Famed Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s legacy is hardly easy to define. His is most remembered for cunning speed and brutality in battle and many consider him without equal. The same strategies Jackson used in the Shenandoah Valley campaign were scrutinized by both Rommel and Patton for inspiration in WWII. Jackson’s personal discipline carried over into his command. Although his men were often barefoot and near starvation, he pushed them forward into battle, not wishing to sacrifice the element of surprise. Many of his battles were actually waged on Sundays which contradicts Jackson’s steadfast devotion to Christianity that many attribute to fanaticism.
As a Virginian, however, he felt more loyal to his state than to the preservation of the Union and never hesitated when choosing a side. He demanded and received unquestioning discipline from his men; however, he did not hesitate to disregard any direct order and was never reprimanded for this dereliction—possibly because Robert E. Lee’s unwavering trust of Jackson’s genius trumped any breach in military discipline. Jackson may have indeed loved the South and honored the Confederate cause, but ultimately felt indebted only to himself and God.
His military career began when Jackson was just 18. In June of 1842, he secured an appointment to enroll at the prestigious West Point Academy. Jackson was fortunate to have this opportunity since he was not the first choice of candidate selected to enroll. The first man selected chose another path enabling Jackson to quickly register in his place. Unfortunately, Jackson’s lack of formal education was a grave disadvantage when compared to the rest of the cadets. He was shy and awkward and many of his contemporaries claimed not to know his name for the first six months of training. Jackson steeled himself despite the odds and graduated in the top 20% of his class in 1846 at 22 years of age.
After West Point, Jackson served in the Mexican American War where he would meet his friend and future commander, General Robert E. Lee. When the war ended, he bounced from Fort Hamilton in New York and Fort Meade in Florida. Eventually, though, he resigned his commission to accept a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia in 1851. During this time, he married and lost a wife in childbirth and remarried again. If not for the onset of the Civil War, he may have remained at VMI and most likely faded into obscurity.
Jackson’s first duty as an officer in the Confederate States of America came from President Jefferson Davis who ordered him to organize Harper’s Ferry, the infamous site of John Brown’s bloody raid in 1859. When Jackson arrived, he was taken aback by the disorganization and drunkenness of the troops and immediately determined to reestablish order. Jackson accomplished this task in less than a week and gained approval from General Robert E. Lee. Jackson continued to establish...