother's side of the family, but he died of tuberculosis in 1841 at the age of 20.

Jackson helped around his uncle's farm, tending sheep with the assistance of a sheepdog, driving teams of oxen and helping harvest the fields of wheat and corn. Formal education was not easily obtained, but he attended school when and where he could. Much of Jackson's education was self-taught. He would often sit up at night reading by the flickering light of burning pine knots. The story is told that Thomas once made a deal with one of his uncle's slaves to provide him with pine knots in exchange for reading lessons. This was in violation of a law in Virginia at that time that forbade teaching a slave to read or write, but nevertheless, Jackson taught the man as promised. In his later years at Jackson's Mill, Thomas was a schoolteacher.

In 1842, Jackson was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Because of his inadequate schooling, he had difficulty with the entrance examinations. As a student, he had to work several times harder than most cadets to absorb lessons. However, displaying a dogged determination that was to characterize his life, he became one of the hardest working cadets in the academy. Thomas Jackson graduated 17th out of 59 students in the Class of 1846.

U.S. Army, the Mexican War

Young Lieutenant Jackson began his U.S. Army career in the First Artillery Regiment. He was sent to fight in the Mexican War from 1846 to 1848. Again, his unusual character emerged. When he refused what he felt was a "bad order", to withdraw his troops, he was confronted by another superior. He explained his rationale, and claimed that, with only 50 more troops, he could persevere and win the particular situation. His judgment proved correct, earning field promotion to the temporary rank of major.

He served at Veracruz, Contreras, Chapultepec, and Mexico City, eventually earning two brevets. While serving in Mexico, Jackson first met Robert E. Lee.

Virginia Military Institute

In the spring of 1851, Thomas Jackson was offered and accepted a newly created position to teach at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), in Lexington, Virginia. He became Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery. Jackson's teachings are still used at VMI today because they are military essentials that are timeless, to wit: discipline, mobility, assessing the enemy's strength and intentions while attempting to secret your own, and the efficacy of artillery combined with infantry in a literal combined attack. However, despite the quality of his work, he was not popular as a teacher. The students mocked his apparently stern, religious nature and his eccentric traits. Little as he was known to the white inhabitants of Lexington, he was revered by the slaves, to whom he showed uniform kindness, and for whose moral instruction he worked unceasingly. During this time Jackson even began a Sunday school for blacks, both slave and free.

While an instructor at VMI, in 1853, Thomas Jackson married Elinor "Ellie" Junkin, whose father was president of Washington College in Lexington. A son was born to them but unfortunately, Ellie died during childbirth and the newborn child died immediately following the birth.

After a tour of Europe, in 1857, Jackson married again. Mary Anna Morrison was from North Carolina, where her father was the first president of Davidson University. They had a daughter named Mary Graham on April 30, 1858, but the baby died less than a month later. Another daughter was born in 1862, shortly before her famous father's death. The Jacksons named her Julia Laura, after his mother and sister.

In November 1859, at the request of the governor of Virginia, Major William Gilham led a contingent of the VMI Cadet Corps to Charles Town to provide an additional military presence at the execution by hanging on December 2, 1859 of militant abolitionist John Brown following his raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Major Jackson was placed in command of the artillery, consisting of two howitzers manned by 21 cadets.

American Civil War

In 1861, as the American Civil War broke out, the Confederate Army had a lot of new recruits and he became a drill master of new army recruits. He was eventually given command of a brigade. On April 27, 1861, Virginia Governor John Letcher ordered Colonel Jackson to take command at Harpers Ferry, where he would assemble the famous "Stonewall Brigade". The fabled brigade included the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia infantry regiments. All of these units were from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia.

During the charge that took place at Harpers Ferry, Colonel Jackson jumped in front of a soldier who was about to be killed by a sword thrust and killed the man that was attacking the soldier. After the Battle of Harpers Ferry, because of his bravery, he was promoted to brigadier general.

Jackson rose to prominence and earned his nickname after the first battle of Bull Run (known as the First Battle of Manassas in the South) in July 1861, when Brigadier General Barnard E. Bee exhorted his own troops to reform by shouting, "There stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians!" Jackson was quickly promoted to divisional command.

In May and June of 1862, he was given an independent command in the Shenandoah Valley. There he soundly thrashed the Union forces by a combination of great audacity, excellent knowledge and shrewd use of the terrain, added to the ability to inspire his troops to great feats of marching and fighting. With fewer than 17,000 men, he defeated 60,000 Union troops through a series of lightning marches and brilliant battles. Stonewall Jackson's reputation for moving his troops earned them the description of "foot cavalry".

