Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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In the great constellation of Confederate heroes, no star shone brighter than General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, the subject of G. F. R. Henderson's epic biography Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War. For the South, Jackson was the greatest military icon of the early Civil War years and a larger-than-life legend. From 1861 to 1863, Jackson, in his determination and daring, seemed to personify the cause for which Southerners believed they were fighting, just as his death seemed to foreshadow the...
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Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

In the great constellation of Confederate heroes, no star shone brighter than General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, the subject of G. F. R. Henderson's epic biography Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War. For the South, Jackson was the greatest military icon of the early Civil War years and a larger-than-life legend. From 1861 to 1863, Jackson, in his determination and daring, seemed to personify the cause for which Southerners believed they were fighting, just as his death seemed to foreshadow the war's ultimate outcome.
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Introduction

In the great constellation of Confederate heroes, no star shone brighter than General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, the subject of G. F. R. Henderson's epic biography Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War. For the South, Jackson was the greatest military icon of the early Civil War years and, along with men like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, a larger-than-life legend after the war to generations of former Confederates and their progeny. Jackson's tenure as a Confederate soldier lasted only two years, but his command record coupled with his untimely demise created an image that many Southerners embraced as an ideal. From 1861 to 1863, Jackson, in his determination and daring, seemed to personify the cause for which Southerners believed they were fighting, just as his death seemed to foreshadow the war's ultimate outcome. Because he did not live to see the war's end, white Southerners never saw Jackson humiliated by defeat, or struggle to regain his dignity and get back on his feet in civilian life. In Confederate memory the general was first and foremost a victor and as such the ultimate example of what might have been. For decades many in the South cited the death of Jackson as a major reason that the Confederacy lost the war. Had the general lived, some argued, the war in the eastern theater would have progressed differently. Had Jackson been at Lee's side, surely there would have been no defeat at Gettysburg, and no heart-wrenching surrender at Appomattox. It was a dream that was easy for many beaten Confederates to cling to after the war as they struggled to rationalize their circumstances, and as the revisionist myth of the "Lost Cause" began to take shape.

Jackson's legend grew in the decades after the war as articles and books about him began to appear. Most early biographies were part military history, part discussion of the abstract concepts of chivalry and honor, and part eulogy that recognized the general's steadfast religious commitment. In addition to his war record, the complexities of Jackson's character and his well-known eccentricities made him an obvious choice for biographers. He was an interesting subject and by far the most famous Confederate casualty of the Civil War. Some books lamented the entire Confederate experience as they paid tribute to Jackson, as if the general and the Confederacy were one in the same. Others concentrated on Jackson's military acumen and command style. One of the earliest and most influential Jackson biographies appeared in 1898 as the result of an exhaustive effort by British military historian George Francis Robert Henderson (1854-1903). Originally published in two volumes, Henderson's Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War was a tribute that celebrated the general's tactical victories as it conveyed to readers the elements of Jackson's character that motivated him to act as he did.

A British native, Henderson was educated at St. Johns College, Oxford, and received military training at Sandhurst. After accepting a commission in the British army in 1878, he served at various times in England, India, and Egypt, earning numerous commendations and an eventual promotion to the rank of captain. In 1889 he took a position as Instructor of Tactics, Military Law and Administration at Sandhurst, and that same year also published his first major work, a study of the Fredericksburg Campaign. In 1892 Henderson moved on to become Professor of Art and History at the Staff College, a position that he held for seven years. There he authored numerous papers and began the biography of Stonewall Jackson that would be remembered as his masterpiece. As he prepared the manuscript, Henderson contacted many former Confederate officers and others who knew Jackson, generating reams of priceless correspondence related to the general's life and career. He completed the well-received book in 1898. Later, during the Boer War, Lieutenant Colonel Henderson returned to active service as an intelligence officer but was plagued by malaria and general poor health. He passed away in 1903 after completing a detailed history of the initial stages of that conflict. Two years after his death a collection of Henderson's major lectures and papers was published under the title The Science of War, posthumously enhancing his reputation as one of Britain's preeminent military historians.

It is little wonder that Henderson chose Stonewall Jackson as a subject of study. The Confederate general was a fascinating character whose relatively short life and military career were filled with intriguing, and many times ironic, twists and turns. Jackson's rise to prominence reflected a classic American success story. Born in 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), Jackson was orphaned at the age of seven at which time he went to live with an uncle. He grew up helping his uncle tend the family farm and attended school whenever he could. Despite his lack of extensive formal education, Jackson received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point where he graduated seventeenth out of fifty-nine in the celebrated class of 1846 that included future Federal commander George B. McClellan and future Confederate generals A. P. Hill, George Pickett, and Dabney Maury among others. From all accounts it was not an intense desire to be a soldier that motivated Jackson to attend West Point, but rather a desire to receive a good education with which he could better himself and his station in life.

