On this day: Jackson was Lee’s most trusted commander

On this day (Jan. 21) in 1824, Confederate Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was born in Clarksburg, Va. (now W.Va.)

Orphaned at an early age, young Jackson was raised by religiously pious relatives. Given little opportunity for formal education, somewhat surprisingly he was able to obtain an appointment to West Point in 1842. He graduated 17th in his class in 1846.

Commissioned a 2nd lieutenant of artillery, he served with distinction in the Mexican War (1846-1848), emerging at its conclusion with the rank of major. It was first during his service in Mexico that Jackson displayed the attributes of resourcefulness and bravery in battle now universally associated with his name.

During the “War of Northern Aggression,” Jackson became Confederate commander Gen. Robert E. Lee’s “right arm” in many of the fierce battles fought against numerically superior Union armies. Lee was the brilliant strategist while Jackson was the superb tactician.

Tiring of service in the peacetime army, Jackson accepted appointment as professor of artillery tactics and natural philosophy at the Virginia Military Institute in 1851, and resigned his commission the following year. At VMI, Jackson gained a reputation (one that followed him the rest of his life) as a religious zealot (e.g., later before a battle, he often led his troops in prayer and often refused to fight on Sundays) and stern disciplinarian, and also the not-always-complimentary nicknames of “Deacon Jackson” and “Tom Fool Jackson.”

Although not popular as a professor, he always had the respect of the cadets who grudgingly admired his professional competency and his devotion to the welfare of those he taught and later commanded.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Jackson initially was commissioned a colonel in the Virginia militia, and in June 1861, a brigadier general in the Confederate army.

Despite some lapses of inactivity and not carrying out his orders in a timely fashion during the Seven Days Battle of 1862, “Stonewall” Jackson became Gen. Lee’s most trusted and successful corps commander.

His steadfast defense at the Battle of First Bull Run (July 1861), for which he gained the sobriquet “Stonewall”; his brilliant Shenandoah Valley Campaign against Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks in May 1862; his masterful contribution to the defeat of Union Gen. John Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 1862); his deft handling of his corps during the bloody Confederate defeat at the Battle of Antietam Creek (September 1862); his success as commander of Lee’s 2nd Corps in the December 1862 Confederate victory in the Battle of Fredericksburg; and, finally, having been promoted to lieutenant general, his routing of Union Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s 11th Corps, which confirmed a glorious Confederate victory in the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863), all made “Stonewall” Jackson Lee’s most valued lieutenant.

Tragically, during the confusion of the Battle of Chancellorsville, in the evening of May 2, 1863, Jackson, while inspecting his picket lines, inadvertently was shot by his own troops. He was quickly given medical attention, which led to his left arm being amputated. Although his wound was not fatal, he soon contracted pneumonia.

On May 10, Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon wired Gen. Lee: “It becomes my melancholy duty to announce to you the death of Genl. Jackson. He expired at three and a quarter p.m. today.”

Lee’s anguished response was, “I know not how to replace him.”

• Crystal Lake resident Joseph C. Morton is professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University and author of “The American Revolution” and “Shapers of the Great Debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.” Email him at demjcm@comcast.net.

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