Stonewall: By Name and Nature

Stonewall lay dying of his wounds at Chancellorsville — “the most successful movement of my life,” he murmured, and then remembered to give full credit to God. “I feel His hand led me.” He had smashed Fighting Joe Hooker and 134,000 invaders of Virginia with 60,000 Confederates. Jackson didn’t mention General Robert E. Lee who was with the reserves that battle.

Eight days would pass from the night of May 2, 1863, when a Confederate volley ironically struck Jackson down, until his beloved physician, Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire, his ear close to the General’s lips, made out the unforgettable words, “Let us cross the river and rest in the shade of the trees.” The length of the death watch gave ample time for soldiers’ talk of battle, death and wartime politics. Much of it took place around Jackson’s shattered body which had been moved by litter and wagon-ambulance, often under Yankee artillery barrage, through mountain terrain to Guiney’s station some forty-five miles from Richmond. Somebody mentioned the then pending resolution before the Confederate government to designate Jackson’s original command as the Stonewall Brigade, wholly unprecedented in military orders.

Out of the fumes of whiskey, chloroform and antimony and opium with which Dr. McGuire had dosed his patient while amputating the left arm and fighting pleuro-pneumonia, Stonewall spoke up to disclaim the Stonewall title. He always said it belonged to the first Virginia Brigade. Now he murmured that the “Government ought certainly accede … and authorize them to assume the title; for it was fairly earned.”

He gasped for breath and repeated what he often had told to presumptuous strangers. “The name Stonewall ought to be attached wholly to the brigade and not to me.” No one except his commander, General Lee, is known to have gone unrebuked for mentioning “our Stonewall” in Jackson’s presence.

But the disclaimer, then and forever, came to be universally ignored, and his contemporaries said he came by the name long before it was given him. They remembered him as a gritty boy. One West Virginia lady recalled him in bed with a mustard plaster across his chest when a rider was needed for a small errand. He quietly mounted and carried out the mission. When asked why he hadn’t removed the plaster first, he said he expected to bear pain in life, and had better get used to it.

There was only one Stonewall, and yet a century after him, in writing his biography, I found that many Americans had to be told that the true name of the world-famous warrior, born January 21, 1824, in the only brick house in Clarksburg, Virginia, was Thomas Jonathan Jackson; furthermore, that Old Hickory, Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, was another fellow — a close friend and Congressional colleague of the Virginia Jacksons, but unrelated, though both sets of ancestors had migrated from the same parish in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

Perhaps because of the unaccustomed whiskey (he had early sworn off strong liquors because they were too much for him), some sad, sentimental memories may have caused a smile to pass beneath the thick black beard, across the sensitive mouth, and into the steel-blue eyes. There was a postwar romance in Mexico which many including his wife, knew about, but no one left the senorita’s name to history. At Fort Meade, Florida, he was the second man in a love triangle, a contributory reason for his spending eighteen days under military arrest and resigning from the U.S. Army. The girls in Mexico had taught him to dance, and he’d become a ballroom favorite while stationed at posts which held soirees.

But he had been shy and withdrawn from childhood, unsophisticated about women. While a bachelor-professor at the Virginia Military Institute, he confessed to a strange malaise and his friend, General-to-be D. H. Hill playfully told Jackson he was in love. Among the few eligible females in the small college town of Lexington, Virginia, were Ellie and Maggie, daughters of the Reverend Junkin, president of Washington College. The girls were five years apart in age, but dressed and behaved like inseparable twins, so that a less susceptible, absent-minded professor than Jackson might have made a mistake. In any event, Jackson became engaged and married to the younger, Ellie, but probably was in love with Maggie, and she certainly with him (which Maggie, a published poet and autobiographical novelist, made clear enough when it was too late).

Poor Ellie died in childbirth, after fourteen months of marriage, and Jackson plunged off on a three-month tour of Europe. Did Tom and Maggie think their feelings incestuous enough to hide within the marriages they both soon made — Maggie to a widower with seven children, Tom to the plump, jolly Anna Morrison of North Carolina, another Presbyterian minister’s daughter?

All three of these women in Tom’s life and also his younger sister Laura, thought him a dashing good-looker (this was before he let his trim military mustache and British sideburns sprout into a beard), but he was not always so sharp. When he arrived, 1842, at West Point, he looked a bumpkin in his home-spun clothing, carrying his sweat-stained saddle bags.

