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Thomas Jonathan Jackson
1824 - 1863

The American Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was a Confederate hero and one of the outstanding Civil War generals.

Thomas Jackson was born on Jan. 21, 1824, at Clarksburg, Va. After the deaths of his father in 1826 and his mother in 1831, he was raised by his uncle. He went to local schools and then attended the U.S. Military Academy (1842-1846), graduating in time to join the 1st Artillery Regiment as a brevet second lieutenant in the Mexican War. Following service at the siege of Veracruz and at Cerro Gordo, he became a second lieutenant and transferred to a light field battery. While engaged in the fighting around Mexico City, Jackson received promotion to first lieutenant and later won brevets to captain and major.

Military Instructor

After the Mexican War, Jackson served at Ft. Columbus and at Ft. Hamilton. In 1851 he accepted a position as professor of philosophy and artillery tactics at Virginia Military Institute, where he proved a dedicated but inept instructor.

On Aug. 4, 1853, Jackson married Elinor Junkin of Lexington, Va., who died, with her baby, in childbirth in October 1854. After a tour of Europe in 1856, he married Mary Anna Morrison; they had a daughter. In December 1859 he commanded the cadet artillery at the hanging of abolitionist John Brown. He voted for John C. Breckinridge, the presidential candidate of the Southern Democrats in 1860, but hoped the Union would not be dissolved.

First Bull Run

When Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, Jackson traveled to Richmond with the cadet corps. The state government immediately commissioned him a colonel and sent him to Harpers Ferry. There he relinquished command to Joseph E. Johnston and became a brigade commander and brigadier general. At the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, when Jackson's brigade reinforced the Confederate left to stem the Union attack, Gen. Bernard E. Bee rallied his men with the words, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall." The Confederates drove back the Union advance, and Jackson won a new name.

Shenandoah Valley Campaigns

In October 1861 Jackson became a major general, and in November he received command of the Shenandoah Valley district of Virginia. On March 23 his attack on the Federal army at Kernstown forced the diversion of troops intended to reinforce the Union army moving against Richmond.

Jackson attacked an enemy force at McDowell in May 1862 and then struck another Union army at Front Royal, driving it back to the Potomac. He withdrew and fought off converging Union armies at Cross Keys and at Port Republic. Thus, with 16,000 men he had diverted 60,000 Federal troops from the Richmond campaign.

Seven Days Battles

Jackson then joined his forces with those of Gen. Robert E. Lee outside Richmond and began the Seven Days Battles to defend the Confederate capital against Gen. George McClellan's army. Tired and unfamiliar with the country, Jackson moved slowly and failed to flank the enemy position at Beaver Dam Creek. His troops did participate in the successful attack at Gaines's Mill on June 27 and pursued the Union army to White Oak Swamp. There, because of personal fatigue, he again failed to press the Union retreat as expected. Some of his men were among those repulsed at Malvern Hill on July 1.

Second Bull Run

In mid-July of 1862 Lee detached Jackson and his men to meet the advance of a new Union army under Gen. John Pope in northern Virginia. At Cedar Run on August 9 Jackson defeated part of that command. He led his force around the Union right flank and destroyed its supply base at Manassas on August 27. He then withdrew to Groveton, where he held off attacks while waiting for Lee. When Lee had reunited his forces, Jackson's men joined in a successful counterattack that drove the Union army from the field in the Second Battle of Bull Run on June 30.

Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg

In September 1862 Lee advanced into Maryland and sent Jackson ahead with five divisions to capture the Union garrison of 11,000 men at Harpers Ferry. Jackson surrounded the town, which surrendered on September 15, then hurried north to help Lee beat off Union attacks at Sharpsburg on September 17. Lee withdrew into Virginia after the battle to recruit and reorganize his army. In October, Jackson received promotion to lieutenant general and became commander of the new 2d Corps.

