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Some Aspects of Stonewall Jackson’s Character

Excerpt from Lost Victories: The Military Genius of Stonewall Jackson, by Bevin Alexander, pages 10-11

[General Joseph E.] Johnston’s First Virginia Brigade was commanded by Thomas Jonathan Jackson, a thirty-seven-year old West Pointer from western Virginia who also had distinguished himself in Mexico but who had resigned from the army in 1851 to become professor of artillery tactics, optics, mechanics, and astronomy at Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Jackson had been promoted to brigadier general only a month before [June 1861] and was, like most of the other generals on both sides, an unknown quantity in regard to the upcoming battle [of First Manassas, July 21, 1861].

At VMI Jackson was not thought of as a good teacher and was considered to be distinctly odd, having been dubbed “Tom Fool Jackson” by the cadets. Yet some of his students saw a spark of genius in his eccentricity and one described him as “systematic as a multiplication table and as full of military as an arsenal.” He was tall, slender, extremely reticent to express his views, stiff and unbending with most people, and possessed of an intense Presbyterian religious faith; he suffered from dyspepsia and other, less specific, physical ailments, which led him to undertake treatments at various spas and to suck on lemons with regularity.

Jackson had a profound capacity to concentrate his mind on a subject and held commitment to duty as his single guiding principle. When one of his officers applied for leave to visit his dying wife, Jackson refused, saying, “Man, man, do you love your wife more than your country?” Yet when a mother standing by a road asked him whether her son would be passing with the column, he found her son and allowed him to stay with her until the next morning.

Jackson had acted briskly and efficiently in April 1861 when General Lee, then commanding Virginia forces, had sent him to guard the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, where the U.S. government operated a rifle factory. Jackson had quickly organized the various Virginia militia units there into effective bodies, and from them and other sources he had built the First Brigade.

To reach the railway and get to Manassas, Jackson’s brigade had crossed the Blue Ridge in an exhausting march of more than twenty miles on July 18 [1861]. The First Brigade had already collapsed at the little village of Paris when an officer reminded Jackson that not enough pickets had been posted. Jackson’s reply: “Let the poor fellows sleep. I will guard the camp myself.” And Jackson, through the summer night, stood sentry over his sleeping men.

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