Thomas Jefferson Jackson was a psychological event. With him it was but one splendid leap from bed to battery, from the stagnations of a sickly fancy to the inspirations of a robust and exclusive fame. The energies that slept in the sluggish, dull cadet–in the uninteresting, morose professor,–the querulous, tedious hypochondriac–the formal and severe elder–the odd and awkward man–not walking, “only getting along,” and talking to himself–awoke with a bound of joy at the call of the trumpets, at the waving of the banners, once more to exult with the bayonets, as at Contreras; among the batteries, as at Cherubusco and Chepaltepec. Nor any the less ready, if the trumpet were the trumpet of the Spirit, and the banner the banner of the Lord. The modern covenanter, who, debating all day, and praying all night, dashed into the smoke of the argument with his loyal father-in-law, to convert him to secession, and the inspired rebel, who, praying all night, and fighting all day, repelled, rocklike, the shock of the Union charge at Bull Run, were the same–and both were most like that Richard Cameron, who cried, three times above the din and dust of his last fight, “Lord, spare the green and take the ripe!” –that Richard Cameron, under whose head, as placid as John the Baptist’s, and as bloody–under whose reeking bands, no more to fight the Bible or with sword, some admiring enemy had inscribed, “Here hang the remains of one who lived praying and preaching, and died praying and fighting!” And so of the man, who, praying, smote Shields at Cross Keys and Port Republic, taking revenge for Winchester; who, praying, drove Banks pell-mell out of the Valley and across the Potomac; who, praying, stormed Harper’s Ferry with a few d’enfer; and, still watching and praying, thundered in our rear at Richmond and Bull Run the second, at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Of this muscular Christian his admiring foes competed in phraseologies of generous praise, “forgetting his fatal error to applaud the greatness of his soul.” They recounted with genial iteration the separate virtues of the man–his courage, his patience, his sincerity, his devotion, his singleness of purpose, his self-abnegation, his just obedience, and his faith in God; of the Christian, the simplicity of his every word and act, his perfect truthfulness, his mildness and his mercy, his religious enthusiasm, his continual prayerfulness, his almost superstitious observance of the Sabbath, his iron rule of duty, and “first, last, and all the time, “his faith in God; of the soldier, his intrepidity, his modesty, his magnanimity, his fury in the fight, and his generosity in victory, his stable bearing in reverse, his tenderness toward his own wounded and the wounded of the enemy–how he shared the privations of his men, setting them examples of endurance and devotion; his calmness “among the shrieking shells and the death-lights of the battle;” the absolute fearlessness of his demeanor, as of one who knew what his men hoped, that the Almighty would not sound his recall until his work was done; of the General–his celerity, his ubiquity, his momentum, his forced marches, his “thundering in the rear,” his indomitable will, the magic of his personal influence, and “how his cause did hang upon his heart.” We have been told (still by his enemies), of his splendid originality, his military genius, as bold as it was modest. “Every time we have been seriously threatened,” writes a loyal chaplain, “he did it –no one else has done it. The first time I saw his face my heart sank within me. His moral brain is grand.
We have heard on every hand that the men idolized him, not so much for what he did, as for how he did it. He thought as little of the glory as of the danger, and his impulse sprang less from patriotism than from piety. An eminent Northern divine, a representative man in the ranks of the rebel enemies, has defined Jackson’s motive as a “solemn feeling of obligation to his Maker who he thought had called him to this mission.” He was sublimely impersonal–incapable of pride, insensible to praise, unconscious of criticism–“serving God,” as he supposed, and going straight on. the applause that took the form of cheers embarrassed him absurdly; and when the captured garrison at Harper’s Ferry greeted him with that spontaneous burst with which the heart of the true soldier salutes the soldier of true heart, his confusion was only exceeded by his surprise. He afterward expressed to his prisoners his sense of the extraordinary compliment in the eloquent language of double rations.