In November 1862 the Confederate army moved east to meet a Union advance at Fredericksburg, Va. Lee placed his troops on the hills south of the town, with Jackson's corps on the right. On December 13 Gen. Ambrose Burnside attacked across the Rappahannock River with two columns, one aimed at Jackson's position. Though Burnside broke through a gap between two Confederate brigades, reinforcements drove the attackers back to the river. The entire Union assault was repulsed with heavy losses.

Chancellorsville and Mortal Injury

In late April 1863 Gen. Joseph Hooker decided to turn the Confederate left flank by crossing the Rappahannock River above Fredericksburg, while part of Lee's 1st Corps had been diverted to southern Virginia and North Carolina. Lee sent Jackson's corps around the Union position at Chancellorsville to strike it from the rear. Late in the afternoon of May 2, Jackson launched an attack that routed the Union right wing and drove it back almost to Chancellorsville. As Jackson returned with his staff from scouting Union lines, his left arm was broken by shots from his own men who mistook the riders for Union troops. The arm required amputation before Jackson was removed south to Guiney's Station, Va., for rest and recovery. There he developed pneumonia and died on May 10, 1863.

Stonewall Jackson was a masterful military strategist. He campaigned with aggressiveness and audacity; he moved rapidly; he was tenacious in defense and pursuit. His victories made him a hero in the Confederacy and won him the accolades of military historians, who consider him among America's greatest generals.


Jackson, Gen Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ (1824-63), hard-driving, Cromwell-like Confederate general, and sole undisputed military genius of the American civil war. Convinced that God intended him for some great purpose, he became a terror to the Union and an inspiration to the Confederacy by his implementation of the axiom ‘move swiftly, strike vigorously and secure all the fruits of victory’. He graduated from West Point in 1846, but left the army to teach at the Virginia Military Institute in 1851. Appointed a Confederate brigadier general in 1861, he earned his nickname at first Bull Run where his brigade was described as standing like a stone wall. After the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign he was marked for greatness and became Lee's principal lieutenant.

As Fuller put it, he ‘possessed the brutality essential in war’. More even than Sherman, he did not wish merely to defeat but to punish the enemy. There was none of Lee's courtliness in his make-up, and his own men were either useful to his purposes or not worthy of consideration. He was impatient with weariness or even illness, harshly unforgiving of desertion, and inclined to attribute any battlefield failure to cowardice. On several occasions he gave battle with subordinate commanders awaiting court martial. Apart from a weakness for fresh fruit, his only passion was to fulfil the predestination of his implacable God.

During the Shenandoah campaign he refined an ability to ‘mystify, mislead and surprise’ not only the enemy but his own officers and men. Aware of his inability to convince others of the rightness of his ideas, he used ambassadors to advocate his strategic concepts with his superiors, without success. His most persuasive argument was the fait accompli, notably at Chancellorsville where he improved on Lee's bold concept of a flank march by announcing that he would take two-thirds of the army from his momentarily nonplussed commander. Many judged that he took insane risks, but more than any other Confederate commander he was acutely aware that these were necessary to overcome the imbalance of forces.

Although without peer in the conception of battle, he was not a tactical innovator. At first and second Bull Run he made use of the reverse slope to protect his badly outnumbered men, but on other occasions he exposed them to needless casualties, and he was slow to learn that the increased range of rifle fire made the forward deployment of artillery suicidal. Like other Confederate commanders, he paid little attention to training or to assembling the staff that he needed more than most to bring about the co-ordination and ruthless execution that so often escaped him. He believed that natural selection—or as in his own case, divine dispensation—would provide, and it seldom did.

His greatest success also encompassed the most glaring failure of his secretive style of generalship, when at Chancellorsville his mortal wounding aborted his plan to cut off the Union retreat. It is doubtful that it would have produced the annihilation he intended, but he appears to have been alone in appreciating that only thus could the war be won. Lee's last message to him said that for the good of the country he would have chosen to be struck down in his stead. His own last words resonate poignantly over the years: ‘Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.’










This web page was last updated on: 11 December, 2008