Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was one of the finest officers in the Confederate army, a consummate professional who earned the respect and loyalty of all who served with him. So famous are his exploits on the battlefield that his name is practically synonymous with the Civil War, even though he died in battle midway through the conflict.
Though he was a superb soldier, Stonewall Jackson was also a hypochondriac and was prone to eccentric behavior. He often held his right arm in the air for several minutes at a time, habitually sucked lemons, napped before battle, believed Northerners were devils, and refused to write a letter that would be in the mail on a Sunday.
Jackson was born in what is now West Virginia in 1824; he was orphaned as a youngster and raised by an uncle. Though he received little education as a child, Jackson managed to secure a spot at West Point and studied with such vigor and determination that he graduated seventeenth in a class of fifty-nine.
During the Mexican War, Jackson fought in the battles of Vera Cruz, Contreras, and Chapultepec. He showed exemplary skills and was promoted to major within eighteen months. After the Mexican War, Jackson was transferred to a number of different posts, including Florida, where he helped quell the Seminole uprising. In 1852, he resigned his commission to become a professor of military tactics and natural philosophy at the Virginia Military Institute.
Lieutenant General “Stonewall” Jackson Photo courtesy of the National Archives (111-B-1867)
A religious man with strong convictions and few bad habits, Jackson enjoyed a number of quiet personal pursuits, including travel, until the Civil War started in 1861. When his home state of Virginia seceded, Jackson went with it and joined the Confederate army. One of his first tasks was to train infantry at Harpers Ferry, and by June 1861 he was promoted to brigadier general.
The Legend of “Stonewall”
Jackson received his now famous nickname at the First Battle of Manassas. According to reports, Jackson and his men fought off a Union advance with such courage that General Barnard Bee supposedly called out to his troops, “Oh men, there are Jackson and his Virginians, standing behind you like a stone wall! Let us determine to die here, and we shall conquer. Follow me.” Jackson immediately became known as “Stonewall,” a name that followed him for the rest of his life.
In October 1861, Jackson was promoted to major general and placed in command of the Army of the Shenandoah Valley. He played a vital role in the Second Battle of Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg before being mortally wounded by his own men at Chancellorsville.