His religious character, and in equal degree with his military qualities, impressed itself upon his command; not an officer or private of the old Stonewall Brigade but shut down “the soldier’s safety-valve” (as some rough definer has styled hard swearing) within the hearing of his General. His supplication before battle to the God of battles, for inspiration and strength–his thanks, when the day was won or lost, for victory or preservation; his “camp-meetings” among his men; the almost invariable formula with which he introduced his brief and plain dispatches, “By the blessing of Almighty God we have had a success,”–these were traits not less characteristic of this rebel General Jackson than the famous “By the Eternal!” of his loyal and self-sufficient namesake. So likewise, were the “Very good, very good–it’s all right!” with which he received his death-warrant from the lips of his agonized wife: and, before that, his, “Don’t tell the troops I’m wounded.” That must have been a touching smile with which in his dying hour he indulged himself for once, in a comrade-like expression of a soldier’s satisfaction, “The men who may live through this war will be proud to say, ‘I was one of the Stonewall Brigade!”
And apropos of “Stonewall.” A correspondent, over the signature of “Altamont,” contributed to THE TRIBUNE a sketch of the vigorous rebel, in some respects fresher and fuller than any that had appeared before, and therein his soubriquet was traced back, not to the stone bridge at Bull Run, nor to the “There stands Jackson like a stone wall,” of Gen. Bee, or to the stone fences of Winchester Heights; but to Jackson’s original “Stonewall Brigade,” so called because principally recruited in a stone-wall country–the valley counties of Jefferson, Clarke, Frederick, Page, and Warren; and the writer showed that the brigade had borne this name before the first battle of Bull Run, and of course before the affair of Winchester Heights, and that the brigade had lent its name to its stout leader, not derived it from him. Since his death this sketch has been reproduced in many papers, but the light it threw on the “Stonewall” question has been everywhere ignored; nevertheless, Stonewall Jackson, in his last hours, was careful to explain to some members of his staff who hung upon his parting words, that the honorable title belonged to his men, not to him; it was not personal and figurative like “Old Hickory,” as the newspapers persist in making it–but the local designation of a corps.
The Rebels say he was a “fearful loss;” that they would have given Richmond for him, even their victories of Chancellorsville and the Wilderness; but that his work was done. “He helped to build a nation, and all that now remains to do is to dedicate it to God and to honor.” So in Richmond he lay in state, wrapped in the new “National flag,” that on the morrow was given, for the first time, to the breeze over the “National Capitol.” That same flag was afterward presented to his wife by the “President of the Confederate States of America.”
The personal peculiarities of Jackson were all on the side of modesty. We have all heard or read, again and again, how he shunned observation, and how difficult it was for a stranger to single him out from among his men by his appearance or his manner, for his appearance was far from imposing, and his manner that of a plain man minding his own business. On horseback, he by no means looked the hero of a tableau. On his earlier fields and marches he had been blessed with a “charger” that happily resembled its rider–“a plain horse, that went straight ahead, and minded its own business; but one day it got shot under him, and then his friends presented him with a more ornamental beast, a mare that took on airs, and threw him; so he exchanged her, in disgust, for a less visionary and artistic quadruped–still a horse, but never such a congenial spirit as that original “Ole Virginny” of his, that never tired, and whose everlasting long-legged, swinging walk was the very thing to make marches with. “He’s in the saddle now,” sang those limber rebels, from the song of their corps:
“He’s in the saddle now! fall in!
Steady the whole brigade!
Hill’s at the ford, cut off; we’ll win
His way out, ball and blade.
What matter if our shoes are worn?
What matter if our feet are torn?
Quick step! We’re with him before morn!
That’s Stonewall Jackson’s way.”
Jackson had never seen his home since the war broke out; nor would he, he declared, until it was over–“unless the war itself should take him thither.” He firmly declined the luxury of “hospitable mansions” along the line of his march; nor after his occupation of Winchester could he, without much difficulty, be induced to pass a night in the house of any old friend in Frederick, Clarke, or Jefferson. He preferred to sleep among his men. It was one of these valley friends of his who miscarried so absurdly in an attempt to cajole him out of his imperturbable reticence. The gentleman, at whose house Jackson had been induced to make a brief visit in passing, was eagerly curious to learn what the next movement of the ubiquitous rebel would be; so he boldly claimed his confidence on the score of ancient friendship. After a few minutes of well-affected concern and reflection the grim joker button-holed his bore. “My stanch old friend,” said, he with mysterious deliberation, “can–you–keep–a secret?”
