With the possible exception of Robert E. Lee, Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was the most renowned 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.
U.S. Military Academy Cadet
Despite having little formal education, Jackson received an appointment to the United States Military Academy in 1842. After struggling with the entrance exams at West Point, Jackson 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.
U.S. Army Officer
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 bump in rank 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.
Virginia Military Institute Instructor
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 over one year later, on October 22, 1854, Jackson’s wife died from complications after childbirth. On July 16, 1857, Jackson married Mary Anna Morrison.
John Brown’s Hanging
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.
Jackson passed his years at VMI as a stern instructor and a deeply religious man. He was teaching there when South Carolina seceded from the Union in reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. Like many Virginians, Jackson opposed secession until Lincoln called upon state governors to raise troops to suppress the Southern 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 Harpers Ferry, where he organized the troops that would soon comprise the famous “Stonewall Brigade.” On June 17, 1861, Jackson received a commission as a brigadier general in the provisional Confederate Army.
First Battle of Bull Run – “Stonewall Jackson”
Just a few days later, Jackson led his brigade into combat at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). Around noon, the Confederate line began to collapse under intense Union pressure. Facing heavy fire, Jackson’s soldiers remained disciplined and held their ground, prompting Brigadier General Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr. to proclaim,
There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!
Bee’s exclamation, which probably fewer than fifty men heard, had little impact on the outcome of the battle, but it etched the names of Jackson and his brigade in Confederate folklore. For the rest of the Civil War, the name “Stonewall” represented the standard of excellence for Rebel soldiers.
Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862
During the spring of 1862, Jackson conducted his famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign, where he successfully engaged three Union armies and prevented them from reinforcing Union forces under the command of Major General George McClellan. McClellan was executing his Peninsula Campaign, which targeted 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.
Northern Virginia Campaign
With McClellan’s advance on Richmond reversed, Lee sent Jackson north to engage Major General John Pope and the newly formed Army of Virginia. Reinforced by A. P. Hill’s division, Jackson defeated Major General Nathaniel Banks and his 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 Second Battle of Bull Run (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).
Corps Commander at Fredericksburg
After the draw at Antietam, Lee returned to Virginia, where he reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee gave command of the army’s 2nd Corps to Jackson who Confederate officials had promoted to lieutenant general on November 6, 1862. Soon thereafter, Jackson took part in the Confederate victory at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862).
In the spring of 1863, the Union started 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 over 1.25 miles back toward the Union center at Chancellorsville.
Mortally Injured 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 witnesses considered life-threatening. Doctors amputated Jackson’s left arm and evacuated him to a local plantation where he developed pneumonia. He died from the disease on May 10, 1863. 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.
Officials took Jackson’s body to Richmond for public mourning before burying it at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, in Lexington, Virginia.