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Memories of Stonewall Jackson

General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, frequently labeled the Confederate army's most brilliant strategist and right-hand man to Robert E. Lee, was born January 21, 1824, in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). Jackson's great-grandfather emigrated from England, but fought against the British in the American Revolution at the Battle of Kings Mountain in the Carolinas. Jackson was orphaned by age seven after his father died of typhoid fever and his mother died in childbirth. He was sent to live with his paternal uncle, Cummins Jackson, in Pennsylvania. In 1842, he left to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. After graduation, Jackson served two years in the Mexican War before taking a teaching position at Virginia Military Institute in 1851. Near the beginning of the Civil War—on July 21, 1861—Jackson led troops into the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), where he earned his famous nickname for holding his position "like a stone wall." In 1862, he took over as commander of the Confederate troops in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. On May 2, 1863, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederate soldiers accidentally fired on Jackson and his men. Jackson was shot and his left arm later amputated. He died eight days later of pneumonia.

The devotion that Jackson's men felt for their commanding officer is clear in works such as John S. Robson's How a One-Legged Rebel Lives: Reminiscences of the Civil War: The Story of the Campaigns of Stonewall Jackson, as Told by a High Private in the "Foot Cavalry." Robson (1844-?) was raised in the Shenandoah Valley and enlisted in Company D, Fifty-Second Virginia Infantry at age sixteen. His most detailed accounts of the war follow the movements of Stonewall Jackson, whom Robson describes as the hero of his story. He notes soldiers' unwavering faith in both Jackson and Robert E. Lee and attributes this partially to their high visibility in battle, noting the Union generals were rarely seen at the front of the fields. Another key element in the Confederacy's early success, according to Robson, was strategy—especially in the partnership between Jackson and Lee. Robson believes that had Jackson lived to fight at Gettysburg, the Confederacy would have won the Civil War.

Even those outside of military service paid tribute to Jackson. In his funeral sermon, "True Courage: A Discourse Commemorative of Lieut. General Thomas J. Jackson," Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898) notes Jackson's bravery and his unwavering faith in God. He also calls Americans to remember and to celebrate Jackson's determination and his sacrifice for the Confederate cause, so that the sacrifice will not be in vain. He writes, "Let us resolve that as the solemn mountain peaks keep their everlasting watch around the home and the tomb of Jackson, even so immovably will we guard the rights for which he died" (p. 25). Dabney's elegy is followed by a laudatory biographical sketch of the general.

Dabney's sermon is part of "The Southern Homefront, 1861-1865" collection, which presents materials related to southern life during the Civil War. Readers interested in first-hand accounts, such as Robson's, of this period should browse the "First-Person Narratives of the American South" collection, which offers many southerners' perspectives on their lives by presenting letters, memoirs, autobiographies, and other writings by slaves, laborers, women, aristocrats, soldiers, and officers.

Jennifer L. Larson