“So can I.”
The love and admiration he at all times evinced for Lee resembled the devotion with which Turner Ashby had followed him. Replying to the remarks of a friend about his own peculiar military ideas and habits, and his proneness “to do his marching and fighting his own way,” he said “We are blessed with at least one General whom I would cheerfully follow blindfold, whose most dubious strategy I would execute without question or hesitation, and that General is Robert E. Lee.” The anecdote is authentic. But Jackson had the sagacity to perceive very early that his military genius was essentially local and partisan–that it was an executive officer exclusively and that he was remarkable–and that kaleidoscopic and subtle combinations must be left to the Lees and Johnstons of the Rebel army.
When the question of Secession, Union, or “Armed Neutrality,” went before the people of Virginia, Stonewall Jackson voted the Union ticket; but when the State went out he went out with her. From first to last he had no patience (if such a phrase can be true of such a man) with the intemperate expressions of bitter sectional hate that continually affronted his ear; and he was blunt in his admonition to the women of Winchester–when he again left the checkered fortunes of that town to our advancing troops–“not to forget themselves.” “My child,” he would say to some immoderate rebel in crinoline, “you and I have no right to our hates; personal rancor is the lowest expression of patriotism and a sin beside. We must leave these things to God.”
Immediately on the heels of the battle of Antietam, and almost within gun-shot of McClellan’s 100,000 men, Stonewall Jackson with a force not exceeding 7,000, destroyed thirty miles of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad track, from seven miles west of Harper’s Ferry to the North Mountain. He actually obliterated the road, so that when the road-masters with their gangs went to work to restore it, it was only by the charred and twisted debris that the track could be traced. Every tie was burned, every rail bent–nothing remained to be done but to cart off the bare ballast. The General took off his coat, and, with a cross-tie for a fulcrum and a rail for a lever, helped to demolish the “permanent way;” and with his own hands he assisted in bending the heated rails around the trunks of trees.
All this while McClellan, with his splendid army, lay all around him, and might, with but a small show of energy, and less of strategy, have brought the guns that were yet warm from Antietam to bear on the slouched hat of the renowned rebel as he was in the act of prying out his first rail; nor was Jackson at any time more than fifteen miles off from our little Napoleon.
When we reflect that Gen. McClellan had been a practical railroad man, that the dust of the track was yet on his boots, and that of all our generals he should have had the most lively appreciation of the vital importance of such a great military thorough-fare as the Baltimore and Ohio Road to the plans of the Government, and to the operations of his own army; when we recollect with what force and importunity he had urged these considerations upon the War Department, we can only wonder why he left Jackson to the undisturbed enjoyment of his railroad exercises. Was it lack of energy merely?
Though in no respect a railroad man, neither practically nor theoretically, Jackson’s attentions to the Baltimore and Ohio line were unremitting and full of solicitude–so much so, that when, on the occasion I have just recalled, the task of rail-stripping and twisting, and the burning was done, he walked over the whole thirty miles of his work to see that it was good. He looked upon that road with the eye of military genius, and the great part it must play in the warlike machinery of the Government was plain to him; therefore he took more pains to destroy it once, than Gen. McClellan had taken to save it from many assaults; and but for the Jacksonian sagacity, and energy that from the beginning of the war has presided over the very life of the road, to guard and guide it, the valor of the rebel must have triumphed.
An intelligent Union chaplain has said, “if any man whom this war has developed resembles Napoleon, it is Stonewall Jackson.” Bating the qualified exaggeration of the remark it is not without reason. Like Napoleon, Jackson had daring originality, and like him he taught his enemy that if they would beat him they must imitate him. He adopted and adapted in the East the whole system of raid which Morgan had made so redoubtable in the West; and not only the Stuarts, Mosebys, Imbodens, Jenkinses, Joneses and Wilders, are of his making, but in a certain sense the Stonemans, Griersons, Kilpatricks, and Davises also.
Originally posted 2008-12-24 19:00:25.