In the spring of 1862, McClellan led the Peninsula Campaign, a major Union advance from Hampton Roads at Fort Monroe up the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James Rivers. Union forces reached the defenses of Richmond on June 1. After the campaign in the Shenandoah Valley ended in mid-June, Jackson and his troops were called to Richmond, Virginia to help there. By utilizing a railroad tunnel under the Blue Ridge Mountains he knew of which had been engineered and built by VMI founder Claudius Crozet, and then transporting troops to Hanover County on the Virginia Central Railroad, Jackson and his forces made a surprise appearance in front of McClellan at Mechanicsville. Reports had last placed Jackson's forces in the Valley, and their presence near Richmond added greatly to the Union commander's overestimation of the strength and numbers of the forces before him. This proved a crucial factor in McClellan's decision to retreat toward the James River.

Jackson's troops served well under Robert E. Lee in the series of battles known as the Seven Days Battles, but Jackson's own performance in those battles is generally considered to be lackluster. The reasons are disputed, although a severe lack of sleep after the grueling march and railroad trip from the Shenandoah Valley was probably a large factor. Both Jackson and his troops were completely exhausted.

Jackson was now a corps commander under Lee. At the Second Battle of Bull Run (or the Second Battle of Manassas in the South), he helped to administer the Federals another defeat on the same ground as in 1861. When Lee decided to invade the North, Jackson took Harpers Ferry, then hastened to join the rest of the army at Sharpsburg, Maryland, where they fought McClellan in the Battle of Antietam. The Confederate forces held their position, but the battle had been extremely bloody for both sides, and Lee took the Army of Northern Virginia back across the Potomac River, ending the invasion.

Jackson's troops held off a ferocious Union assault at Fredericksburg, Virginia. At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson's forces flanked the Union army, and in an intense battle deep in the tangled woods drove them back from their lines. Darkness ended the assault, and by bad luck Jackson and his staff were mistaken for a Union cavalry force by Confederate troops and fired upon. Jackson was hit by three bullets; his left arm had to be amputated by Dr. Hunter McGuire, and he died seven days later of pneumonia. Jackson's dying words: "Let us cross the river and rest in the shade of the trees".

Upon hearing of Jackson's death, Robert E. Lee mourned the loss of both a friend and a trusted commander. The night Lee learned of Jackson's death, he told his cook, "William, I have lost my right arm" (deliberately in contrast to Jackson's left arm) and "I'm bleeding at the heart".


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"Stonewall" Jackson statue, Manassas Battlefield Park

Jackson is considered one of the great characters of the Civil War. He was profoundly religious, a deacon in the Presbyterian Church. He disliked fighting on Sunday, though that did not stop him from doing so. He loved his wife very much and sent her tender letters. He generally wore old, worn-out clothes rather than a fancy uniform, and often looked more like a moth-eaten private than a corps commander. He was also known to regularly chew lemons during marches, a taste for which he had acquired during his time in Mexico. In command Jackson was extremely secretive about his plans and extremely punctilious about military discipline.

The South mourned his death; he was greatly admired there. Many theorists through the years have postulated that if Jackson had lived, Lee might have prevailed at Gettysburg. Certainly Jackson's iron discipline and brilliant tactical sense were sorely missed, and might well have carried an extremely close fought battle. He is buried at Lexington, Virginia, near VMI, in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. He is memorialized on Georgia's Stone Mountain, in Richmond on historic Monument Avenue, and in many other places.

After the War, his wife and young daughter Julia moved from Lexington to North Carolina. Mary Anna Jackson wrote two books about her husband's life, including some of his letters. She never remarried, and was known as the "Widow of the Confederacy", living until 1915. His daughter Julia married, and bore children, but she died of typhoid fever at the age of 26 years.

A former Confederate soldier who admired Jackson, Captain Thomas R. Ranson of Staunton, Virginia, also remembered the tragic life of Jackson's mother. He went to the tiny mountain hamlet of Ansted in Fayette County, West Virginia, and had a marble marker placed over the unmarked grave of Julia Neale Jackson in Westlake Cemetery, to make sure that the site was not lost forever.

West Virginia's Stonewall Jackson State Park is named in his honor. Nearby, at Stonewall Jackson's historical childhood home, his Uncle's grist mill is the centerpiece of a historical site at the Jackson's Mill Center for Lifelong Learning and State 4-H Camp. The facility, located near Weston, serves as a special campus for West Virginia University and the WVU Extension Service.

The United States Navy submarine U.S.S. Stonewall Jackson (SSBN 634), commissioned in 1964, was named for Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson. The words "Strength -- Mobility" are emblazoned on the ship's banner. The words are taken from letters written by General Jackson, and were said to apply to the Polaris submarine as well as to the tactics he used so successfully. The submarine was decommissioned in 1995.

See also


  • Alexander, Bevin. Lost Victories: The Military Genius of Stonewall Jackson. Hippocrene Books, 2004. ISBN 0781810361.
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee's Lieutenants. 3 volumes. Simon and Schuster, 1942.

External links


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