Who was “Stonewall” Jackson?
Thomas Jonathan Jackson (1824-63), who came to be known as “Stonewall” Jackson, was a general with the Confederate Army in the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1846, served as a major during the Mexican War and then became professor of artillery tactics and natural philosophy at the Virginia Military Institute, where he won a reputation for eccentricity.
He was also deeply religious and was mockingly called “Deacon” Jackson. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he offered his services to the state of Virginia and was commissioned as a brigadier-general. His nickname “Stonewall” was earned at the Battle of Bull Run. A strong Union assault threw some of the confederate soldiers into confusion, and one of their officers calmed them with the words: “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”
Jackson was made a major-general and took command of the confederate forces in the Shenandoah valley, where he demonstrated his brilliance as a field tactician. Although outnumbered, he defeated the Union forces at Winchester in 1862, and prevented the main enemy forces uniting.
He became the greatest of the officers under General Robert E. Lee’s command and fought in the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. After forcing a Union retreat at Chancellorsville in 1863, he was accidentally wounded by one of his own men and died shortly afterwards.
The general survived but lost an arm to amputation; he died of complications from pneumonia eight days later. His death was a severe setback for the Confederacy, affecting not only its military prospects, but also the morale of its army and of the general public. Jackson in death became an icon of Southern heroism and commitment, and became a mainstay in the pantheon of the “Lost Cause”.
Military historians consider Jackson to be one of the most gifted tactical commanders in U.S. history. His Valley Campaign and his envelopment of the Union Army’s right wing at Chancellorsville are studied worldwide, even today, as examples of innovative and bold leadership.
He excelled as well in other battles: the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), where he received his famous nickname “Stonewall”; the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas); and the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. Jackson was not, however, universally successful as a commander as displayed by his late arrival and confused efforts during the Seven Days Battles around Richmond, in 1862.