Like many of his classmates, Lieutenant Jackson gained his first military experience and notoriety during the Unites States' war with Mexico, in which he served as an artillery officer. After the war he returned to Virginia and accepted a position as Professor of Natural and Experimental Science and Instructor of Artillery at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington. Though he had a great influence on the school's curriculum, Jackson was not a popular or particularly effective instructor due to his stern demeanor, overbearing religious disposition, and a number of eccentricities that his students regularly ridiculed behind his back. Regardless, Jackson was a tireless worker and while some questioned his lecture skills, no one doubted his commitment to the institution. He remained in Lexington for nearly a decade and in 1859 was among several officers who led VMI cadets to Charles Town, where they provided additional security at the execution of radical abolitionist John Brown.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Jackson joined the Confederate effort and soon took command of several Virginia infantry regiments and an artillery unit that would collectively become known as the "Stonewall Brigade." In this new conflict Jackson gained his first notoriety, and his famous nickname, as a result of the Confederate victory at First Manassas on July 21, 1861. There, during a day-long fight, Jackson brought his men up and positioned them on high ground, waiting as the Federals mounted an offensive. As other Confederates retreated in confusion, Jackson's men stood firm, prompting South Carolinian Barnard Bee to reportedly scream orders that would go down in history to the wavering units under his command. "Look men," Bee told his troops, "There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!" A Confederate counterattack resulted in a stunning Federal defeat and the first grim realization in Washington, D.C., that the Southerners would not be easily beaten. Bee fell mortally wounded during the struggle but his widely circulated words lived on and helped mold "Stonewall" Jackson's image in the South as the ultimate military hero.

After a promotion to major general, Jackson cemented his reputation in May and June of 1862 during his brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson was charged with protecting the region as well as keeping various Federal commands in the area from joining General George B. McClellan's large force which at the time was slowly moving toward Richmond. Using a strategy involving rapid marches and countermarches and daring strikes, Jackson's force of 18,000 was able to keep more than 60,000 Federal troops occupied and gain victories at Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, and Fort Republic. In the process, the Confederates in the valley proudly dubbed themselves "Jackson's foot cavalry" in tribute to their swift and successful movements from place to place. Their victories raised the spirits of the Confederacy to new heights and placed their commander on an even higher pedestal. When someone later asked Jackson to reveal the secret to his success in the Shenandoah Valley, the general replied without hesitation, "Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy . . . and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in your pursuit."

Though clearly not at his best during the Seven Days Battles (likely due to fatigue), Jackson helped defeat the Federals at Second Manassas, received a promotion to lieutenant general, and was given command of one of two corps in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. As Lee's chief subordinate, Jackson took part in the exceedingly bloody Battle of Antietam and turned back a determined, if ultimately fruitless Federal assault at Fredericksburg. At Chancellorsville in early May of 1863 Lee and Jackson experienced their greatest victory together as they faced 130,000 troops under the command of General Joseph Hooker. Outnumbered with around 60,000 men, the Confederates defied conventional military wisdom by splitting their force. As he kept Hooker's attention with demonstrations on the front lines, Lee sent approximately 30,000 men with Jackson on a rapid march around the left side of the Federal army. Moving through heavy brush and woods Jackson executed a fierce flanking maneuver that sent the surprised Federals reeling. The Confederate strategy was a success but tragically it represented Jackson's final triumph. Later that evening, as he and members of his staff scouted the lines, the general was accidentally fired upon by nervous members of the 18th North Carolina Infantry who mistook Jackson's party for Federal cavalry. Badly wounded by three .57 caliber bullets, Jackson was taken to a field hospital where surgeons amputated his left arm. Moved to a private home, he suffered for several days before dying of pneumonia on the afternoon of May 10. His last words were reportedly, "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees." News of Jackson's death devastated the Confederate South, where many believed that the general was invincible. Across the region a collective wail could be heard as word spread that Jackson had been killed, as if the entire Confederacy realized that it had sustained a blow from which it might never recover. Five thousand mourners, including Jefferson Davis and many other Confederate dignitaries, greeted the train bearing Jackson's corpse as it pulled into Richmond, where the body lay in state in the Confederate House of Representatives. From Richmond a train took Jackson's remains to Lexington where the general was laid to rest after an elaborate funeral ceremony.

