America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

Stonewall Jackson

[365] HIS real name was Thomas Jonathan Jackson, and he was born in what is now West Virginia, of poor parents who had to work hard for a living. His father died when he was three years old, leaving his mother to support three little children. They all lived in one room, where the mother taught a little school, and did sewing for her friends and neighbors.

Thomas grew up rosy-cheeked and blue-eyed, with waving brown hair, very determined to have his way, and full of confidence in himself. Fortunately, his way was a good one, and, from the start, he was a very dependable boy.

He was fond of arithmetic, and easily learned all the hard rules and could work any of the problems given him. His other studies were not so easy, but he never stopped anything he had once started, until he had mastered it, or it had mastered him. One of the maxims of his life was, "You may be whatever you resolve to be."

He gained a reputation for telling the exact truth. At one time, he walked a mile in the rain to correct a statement he had made.

[366] "Why do you go to so much trouble for such a mere trifle as that?" some one asked him on his return.

He answered, "Simply because I found out that what I said was not true, and I never carry anything to bed with me that will rob me of sleep."

He was a leader in sports, particularly in climbing and jumping. He was generally selected as Captain of one side, and this was the side that nearly always won, for he was a master of strategy in games.

At eighteen, he resolved to be a soldier. Dressed in a plain homespun suit and carrying his clothes in a saddle-bag, he rode into Washington, and asked to be made a cadet at West Point, the military academy of the nation. He received the appointment.

His appearance caused much sport among the students there, for he was awkward and ill at ease, but always good-natured. It was not long before his ability to master his studies, however, made him sought after by others, and he soon won admiration and respect.

From early life, he was very religious. He taught in the Sunday-school, and even gathered the slaves of his town together every Sunday afternoon, and made them familiar with the truths [367] of the Bible. Later on, when he had become a great soldier, it was his habit to go off to a quiet place, and pray before a battle.

Jackson's servant used to say, "I can tell when there is going to be a big fight, for Marse Tom always prays a long time before one."

When the Civil War began, Jackson threw his lot in with Virginia, and enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was commissioned a General. The first great battle of this war was known as Bull Run, or the Battle of Manassas. The Confederate troops were driven back, but were rallied on a half-plateau by General Jackson.

Here they stood immovable, for Jackson refused to retreat a step. An officer rushed up and said, "General, they are beating us back, and we are without ammunition."

"Then, sir," replied Jackson, "we will give them the bayonet."

A few minutes later, seeing the troops around Jackson, standing their ground so firmly, General Bee, a Confederate officer, cried out to his own men:

"Look at Jackson's brigade! It stands like a stone wall."

After this incident, the great soldier was known in history as "Stonewall" Jackson.

[368] Like many other soldiers Jackson never used coffee, tobacco, or whisky. Nor could he bear to hear any one utter profane language. He never refrained from expressing his disapproval of swearing.

Often, in winter, he would go without an over-coat, saying, "I do not wish to give in to the cold." Once, when told by his surgeon that he needed a little brandy, he replied, "I like it too well; that is the reason I never take it. I am more afraid of it than of Federal bullets."

Jackson always shared the hardships of his men. On one occasion, when his brigade was worn out with marching, he said, "Let the poor fellows sleep. I will guard the camp myself." Accordingly, he acted as sentinel during the night, while his tired men took their rest.

Jackson became the ablest Lieutenant of General Lee, who relied upon him implicitly. He was often sent upon most important and most dangerous missions, but his skill was so great that he always returned victorious. So rapid were the movements of his troops, that they became known as "Jackson's foot cavalry."

At the battle of Chancellorsville, Lee sent Jackson around to the rear of Hooker's army. Jackson fell so suddenly upon the flank of the Federals that they were thrown into confusion. The result [369] of the attack was to defeat Hooker's plan, and to check his advance.

The victory was dearly bought. Jackson had ridden out in the gathering darkness to reconnoitre the positions of the enemy, and was returning to camp. He ran into a body of his own troops, who, mistaking his party for Federal cavalry, fired upon them. Jackson fell from his horse mortally wounded.

He was borne on a stretcher to a farmhouse near by, where he died after a few days. His final thoughts were of the battle, and he muttered orders to his men as his life ebbed away.

His last words were, "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."

His death was a great loss to the Confederate cause. Lee wept when he heard the sad news, and said, "I have indeed lost my right arm."

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