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Thomas Jonathan Jackson
In 1842 a young man from Lewis County, Va., "dropped" discouraged out of his class in West Point, after a few weeks' trial of drill and curriculum, and returned home.
Jackson at Chancellorsville.
After peace was declared in 1848, he was stationed for two years at Fort Hamilton, and six months at Fort Meade in Florida; in 1851 he was elected Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Artillery Tactics in the Virginia Military Institute, situated in Lexington, Va. In the decade succeeding this event, he was to the casual eye the least striking figure in the group of professors who taught the art of war in the beautiful mountain-girt "West Point of the South."
"I should have said that he was the least likely of our family to make a noise in the world," said his sister-in-law in 1862, when the popular voice was ranking him with Bayard, Roland, Sidney, and Napoleon.
"I knew that what I willed to do, I could do," he had said of his recovery from physical weaknesses which made his acceptance of the Lexington professorship of doubtful expediency, in the judgment of friends.
He never willed to be eloquent in the lecture-room or brilliant in society in his life as teacher, church official, and neighbor there was no evidence of the personal magnetism which was to make him the soul and genius of the Confederate army. While carrying into every detail of daily existence the military law of system and fidelity, he was aggressive in nothing. The grave, quiet gentleman who was never late in class, never negligent of the minutest professional duty, who was always punctual at religious services, and never missed a meeting of the Faculty of the V. M. I., or of the deacons of the Presbyterian Church, was reckoned a good Christian and upright citizen, exemplary in domestic and social relations--perhaps a trifle ultra-conscientious in some particulars. But for the prevalency of orthodoxy in "the Valley" he would have been considered eccentric in his religious views and practice. He established a Sunday-school for the negroes and superintended it in person; he gave a tenth of his substance to the church; he "weighed his lightest utterances in the balances of the sanctuary;" he would not pick up an apple in a neighbor's orchard unless he had permission to take it; he never wrote or read letters on Sunday, or mailed one that must travel on that day to reach its destination; used neither tobacco, tea, nor coffee, and during the war was "more afraid of a glass of wine than of Federal bullets." His reverence for women was deep and unfeigned; he was gentleness itself to little children; bowed down before the hoary head, and never sank the lover in the husband. All that he had and all he was, belonged first to God, then to his wife.
"His person was tall, erect, and muscular.... His bearing was peculiarly English, and in the somewhat free society of America was regarded as constrained. Every movement was quick and decisive; his articulation was rapid, but distinct and emphatic, and often made the impression of curtness. He practised a military exactness in all the courtesies of society.... His brow was fair and expansive; his eyes blue-gray, large, and expressive; his nose Roman and well-chiselled, his cheeks were ruddy and sunburned; his mouth, firm and full of meaning; his beard was brown"--is a pen-picture drawn by a brother officer.
On December 2, 1859, a corps of cadets was sent to Charlestown, Va., to secure law and order during the execution of John Brown. Major Jackson's graphic description of the scene in a letter to his wife contains this passage:
"I was much impressed with the thought that before me stood a man in the full vigor of health, who must in a few moments enter eternity. I sent up the petition that he might be saved."
An officer upon duty, he saw the terrible spectacle with Cromwellian composure, but the man behind the impassive mask was upon his knees in prayer for the human soul. Under date of January 21, 1860, he writes:
"Viewing things at Washington from human appearances we have great reason for alarm, but my trust is in God. I cannot think that He will permit the madness of men to interfere so materially with the Christian labors of this country at home and abroad."
She who, of all the world, knew him best records:
"He never was a secessionist and maintained that it was better for the South to fight for her rights in the Union than out of it.... At this time (March 16, 1861) he was strongly for the Union. At the same time, he was a firm State's rights man."
At dawn, April 21st, he received an order from the Governor of Virginia to report to him immediately at Richmond, bringing the corps of cadets with him. At 1 o'clock P.M. he bade a final farewell to home and Lexington.
On June 4th he writes incidentally to his "Little One" from Harper's Ferry:
"The troops here have been divided into brigades, and the Virginia forces under General Johnston constitute the First Brigade, of which I am in command."
This brigade was to share with the commanding officers the sobriquet by which he is known better than under his real name. In the battery attached to it were forty-nine graduates of colleges, besides nineteen divinity students.
From the first victory of Manassas (June 21, 1861), when General Bee turned the tide of battle by shouting to the wavering lines, "Look at Jackson, standing like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!" to the fatal blunder of May 2, 1863, "Stonewall" Jackson was the flashing star that guided the Confederate armies to glorious success. His faith in the God of armies was so blended with the conviction that he was a chosen instrument in the Omnipotent hand to repel invasion and secure an honorable peace for his beloved State, that his sublime confidence infused officers and men.
