Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson - Confederate General Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson - Confederate General

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Thomas J Jackson was one of the most competent and able Confederate generals of the American Civil War. He was Robert E Lee's right-hand man and trusted with several extremely important tasks by Lee. He is known to have been strong-willed, strict and perhaps a little lucky. By the time his career ended, he was a living legend, feared by Union men and revered by Confederates.

His presence on the battlefield certainly changed the course of the war. His psychological and tactical contributions to the Southern effort in the war cannot be overstated. Despite all of his fame and personal involvement in the war, he remains one of the war's most enigmatic and mysterious figures. He was remembered by some as a quiet, kind man, but by others as a powerful, gruff man who liked to suck on lemons1 and felt no emotion on the battlefield.

Life Before the Civil War

Jackson was born on 21 January, 1824 in the town of Clarksburg, Virginia, which is now part of West Virginia. He was orphaned as a child and received a poor education. His parents, Jonathan and Julia, had four children, of which Thomas was the third. In March, 1826, his father and his sister Elizabeth died of typhoid fever. The day after her husband died, Julia Jackson gave birth to another daughter, Laura.

Julia was widowed, and the family was left poor. Julia then married Blake Woodson, but he wasn't able to provide for the family and didn't like the children Julia brought to his life. Shortly after the marriage, Thomas and Laura were sent to live with her father's relatives at Jackson's Mill, and another sibling, Warren, was sent to his mother's relatives. On 4 December, 1831 their mother died, and they became orphans. Thomas spent the rest of his childhood with his father's siblings. His brother Warren died in 1841.

In July 1842, Thomas Jackson was admitted to West Point Military Academy. In 1846, he graduated 17th in his class of 59, despite a lack of education when he was younger. Perhaps this was because of his general determination. The year he graduated, he saw action in the Mexican-American War as a second lieutenant of artillery. He was promoted to the position of first lieutenant and fought with his countrymen until the war ended, earning two brevets.

He continued to serve in the military until 1851, when he accepted a teaching job at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. He taught Natural Philosophy (basically physics and other scientific subjects) and Artillery Tactics. He wasn't a great teacher, but he earned a reputation as being strict and firm. He was nicknamed 'Tom Fool Jackson' by his students - a name that did not stick - fortunately for him. On 4 August, 1853 he married Elinor Junkin.

In the summer of 1856, Jackson left behind the tensions between the North and South and toured Europe. After this vacation he was not as ambitious in the military, but focused his attention on cultural ideas. On 16 July, 1857, Jackson married again, this time to Mary Anna Morrison. In late 1859, Jackson stood over a group of cadets, guarding the execution of John Brown (the man who raided Harpers Ferry, Virginia to incite a slave rebellion). It was Jackson's future commander, Robert E Lee, who had been sent to capture Brown.

The Civil War

As the Civil War began, Jackson's distinguished service in the Mexican War and his position in the Virginia Military Institute warranted his position as an officer in the Confederate Army. Having been born in Virginia, he stayed loyal to his home and went to Richmond to help organise the volunteers into a useful military there.

Jackson did a very good job of organising Virginia's military power, and on 27 April, 1861 was ordered to take a command at Harpers Ferry - the location of the Union's Federal arsenal. There he organised the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th and 33rd Virginia Infantry Regiments and an artillery unit (all from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia) into what would become the famous 'Stonewall Brigade'.

In July, 1861 he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. His brigade was soon involved in the first battle of the Civil War.

First Bull Run

The first battle of the Civil War was one of the most important to Thomas Jackson, as it gave him his famous nickname that would act almost like a first name for him in the history books.

His men ran in to help General Beauregard control the vital Manassas Railroad Junction near the creek called Bull Run. The Union men seemed to control the battlefield when their whole army faced the Southerners, and the Confederates began to retreat. However, Jackson, who had just arrived with his men, didn't budge.

He stood strong amidst a sea of retreating men, and an officer named Barnard Bee noticed. He cried: 'Look! There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!' And so the Confederate Army rallied behind Jackson and his brigade of Virginians. The Confederates turned and charged on their enemy, and ended up chasing them out of the battlefield.

If Jackson had not stood strong, then the Union would have achieved a decisive victory, demoralising the Confederates and possibly destroying their war effort. After this battle, Jackson and his brigade were called 'Stonewall'. In fact, his brigade was officially renamed the Stonewall Brigade at a later date.

Second Bull Run

In order to keep the Union from consolidating their forces into one army, Lee and Jackson decided to cut off Union General John Pope. Jackson was sent to draw Pope into combat by attacking some soldiers at Warrenton Turnpike.

Once the battle lines were drawn, Pope focused on Jackson's soldiers and ignored the other part of the army under General Longstreet. Jackson's men stood their ground for the most part, and took heavy casualties. However, Lee out-manoeuvred Pope and Second Bull Run was won for the Confederates.


General Lee became very confident and decided to send his army into the North to gain a strategic advantage. Once in the North, he split up his army into two groups, led by generals Longstreet and Jackson, while reserving a small number of troops for himself.

Jackson was sent to capture the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and raid its weapons. He accomplished this, but by the time he got back to reunite with Lee, he was fighting off George McClellan's Army of the Potomac. When Jackson attacked McClellan, he faced heavy casualties in his command and was bombarded by artillery fire. His performed competently, but he wasn't able to save the day and Lee was forced to withdraw his men back into Virginia.

Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville

In order to defend Richmond, Lee and the Confederate Army headed to cut off General Ambrose Burnside's advance into Fredericksburg. Luckily for them, Burnside wasn't a very good strategist and the victory there did not require very skilled management on the Confederate side.

Shortly after the battle of Fredericksburg, Union General Joseph Hooker attempted to trap the Confederates, but Lee and Jackson decided to surprise the unprepared right flank of the Union forces. Jackson's men marched daringly and quickly to surprise the Northerners. He attempted to completely push back this part of the army and turn it from the rest. However, the initiative was begun too late to keep the Union men on the run and in chaos. Jackson's army had to stop pushing when the lines became tangled and the sun set.

As it became dark, Jackson was out being briefed and seeing the land, but the lines were so confused that a group of Confederates shot at Jackson in the dark by mistake. Jackson was hit a few times, and transported back to be taken care of. His left arm was amputated. He began to recover from his wounds, but died of pneumonia on 10 May, 1863. Lee, who had grown very close to Jackson, said: 'He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.'. Jackson is buried in Lexington, Virginia. His arm is buried about a hundred miles away at Ellwood Cemetery.

Further Reading

1At least, according to legend. He would suck on or eat any fruit he could get hold of.

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