Aside from Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was the most celebrated of all Confederate commanders during and after the American Civil War.
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born on January 21, 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). Jackson was the third child of Jonathan Jackson (1790-1826) and Julia Beckwith Neale (1798-1831). Orphaned at age seven, Jackson spent most of his childhood living with his uncle, Cummins Jackson. Despite having little formal education, Jackson received an appointment to the United States Military Academy.
Due to his lack of formal education, Jackson struggled with the entrance exams at West Point and entered the academy near the bottom of his class. Through hard work and determination, however, he steadily improved his academic standing and graduated seventeenth in his class in 1846.
Following his graduation, officials commissioned Jackson as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment and sent him to fight in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). During that conflict, Jackson served with distinction at the Siege of Veracruz and at the Battles of Contreras, Chapultepec, and Mexico City, earning him two brevet promotions and a promotion to first lieutenant in the regular army. While in Mexico, Jackson met Robert E. Lee, for whom he would serve during the American Civil War. Also during his service in Mexico, Jackson developed an interest in religion, which led to him becoming a pious Presbyterian.
In 1851, Jackson resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and accepted a faculty position at the Virginia Military Institute. At VMI, Jackson taught natural and experimental philosophy, and he was an artillery instructor. While at VMI, Jackson married Elinor Junkin on August 4, 1853. A little more than one year later, on October 22, 1854, Jackson's wife died from complications after childbirth. On July 16, 1857, Jackson married Mary Anna Morrison. In 1859, a group of VMI cadets under Jackson's command served as a security detail during the hanging of abolitionist John Brown. Jackson likely had little remorse for Brown, as he, Jackson, was a slaveholder. In general, Jackson passed his years at VMI as a stern instructor and a deeply religious man.
While Jackson was teaching at VMI, South Carolina seceded from the Union in reaction to Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency in 1860. Like many Virginians, Jackson was opposed to secession until Lincoln called upon state governors to provide troops to be used against Southern states in rebellion after the firing upon Fort Sumter (April 12, 1861). When Virginia seceded from the Union (April 17, 1861), Governor John Letcher ordered Jackson and his VMI cadets to Richmond on April 21, 1861, to serve as drillmasters for new army recruits. Eight days later, the governor ordered Jackson to take command at Harper's Ferry, where he organized the troops that would soon comprise the famous "Stonewall Brigade." On June 17, 1861, Jackson was commissioned as a brigadier general in the provisional Confederate Army.
Just a few days later, Jackson led his brigade into combat at the Battle of Bull Run I (July 21, 1861). Around noon, the Confederate line began to collapse under heavy Union pressure. Nevertheless, Jackson's soldiers remained disciplined and held their ground, prompting Brigadier General Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr. to exclaim, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!" Jackson thereby acquired the nom de guerre, "Stonewall," forever associated with him.
During the spring of 1862, Jackson conducted his famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign, where he successfully engaged three Union armies, preventing them from reinforcing Major General George McClellan's Peninsula Campaign, which was targeting the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia. When Robert E Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia that summer, he ordered Jackson's soldiers to the Richmond area to join his efforts to halt McClellan's offensive. Jackson's leadership abilities were instrumental in Confederate successes during the Seven Days' Battles, and in driving McClellan off of the peninsula.
With McClellan's advance on Richmond reversed, Lee sent Jackson north to engage Major General John Pope's newly formed Army of Virginia. Reinforced by A.P Hill's division, Jackson defeated Major General Nathaniel Bank's corps at the Battle of Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862). The Rebel victory stalled Pope long enough to enable Lee to shift more troops northward. On August 27, Jackson's men flanked the Union army and destroyed a large supply depot at Manassas Station, forcing Pope's army to retreat from its defensive line along the Rappahannock River. When Pope counterattacked two days later, Jackson held, buying time for Major General James Longstreet's corps to arrive and deliver a Confederate victory at the Battle of Bull Run II (August 28–30, 1862).
The second Confederate victory at Bull Run prompted Lee to launch an offensive into Maryland. Lee split his army and sent Jackson to capture the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Jackson began his assault on September 12, and by September 15, his men had captured the arsenal and its garrison. Jackson then hurried east to Sharpsburg, Maryland, arriving in time to prevent the other half of Lee's army from being defeated at the Battle of Antietam (September 16–18, 1862).
After the draw at Antietam, Lee was forced to return to Virginia, where he reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia. Longstreet was given command of the 1st Corps, and Jackson was promoted to lieutenant general on November 6, 1862 and given command of the 2nd Corps. Soon thereafter, Jackson participated in the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862).
In the spring of 1863, the Union initiated another offensive thrust into Virginia. The Army of the Potomac, now commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker crossed the Rappahannock River on April 27 intent on engaging the Army of Northern Virginia. Facing an enemy twice his size, Lee boldly split his army and attacked Hooker near Chancellorsville on May 1. The next day, he split his army again, sending Jackson's corps on a covert march west around Hooker's right flank. At about 5:30 p.m., most of the unsuspecting Union 11th Corps was preparing for dinner with their arms stacked when Jackson's soldiers charged out of the woods and routed them. By nightfall, the Rebels drove Hooker's right flank more than 1.25 miles back toward the Union center at Chancellorsville.
That night, Jackson rode out on a personal reconnaissance mission beyond his own lines. As he and his staff returned in the dark, Confederate soldiers mistakenly identified them as Yankees and fired upon Jackson and his aides. Jackson received three bullet wounds, none of which were considered as life threatening. Doctors had to amputate Jackson's left arm, and he was evacuated to a local plantation where he developed pneumonia and died on May 10. Reportedly, on the night that Lee learned of Jackson's death he said, "I have lost my right arm and I'm bleeding at the heart." Jackson's body was taken to Richmond for public mourning before he was buried at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, in Lexington, Virginia.
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Aside from Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was the most esteemed of all Confederate commanders during and after the American Civil War. Jackson graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1846 and served in the Mexican-American War. In 1851, Jackson resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and accepted a faculty position at the Virginia Military Institute, where he taught until the outbreak of the Civil War. Jackson emerged to become Lee's most trusted commander before his untimely death at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.
- Abraham Lincoln
- Army of Northern Virginia
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Battle of Antietam
- Battle of Bull Run I
- Battle of Bull Run II
- Battle of Cedar Creek
- Battle of Cedar Mountain
- Battle of Chancellorsville
- Battle of Fort Sumter
- Battle of Fredericksburg
- George B. McClellan
- James Longstreet
- John Brown
- John Pope
- Joseph Hooker
- Message Assigning Thomas J. Jackson to Command of Harpers Ferry
- Mexican-American War
- Robert E. Lee
- Seven Days Battles
- Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864
- Special Orders, No. 486 (AOP/CSA)
- Stonewall Brigade
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