A fragment of a camp ballad, popular in 1862, will give a faint idea of the enthusiasm excited by the "praying fighter:"
Silence! ground arms! kneel all! caps off!
Old Blue-light's going to pray.
Strangle the fool that dares to scoff!
Attention! 'tis his way!
Appealing from his native sod
In forma pauperis to God;
"Lay bare Thine arm--stretch forth Thy rod!
Amen!" That's Stonewall's way.
Love-letters to his "only sweetheart," written in camp, in the saddle, from smoking battle-fields, red with the blood of the slain, reveal a heart as tender as it was stout, faith that never failed, the courage of a lion, the unspoiled simplicity of a child.
Our last extract from war papers is significant of what might have been but for the fall of the South's greatest chieftain at the most critical period of the struggle:
"Jackson alone stands forth the one advocate of 'ceaseless invasion' as our 'safest hope,' the first conviction of his mind and a policy in accord with Southern feeling."
Mrs. Jackson joined her husband at his quarters near Fredericksburg, bringing with her the baby-girl he had never seen until then, on April 20, 1863. On the 23d the little one, held in the proud father's arms, was baptized by the regimental chaplain. Nine golden days followed the reunion of the loving family before Hooker crossed the Rappahannock in force. Wife and baby were hurried off to Richmond after "a hasty, tender adieu," and the battle of Chancellorsville began.
"From the opening of this campaign," says Jackson's biographer, "it was observed that a wondrous change came over him. From the quiet, patient, but arduous laborer over his daily tasks, he seemed transformed into a thunderbolt of war."
During the three awful days of Chancellorsville "the thunderbolt" seemed omnipresent to the Confederate soldiers, oftenest in the hottest of the fight, always where he was most sorely needed.
On the afternoon of May 2d, in making his way from one part of the field to another with his staff and couriers, they were mistaken for Federal cavalry, and a volley of musketry was poured in upon them, wounding General Jackson mortally.
On the way to the rear a second disaster overtook the doomed band. A Federal battery opened a fire across the road, and the devoted attendants, laying the wounded chief in a shallow ditch, covered him with their own bodies while the tempest of shot tore up the earth on all sides of them. The danger was averted by a change in the range of the guns, and the mournful march was resumed. Meeting a North Carolina general who "feared," in reply to Jackson's eager questions, "that his troops could not maintain their position," the hero spoke out, in the accustomed tone of command:
"You must hold your ground, General Pender! you must hold your ground, sir!"
It was his last military order. Some hours later he lay in his tent, weak from pain and loss of blood, one arm gone, and his other wounds dressed, when a messenger arrived in haste from General J. E. B. Stuart, relating that he was contending against fearful odds in the field, and asking for counsel from the friend who would never more ride forth at his side. At the tidings of Stuart's extremity, General Jackson aroused himself to interrogate the bearer of the message, query succeeding query with characteristic impetuosity. Suddenly the martial fire faded ashily, his eyes dulled into mournfulness.
"I don't know. I can't tell--" as if groping for thought or words. "Tell General Stuart to do what he thinks best."
The "resolve" he and others had thought invincible, the iron nerve that had not quivered in the shock of fifty engagements, failed him. Yet he rallied as the cannonading jarred his bed and insisted upon receiving reports from hour to hour.
"Good! good!" he ejaculated, when told how his own brigade was behaving. "The men will some day be proud to say to their children, 'I was one of the Stonewall brigade.' The name belongs to them, not to me. It was their steadfast heroism at First Manassas that earned it. They are a noble body of men."
His wife and child were recalled in season to be with him for two days immediately preceding his death. Although confident up to the dawn of his last day on earth, that God still had work for him to do, and would raise him up to do it, he received the news of his approaching dissolution with perfect calmness.
"He preferred the will of God to his own;" he "would be infinitely the gainer by the translation from earth to heaven." He gave his wife instructions as to his burial and her future home; smiled radiantly, in murmuring "Little darling! sweet one!" as the baby he had named for his mother was lifted for the father's last kiss.
"Jackson must recover," General Lee had exclaimed upon hearing of his condition. "God will not take him from us now that we need him so much. Say to him that he has lost his left arm, I my right!"
Men who had not blenched when brought face to face with death that menaced themselves, bowed to the earth, weeping like women, as mortal weakness stole upon the strong right arm of the Confederacy. Without the tent "the whole army was praying for him," while incoherent sentences of command and inarticulate murmurings fell from his lips--fainter with each utterance. The watchers thought speech and consciousness gone forever, when the voice that had pealed like the blast of Roland in charge and rally, sounded through the hushed chamber, sweet, distinct, and full of cheer, but in dreamy inflections:
"Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees!"
Forced march, and midnight raid, and mad rush of battle were over. Victorious Greatheart slept upon the field.
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