An appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, provided Jackson educational and career opportunities beyond what was possible in rural Virginia. He was poorly prepared academically when he entered West Point in 1842, but by applying his immense powers of concentration and formidable memory he raised his standing each year. He graduated seventeenth in rank of fifty-nine cadets in the class of 1846. Future Union general George B. McClellan ranked second and future Confederate general George E. Pickett ranked last.
Jackson married twice. On August 4, 1853, he wed Elinor Junkin, whose father, Reverend George Junkin, was president of Washington College in Lexington. Known as Ellie, she died on October 22, 1854, from complications after delivering a stillborn child. Jackson married Mary Anna Morrison on July 16, 1857. Anna Morrison was the daughter of Reverend Robert Hall Morrison, the first president of Davidson College, near Charlotte, North Carolina. Her sister Isabella Morrison was married to the future Confederate general Daniel Harvey Hill. Jackson and Anna Jackson had two daughters: Mary Graham, who died shortly after her birth in 1858; and Julia Laura, who was born on November 23, 1862. Anna Jackson's memoirs portray her marriage to Jackson as both tender and passionate, their home life providing the only realm in which the highly self-conscious Jackson was completely relaxed and informal. Her stories of a lighthearted and even playful Jackson contrast sharply with the stern Jackson of legend.
As he had throughout his life, Jackson suffered from a variety of ailments while at VMI, particularly in relation to his digestion and eyesight. Many considered Jackson a hypochondriac, and his assessment of his own ailments and his pursuit of good health attracted comment. But many of Jackson's beliefs (regarding the effect of certain foods on his body and his perceived weakness in one limb) and his regimens (hydrotherapy, strict diet, and abstention from reading by artificial light) were not unusual in his day. After Jackson's death some writers overemphasized his health concerns and exaggerated his mannerisms and habits to create an inaccurate portrait of Jackson as a thorough eccentric. Jackson did strike many people as odd, but those who got to know him well discovered beneath his initial formality and reserve an essentially ordinary man and a pleasant companion.
Civil War, 1861–1862
In 1859 Jackson led cadets from the Virginia Military Institute to Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), where they provided security at the hanging of John Brown following the abolitionist's unsuccessful attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Jackson was a Democrat and voted for the Southern Democratic candidate, John C. Breckinridge, in the presidential election of 1860. He opposed secession until it was clear in April 1861 that U.S. president Abraham Lincoln would use force against the Confederate states following the bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Like many of his contemporaries, Jackson especially feared that the conflict might spark slave insurrections across the South.
Jackson was promoted to major general in the Provisional Army. The Provisional Army consisted of volunteers raised for wartime service. Jackson also sought, but failed to receive, high rank in the Confederate Regular (permanent) Army. He was, however, appointed to command a military district in the Shenandoah Valley. There, in the spring of 1862, he launched the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, for which he is most renowned. To prevent Union troops in the Valley from reinforcing George McClellan's advance on the Confederate capital at Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign, Jackson attacked Union forces at Kernstown on March 23. He was repulsed, but in subsequent weeks he used speed, surprise, and maneuver to defeat his enemies in detail, winning victories at Cross Keys on June 8 and Port Republic on June 9. Jackson's initiative caused Union troops to be diverted away from their Richmond campaign at a critical moment. More important, by strongly reinforcing Lincoln's fear for the safety of Washington, D.C., Jackson negatively impacted the Union war effort for the duration of the conflict.
During the campaign Jackson's men complained about the fast marching pace their commander set, but when success followed their efforts they proudly labeled themselves "Jackson's foot cavalry." But here and in subsequent campaigns, Jackson's subordinate officers found him to be demanding, inflexible, and secretive to the point where it could be difficult to carry out his orders. Jackson's court martial of Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett, who retreated without permission at Kernstown, sparked a sharp controversy; the proceedings were unfinished at the time of Jackson's death. Garnett would himself die at Pickett's Charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg (1863) in what some claimed was an attempt to redeem his honor.
Lee demonstrated his confidence in Jackson by dispatching him with several divisions to oppose a new threat to the Confederate capital from the north, led by Union general John Pope. When Jackson defeated Pope's subordinate Nathaniel P. Banks at Cedar Mountain on August 9, the Union commander halted to concentrate his forces, which gave Lee time to shift the bulk of his troops northward. Lee then detached Jackson a second time, sending him with one wing of the army to cut Pope's line of communications. Jackson maneuvered with consummate skill, destroying the Union supply base at Manassas Junction on August 27. Jackson then engaged some of Pope's forces the next day at Groveton. This distracted the Union commander and set the stage for the Second Battle of Manassas. Unaware of Lee's approach, Pope attacked Jackson on August 29 and 30. Jackson held, and Lee's attack on Pope's flank on August 30 drove the Union forces from the field.