Immediately after his death the southern public deified Jackson. For the remainder of the war, regardless of the fortunes of the Confederacy, foreign observers in the South reported that Jackson was viewed as a saint, or as an angel who many believed was fixed at the right hand of God. This was an image particularly easy for the public to digest because of the general's well-chronicled religious zeal. In their grief some even compared Jackson to Christ, claiming that the general had been sacrificed by God and had died for the sins of the Confederacy. In short, the fallen general was almost literally worshipped by many Southerners. In the ranks of Confederate heroes only Robert E. Lee achieved a similar degree of fame, but in many ways Lee's status as the ideal Confederate could not match that of Jackson. Lee was eventually forced to surrender, and he lived to be an old man in poor health, a shell of his former self. In contrast, Jackson, who at the age of thirty-nine died at the height of his career, remained forever a symbol of a vibrant Confederacy and of unlimited Confederate potential that was surely being realized in heaven. While Lee was certainly a hero, Jackson was both a hero and a martyr to the cause. For the last two years of the war, as well as for the rest of their lives, none of Lee's other top generals could live up to Jackson's image and legend.

Henderson's Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War appeared at a time when the states of the former Confederacy were busy creating their own history of the Civil War, and their own interpretation of the Confederacy's legacy. Defeated militarily, the South in the decades after 1865 struggled to vindicate the ideals and decisions that had led it into the conflict and taken so many lives. From the ashes of war, and the turbulence of the Reconstruction period, a cultural identity took shape in the region grounded in ideas and attitudes collectively referred to as the Lost Cause. Celebrations of the Lost Cause took many forms, including annual civil and religious ceremonies honoring the Confederate dead, reunions of Confederate veterans, the erection of Confederate monuments on courthouse squares throughout the South, and the establishment of veterans' organizations and auxiliary groups. Politicians running for office used the language of the Lost Cause-language denoting moral superiority based on abstract notions of honor and chivalry-to attract voters, and preachers promoted Lost Cause virtues from the pulpit. As the Lost Cause phenomenon peaked around the turn of the twentieth century every Civil War battle, large or small, won or lost, was remembered as an epic struggle and every Confederate veteran, living or dead and regardless of rank, was remembered as a hero.

In such an atmosphere Stonewall Jackson was revered as the greatest hero of them all. In life and in death he seemed to personify everything that the defeated Confederate South wanted to believe about itself, and Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War helped to enhance and propagate Jackson's memory and legend. Divided into twenty-five relatively short chapters, the book begins with Jackson's background and early life but focuses primarily on his military career, with most of the chapters dedicated to specific battles. Henderson was obviously a Jackson admirer, and referred to the general as "our hero" at various points throughout the work. Still, though a Jackson partisan, the author was able to successfully convey the qualities that shaped Jackson's character and made him an aggressive and very effective general. For decades many historians, as well as the general public, viewed Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War as the benchmark for Civil War biographies. Henderson's well-constructed narrative and keen attention to detail created a military biography of the first order, a book that would hold up for generations, and a book that is still very relevant today. For those interested in Stonewall Jackson, the Civil War, or military history in general, Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War remains an essential read.

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Customer Reviews

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( 43 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 43 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Civil War comes alive!

    The most definitive biography of General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson to be written. Gives wonderful insight into the complete life of the General, not just the military side. The reader will gain a greater understanding of the reasons the southern states succeeded from the union and it was not slavery. Excellent details into the various battles that the General was in from the Mexican War and the Civil War. Wonderful description of his time at VMI as an instructor and how he studied Napoleon's tactics there. He was a compassionate man who was a very devout Christian, did not like to march or go into battle on Sundays. He was as devoted to his men as they were to him! An excellent and must read book for anyone interested in the American Civil War. I could not put the book down until I finished it. An absolutely must read book.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2012

    MUST READ!

    MUST READ!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2013

    Have not read it yet

    SORRY IF I TYP ALOT BUT KNOWING SO MUCH A BOUT ROBERT LEE THIS BOIK MIGH BE ABOUT HOW GOOD OF A GENREL HE WAS

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2012

    Havent read it yet sounds like a great book though.

    Will post a real review when i finish the book.

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2012

    This is a must read

    This book although about Stonewall Jackson, is also a most accurate account of the War between the States. Written prior to the revisionist history of today, when the facts were still fresh on the minds of those who were there.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    Most interesting

    A nicely written book. Most interesting account. Kinda wish the south would have won...States rights should be the rule...that way if one didn't like the rules, for instance in Illinois, New York, Jersey, Conn. California, etc...one could relocate to a more favorable environment, e.g. TX, MT, ID, AK etc...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    The best book ever

    The best book ever

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2014

    Uy

    Yt

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2013

    Many, many typos

    This is almost unreadable

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