Happy Birthday, “Stonewall” Jackson, Civil War General

January 21, 2009

by Isabel Cowles

As a leader of the first battle of Bull Run, and a major force in Antietam and Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson was one of the Confederate Army’s most important generals and one of the best-known generals in Civil War history. However, Jackson did not live to see the end of the war: “friendly fire” killed him during the battle of Chancellorsville.

Early Days

Thomas Jonathan Jackson, later known as “Stonewall” Jackson, was born on January 21, 1824. His father, a successful young attorney named Jonathan Jackson, died of typhoid fever when Jackson was three years old. Four years later, his mother died as well. Although the Jacksons came from a well-respected West Virginia family, Jackson and his two siblings grew up poor.

The 12-year-old Jackson left his surrogate parents over a disagreement and walked nearly 20 miles to live with his father’s half-brother, Cummins Jackson. At age 18, he enrolled in West Point with the help of his uncle’s political connections.

He graduated 17th in his class in 1846, and was sent directly to Mexico on military duty. Later, he was posted to New York and Florida, remaining in the military until 1852, when he resigned to take up a position as professor of artillery tactics and natural philosophy at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.

Notable Accomplishments

A decade later, at the start of the Civil War, Jackson was commissioned to serve as colonel for the Virginia forces and was dispatched to Harpers Ferry. Later, he joined other Confederate forces.

It was at the first battle of Bull Run that Jackson earned his nickname “Stonewall.” He and his troops stood up to enemy assault “like a stone wall,” according to Confederate General Barnard Bee, who used Colonel Jackson’s exemplary conduct to encourage his forces.

In November of 1861, Jackson was promoted to major general, and given command over the entire Shenandoah Valley. In a series of battles, known as the Valley Campaign, Jackson successfully defeated Union forces, the endeavor culminating in the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic on June 8 and 9, 1862.

Jackson then joined General Robert E. Lee in what came to be known as the Seven Days’ battle. Although his initial performance was not impressive, Jackson was able to defeat Union forces in August 1862 at the battle of Cedar Mountain, which set the stage for the victory at the second battle of Bull Run.

Jackson was also successful in the subsequent Antietam campaign, where he was promoted to lieutenant general.

In December 1862, Jackson commanded troops in the battle of Fredericksburg. In the subsequent battle of Chancellorsville, Lee and Jackson repeated the tactics of second Bull Run; it involved a quick-turning movement by the troops that assured their victory against General Hooker’s Union forces on May 2, 1863.

However, the complex maneuver had fatal consequences. As fresh Union troops advanced upon Jackson’s men, he urged his forces to continue marching. To avoid open fire, Jackson cut through the forest and ended up at the frontline of his own troops. Mistaking him for the enemy, the Confederate soldiers shot Jackson. His wounded arm was amputated, and he soon developed pneumonia. Jackson died on May 10, 1863, in a hospital 30 miles from the site of the battle.

The Rest of the Story

The soldier responsible for Jackson’s death remains unknown. Major John D. Barry gave the order to fire. Barry died two years after the war at the age of 27, and his family maintained that he died from the guilt he felt for ordering the shooting of the famous general.

Jackson was buried in Lexington, Virginia, where he spent many years as a teacher. His amputated arm was buried separately by the Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy at his family burial plot, near where Jackson was initially treated.

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