General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Overview
When the Civil War started, Thomas Jackson was an instructor at Virginia Military Institute. Like many Virginians, Jackson opposed secession until President Abraham Lincoln called upon state governors to raise troops to suppress the Southern secession. Still, Jackson answered Virginia’s call. On June 17, 1861, Jackson accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the provisional Confederate Army, and he was promoted to major general in the Confederate Army on October 7, 1861. On October 10, 1863, he was promoted to lieutenant general.
Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall” when his brigade stood its ground during the First Battle of Bull Run. During his long and storied career, Jackson led troops during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, the Peninsula Campaign, the Northern Virginia Campaign, and the Maryland Campaign. His performance at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam, and the Battle of Fredericksburg is legendary in Southern annals.
On the evening of May 2, 1863, during the Battle of Chancellorsville, 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. Officials took Jackson’s body to Richmond for public mourning before burying it at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, in Lexington, Virginia.
Stonewall Jackson Quick Facts
- Date of Birth: He was born on January 21, 1824.
- Birthplace: He was born in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia).
- Parents: His parents were Jonathan and Julia Beckwith (Neale) Jackson.
- Spouse: Jackson was married twice. He married his first wife, Eleanor Junkin, in 1853, and his second, Mary Anna Morrison, in 1857.
- Death: He died on May 10, 1863.
- Place of Death: He died in Guinea Station, Virginia.
- Burial: He is buried at Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, Lexington, Virginia.
- Nickname: Jackson was known as “Stonewall.”
Early Life of Stonewall Jackson
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, the Battle of Contreras, the Battle of 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
Stonewall Jackson in the Civil War
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” is Born
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 men in the unsuspecting Union 11th Corps were 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.
How did Stonewall Jackson Die?
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 Oak Grove Cemetery, in Lexington, Virginia.
Stonewall Jackson’s Facts and Accomplishments
Childhood and Family
- Jackson’s parents were Jonathon Jackson (1790-1826) and Julia Beckwith Neale (1798-1831).
- His father died of typhoid fever in March 1826.
- He was orphaned when his mother died on December 4, 1831.
- Jackson spent most of his childhood living with his uncle, Cummins Jackson.
- Jackson attended the United States Military Academy and graduated in 1846, 17th in his class of 59.
Service in the Mexican-American War
- Jackson served with distinction during the Mexican-American War, earning promotions up to the rank of major.
Life from 1848 to 1861
- Following a religious awakening in Mexico, Jackson became a pious Presbyterian for the remainder of his life neither drinking nor smoking.
- Jackson was a professor at the Virginia Military Institute from August 13, 1851, to 1861.
- He married Eleanor Junkin (1825-1854) on August 4, 1853.
- His first wife died in childbirth on October 22, 1854.
- He married Mary Anna Morrison (1831-1915) on July 16, 1857.
Service During the Civil War
- 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.
- On April 27, 1861, Virginia Governor Letcher ordered Jackson to take command at Harpers Ferry, where he organized the troops that would soon comprise the famous “Stonewall Brigade.”
- Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall” when his brigade stoutly withstood a Union assault at the First Battle of Bull Run.
- He was promoted to brigadier general on June 17, 1861, and then to major general on October 7, 1861.
- Jackson was promoted to lieutenant general on October 10, 1862.
- During the spring of 1862, Jackson conducted his famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign, where he successfully engaged three Union armies, preventing them from reinforcing the Union offensive against the Confederate capitol, Richmond.
- His leadership abilities were instrumental in Confederate successes at the Seven Days’ Battle, the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Chancellorsville.
- At the battle at Chancellorsville (May 2-4, 1863), Thomas Jackson was wounded by his own soldiers on May 2, 1863. His left arm was amputated and he died a week later, of pneumonia.