Following the campaign, Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia, making official the unofficial arrangement where Jackson and James Longstreet commanded the army's two wings. On November 6, Jackson was promoted to lieutenant general, and assigned command of the Second Corps. Longstreet took the First Corps. Late in the year Jackson held the right flank of the army during Lee's defensive victory against Union general Ambrose E. Burnside at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13. For reasons that have never been clear, Jackson left a gap in his front line. Union troops exploited it when they attacked, but Jackson was still able to defend his position successfully.
Civil War, 1863
In January 1863, Confederate general D. H. Hill left Jackson's command at his own request. Hill had not found it easy to serve as a division commander under his brother-in-law, nor was he alone in this sentiment. During the Maryland Campaign Jackson had briefly arrested Major General A. P. Hill, also a division commander. Hill had protested when Jackson ignored the chain of command and issued orders directly to one of his brigadiers. The two men feuded thereafter despite Lee's attempt to reconcile them. Jackson created strong resentment among many of his subordinate officers by expecting literal obedience to his orders regardless of circumstances. He was often inflexible and his single-mindedness was not always an asset.
Despite Jackson's best efforts the difficult twelve-mile march through the woods and tangled underbrush known as the Wilderness did not occur in complete secrecy, but Union officers ignored evidence of the threat. When Jackson's attack began late in the afternoon, it rolled up the Union flank. Jackson's units inevitably became jumbled, however, due to the difficult terrain. While riding forward in an attempt to direct movements after sunset, Jackson was accidentally wounded by his own men. Lee's famed cavalry commander J. E. B. Stuart led the Second Corps for the remainder of the campaign, which resulted in Hooker retreating back across the Rappahannock.
Jackson's Place in History
Viewed separately, the elements of speed, maneuver, initiative, and audacity that
Jackson employed to achieve victory do not distinguish him from other successful
military commanders. But Jackson's generalship also was marked by a singleness of
purpose and determination matched by very few and exceeded by none. His obsession
January 21, 1824 - Thomas J. Jackson is born in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), the third child of Jonathan Jackson and Julia Beckwith Neale Jackson.
June 1842 - Thomas J. Jackson enters the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
June 1846 - Thomas J. Jackson graduates from the United States Military Academy, ranking seventeenth in a class of fifty-nine. With the United States at war with Mexico, he is assigned to the 1st U.S. Artillery.
September 13, 1847 - Thomas J. Jackson displays conspicuous courage and initiative commanding a section of guns at the Battle of Chapultepec and the subsequent assault upon Mexico City. This and his previous excellent conduct win Jackson promotion to brevet major.
August 1848–October 1850 - Thomas J. Jackson serves at Fort Hamilton in New York City.
December 1850–May 21, 1851 - Thomas J. Jackson is on duty in Florida, primarily at isolated Fort Meade, in the center of the state and east of Tampa.
June 1851 - Resigning from the U.S. Army after a controversy with his superior officer at Fort Meade, Thomas J. Jackson begins a position as professor of natural and experimental philosophy and artillery instructor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.
August 4, 1853 - Thomas J. Jackson weds Elinor Junkin, known as Ellie. The couple is married by the bride's father, Reverend George Junkin, president of Washington College, in the Junkin home in Lexington.
October 22, 1854 - In Lexington, Elinor Jackson, wife of Thomas J. Jackson, gives birth to a stillborn child; she dies the same day from complications of the childbirth.
July 16, 1857 - Thomas J. Jackson weds Mary Anna Morrison, known as Anna. The ceremony takes place at the bride's residence, Cottage Home, near Davidson, North Carolina. Her father, Reverend Robert Hall Morrison, is a former president of Davidson College. Her sister Isabella Morrison is married to future Confederate general D. H. Hill.
April 30, 1858 - Anna Jackson, wife of Thomas J. Jackson, gives birth to a daughter, named Mary Graham Jackson, who lives only a few weeks.
December 2, 1859 - Eighty-five Virginia Military Institute cadets, under the leadership of Thomas J. Jackson and John McCausland, attend the execution of John Brown in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia).
October 28, 1861 - Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson is appointed to command a military district in the Shenandoah Valley.
December 13, 1862 - Despite some initial difficulty due to a gap in his lines, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson holds the right wing of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's defensive position at the Battle of Fredericksburg, resulting in a major Confederate victory.
May 15, 1863 - Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson is interred with military honors in the burial ground of the Presbyterian Church in Lexington. The site is now known as the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.
1875 - A monument to Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson is erected in Capitol Square in Richmond, Virginia.
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First published: May 26, 2010 | Last modified: March 23, 2014