Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

Stonewall Jackson's Way

"S TONEWALL" was a nickname given to Thomas J. Jackson, a lieutenant-general in the Confederate army, who was one of the ablest and bravest commanders who took part in the Civil War. Early in the war he was ordered to reinforce the army of General Beauregard, who was fighting at Manassas. He did so, and in the battle that followed the Union army came very near routing the Southern troops by a desperate charge. Jackson and his brigade stood firm, and General Lee, seeing him, called out to his own wavering men, "Look at Jackson—there he stands like a stone wall; rally behind the Virginians!" The other brigades obeyed the order, and eventually the Confederates carried the day. It was in this way that Jackson and his men won the nickname of "Stonewall Jackson" and the "Stonewall Brigade" that came to be a badge of honor in later campaigns.

"Stonewall Jackson" was a strict Presbyterian and a man of unusual religious feeling. He had graduated at West Point, fought in the Mexican War, and then taught in the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington. There he had been called "The Blue-Light Elder" by his pupils, who were very fond of him, and the name was sometimes used by his soldiers after the Civil War began.

The general was a dashing leader, and his men would follow him anywhere. He rose rapidly in rank, and in a short time had become General Lee's chief mainstay. Many a Confederate victory was due to his personal courage in leading his troops at a decisive moment in battle, and time and again his "Stonewall Brigade" turned a seeming rout into victory.

In the spring of 1863 the Union and Confederate armies prepared to renew the struggle that the winter had partly interrupted. The Union General Hooker crossed the Rappahannock River on April 28th, for the purpose of attacking the Confederates who were near Fredericksburg. The entire Union Army of the Potomac had crossed the river and bivouacked at Chancellorsville by the night of April 30th. The Confederate General Lee at once prepared to attack Hooker, and early on May 1st he sent "Stonewall Jackson," in command of thirty-three thousand men, towards Chancellorsville.

The two armies made ready on that day, some fighting occurring, but the real battle of Chancellorsville did not begin until May 2nd. Late on that afternoon Jackson, who had made a flank movement, burst from the woods and routed the Union right wing. At this point General Pleasanton hurled the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry under Major Keenan, on the Confederate flank. Keenan charged again and again, losing most of his men, but giving the Union artillery time to get into position and fire.

The Confederates were checked by this firing, and Jackson and his staff rode forward to look at the field. As he was riding back to his own lines the general and his companions were mistaken for Union horsemen by his own soldiers and were fired at. Jackson was shot, and died on May 10th. The Confederates won the fighting at Chancellorsville after several days of battle, but the victory was largely offset by the loss of one of their very greatest generals.

The poem, "Stonewall Jackson's Way," is said to have been written within hearing of the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, and was found in the coat of a dead soldier of the "Stonewall Brigade," after one of Jackson's battles in the Shenandoah Valley. It became very popular, but its authorship was unknown until almost twenty-five years later.

Stonewall Jackson's Way

by John Williamson Palmer

Come, stack arms, men! Pile on the rails,

Stir up the camp-fire bright;

No matter if the canteen fails,

We'll make a roaring night.

Here Shenandoah brawls along,

There burly Blue Ridge echoes strong,

To swell the brigade's rousing song

Of "Stonewall Jackson's way."

We see him now,—the old slouched hat

Cocked o'er his eye askew;

The shrewd, dry smile, the speech so pat,

So calm, so blunt, so true.

The "Blue-Light Elder" knows 'em well;

Says he, "That's Banks,—he's fond of shell;

Lord save his soul! we'll give him——;" Well,

That's "Stonewall Jackson's way."

Silence! ground arms! kneel all! caps off!

Old "Blue Light's" going to pray.

Strangle the fool that dares to scoff!

Attention! it's 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."

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."

The sun's bright lances rout the mists

Of morning, and, by George!

Here's Longstreet struggling in the lists,

Hemmed in an ugly gorge.

Pope and his Yankees, whipped before,

"Bay'nets and grape!" hear Stonewall roar;

"Charge, Stuart! Pay off Ashby's score!"

In "Stonewall Jackson's way."

Ah! Maiden, wait and watch and yearn

For news of Stonewall's band!

Ah! Widow, read, with eyes that burn,

That ring upon thy hand.

Ah! Wife, sew on, pray on, hope on;

Thy life shall not be all forlorn;

The foe had better ne'er been born

That gets in "Stonewall's way."

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