The raw country boy, with his long, awkward stride and clumsy seat on horseback, was so unsoldierly that some cadets mockingly called him “General” after the hero of New Orleans and former President. He gradually became “Hickory,” which degenerated into Hick and Fool Tom, nicknames that dogged him for ten difficult years as a class¬room figure of ridicule.

Even after assuming the Confederate Army commission, Jackson was seldom spruce, in a kepi cap pulled down over his nose, enormous cavalry boots and rumpled blue Union coat which he neglected to replace until Jeb Stuart sent him a tailored gray garb. His eccentricities caused many subordinates to question his sanity, but he had a coterie of devoted friends. The name which acquired unbounded affection was Old Jack. His men loved to cheer him with it, and he was adored as the reputed composer of the Rebel Yell in which he heartily joined during a bayonet charge.

To compound confusion about names, he wasn’t baptized until age twenty-four when a muddled Episcopal rector at St. John’s Church, Long Island, entered him in the register as Thomas Jefferson Jackson (instead of Thomas Jonathan Jackson). Had he noticed the slip, Brevet Major Jackson, by then a conspicuous hero at the storming of Mexico City, 1847, would have exploded with rare high-caliber rage, but he probably was unaware. Even in the prime years he was short of sight, hard of hearing, ludicrously absent-minded and known in military, academic, and social circles as a hypochondriac whose imagined ills were countless. He had a reason to be sensitive about that “Jonathan,” which he had inserted during adolescence as an act of defiance.

Jonathan Jackson, his father, had been the weakling of an extraordinarily virile tribe (being one of fifteen whose six-foot mother lived to be 105). Jonathan was a failed lawyer amid relatives who were legal eagles of the frontier, an embezzler of political funds to the mortification of the Jacksons who were peacock proud of their integrity. Jonathan died when Tom was too young to remember him, but it was his often-repeated ambition in letters to Laura and other relatives to restore the family “fame.”

He intended to do this in the practice of law, where his male relatives had been luminaries, going on to serve in the legislature, Congress, federal and state conventions, or as a “soldier of the Cross,” for he admired the Christian clergy above all other professions. But he learned in Mexico that he was born to fight.

“Fame!” The dying soldier slept fitfully, and at wakeful interludes talked of immortality — but the spiritual kind — with Chaplain Drury Lacy who slipped away with Jackson’s amputated arm and reverently buried it at Elwood, the nearby family estate. Jackson, at thirty-eight with hardly two years of activity in this War Between the States, could not know that he would be accorded acclaim beyond any officer of the struggle. Statues would rise to him on both sides of the Potomac — in Richmond, Virginia, and Charleston, West Virginia; in Lexington, Virginia, Baltimore and Clarksburg, West Virginia. There in his birthtown, the local chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy pooled their widow’s mites and purchased what they could afford, a small equestrian statue of a museum piece which they mounted on the plaza of the Harrison County court house.

He could not know that such renown from friend and foe, in a losing and unpopular war, was equally rendered for his integrity of character as for his generalship. After Jackson’s death, Lincoln wrote to the Washington Daily Chronicle and thanked its editorial writer for “the excellent and manly article in the Chronicle on Stonewall Jackson.” The editor had written that Jackson’s death had removed from the “accursed cause” of secession “its bravest, noblest and purest defender.”

It was sporting of Lincoln because Old Jack had virtually laid siege to the Federal capital ever since April, 1861. That was when Jackson and his Virginians stemmed a Yankee . drive at the First Battle of Manassas, turning a seeming Northern victory into a rout that carried thirty miles away to the bridges of Washington. It was only the beginning in the arms-length chess game of war between Old Jack and Old Abe. Driven by public demand for a quick subjugation of these upstart Rebels, Lincoln first tried to cut Virginia in two by attacking on the ill-fated banks of Bull Run. When Jackson foiled him there, Lincoln sent a huge invasion army with Navy escort to strike at Richmond from the peninsula between the James and York Rivers. But flanking both Washington and the invasion force under Major General George B, McClellan lay the fertile Shenandoah Valley — and Stonewall Jackson.

Lincoln recalled what had happened in James Madison’s administration when marauders stormed over the White House lawn and Capitol Hill, putting the government buildings to the torch. The President set out to smash Jackson with overwhelming numbers, thus removing both the menace to Washington and to McClellan’s position before Richmond. But Jackson beat Lincoln’s generals, one by one: McDowell, Banks, Fremont, Pope, and now Hooker.

The smitten Jackson was cogent enough to surmise from the number of clergymen and surgeons around him, as well as the arrival of Anna and their baby from Richmond, that he was not expected to live much longer. His life had seen the strange mix of sad and glad. Laura, the devoted kid sister, had turned Unionist when their mountain counties had become West Virginia. She said she would rather have her brother dead than a Rebel leader.

But what companions they once had been! At their father’s death the Clarksburg brick house was sold for debt, and the widowed Julia Jackson accepted a much smaller place from the Order of Masons. She tried to support her three surviving children by going out to sew and teach, but when they took to escaping into the town she decided to plant them among relatives — Warren, the eldest, to her own people, the Neales of Wood County on the Ohio; Tom and Laura to Jackson’s Mill, some eight miles away.

This was Jackson country. Hundreds of acres of timber-land went with the estate, a powerful man-made dam turned the wheels to saw planks, grind corn, move machinery in the various shops. Jackson’s Mill was a village industry not unlike Mount Vernon, except that the Jacksons who worked side by side with their slaves, were gifted mechanics as well as builders, harvesters, cattle raisers, and horse racers.

Tom was definitely First Family, both in wealth and prominence. What happiness he lived with his giant guardian, Uncle Cummins, the political boss, and with Laura to whom he wrote from West Point about life at the Mill, where there were “none to give mandate; none for me to obey but as I chose, supported by my playmates and relatives, all apparently to promote my happiness.”

But sorrows came. Tom’s mother, Julia remarried a no-account lawyer, Blake Woodson, for whom Uncle Cummins found a clerkship in the new wilderness county of Fayette, and soon Tom and Laura were riding behind the saddles of relatives to the desolate county seat of Anent where Julia was dying of childbed fever. She gave them her blessing, a religious memory that never left Tom. But Woodson buried Julia in an unmarked grave that Tom could never find, in a state that proved as faithless as Laura to the Old Dominion.

Now Anna came beside him. Hardly more than a week ago she had stayed with him at winter headquarters, and “he was in the full flush of vigorous manhood, and during that last blessed visit, I never saw him look so handsome, so happy and so noble.” Today he was maimed and feeble, his body scarred from the undergrowth he had been dragged through. She knelt and said that “before this day closes you will be with the blessed Savior in his glory.” Old Jack did not fear death, but he thought the Lord God still had need for him on earth. Ever since First Manassas, he had been nagging the Jefferson Davis government to abandon the defense of Virginia and go North. “Press on. Press on,” he would say in council and in battle.

Back in boyhood at Jackson’s Mill, he had discovered his military genius without knowing it. Much he learned from the Old Testament battles. Uncle Cummins’ patronage got him the post of county constable, and he outwitted scoundrels. He worked on cutting the mountains for the Staunton-to-Parkersburg turnpike, but before that he had prowled the hills which had once been the buffalo hunting grounds of the Shawnee Indians. He curiously followed the faint trails of the hunted and hunter, finding there the shortest and well-hidden paths to springs, salt licks, fords, and clearings. The reason he beat all of Lincoln’s generals in the Valley campaigns was his topographer, Jed Hotchkiss, whom Stonewall ordered to map every acre between Harpers Ferry and Winchester. Not Napoleon nor Cromwell, but Hotchkiss, was the reason Stonewall’s men so often turned up unexpectedly when the Union generals thought them miles away.

Chaplain Lacy turned up with a verbal get-well message from Lee: “He has lost his left arm; but 1 have lost my right arm.”

It was well and generously said. Lee had never won a battle without Jackson, and never lost one with him. The night before Chancellorsville, Jackson had mulled with Hotchkiss over a map spread on a cracker box. With them were Lee and Charles Wellford, proprietor of Catharine Furnace, an iron foundry deep in the woods known as the Wilderness, and the Wellford’s sixteen-year-old son.
Were there any little-known trails through the Wilderness, Jackson wanted to know. Hotchkiss soon traced them out on the map, quite a different battle plan than Lee had previously drawn, but the commander acceded to Jackson’s advice. Leaving Lee with two reserve divisions, Jackson set off before dawn with most of the Confederate corps. They marched all day, unseen, to strike Hooker’s superior forces in the rear and send them fleeing in panic.

“They are running too fast for us,” cried a young officer to Old Jack. “We can’t keep up with them.”

“They never run too fast for me, sir,” Stonewall replied. He would like to chase Fighting Joe into the Rappahannock and beyond. That is why he was out in front of his own pickets when a North Carolina scouting unit fired into the darkness and brought him down.

A single shot fired from a friendly rifle, achieved what none of Lincoln’s generals had been able to do. Stonewall was dead. Without him the Cause was lost.

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