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Acclaimed military historian Bevin Alexander offers a provocative analysis of Stonewall Jackson’s military genius and reveals how the Civil War might have ended differently if Jackson’s strategies had been adopted.
The Civil War pitted the industrial North against the agricultural South, and remains one of the most catastrophic conflicts in American history. With triple the population and eleven times the industry, the Union had a decided advantage over the Confederacy. But one general had a vision that could win the War for the South—Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
Jackson believed invading the eastern states from Baltimore to Maine could divide and cripple the Union, forcing surrender, but failed to convince Confederate president Jefferson Davis or General Robert E. Lee.
In Such Troops as These, Bevin Alexander presents a compelling case for Jackson as the greatest general in American history. Fiercely dedicated to the cause of Southern independence, Jackson would not live to see the end of the War. But his military legacy lives on and finds fitting tribute in this book.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I am extremely grateful to Natalee Rosenstein, vice president and senior executive editor of the Berkley Publishing Group, for her splendid, insightful, and discerning support of this project. It has been a pleasure working with her and with Robin Barletta, editorial assistant at Berkley. Robin is a most remarkably sensitive, understanding, and efficient person who expedited the project most wonderfully. She corrected all my errors, removed all roadblocks, and turned the entire endeavor into an adventure.
Richard Hasselberger produced a superb cover design that conveys the content of the book most effectively. Laura K. Corless conceived a tasteful and truly beautiful design for the interior text. My longtime cartographer, Jeffrey L. Ward, drew the exceptionally accurate maps that allow the reader to follow exactly where the actions took place. Clear and comprehensible maps are mandatory for understanding military operations, and Jeffrey, in my opinion, draws the best maps in America today.
I have relied for a long time on my agent, Agnes Birnbaum, for her friendship, sage advice, and surpassing knowledge of the publishing industry, but mostly for the inspiring example she presents of a caring and considerate human being.
Finally, I am most honored that my sons Bevin Jr., Troy, and David, and my daughters-in-law, Mary and Kim, have always supported me steadfastly in my long and exhausting writing ventures.
Jackson’s Recipes for Victory
Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson was a unique, incredibly complicated figure. He was committed to his Presbyterian religious faith, devoted to his second wife, so reserved that even his close friends seldom knew what he was thinking, dedicated to duty and the cause of Southern independence, and by far the greatest general ever produced by the American people.
Very early, Jackson discerned a way for the South to win the Civil War with speed and few losses. He recognized that the North, with three times the population of the South and eleven times its industry, was so sure of victory that it had sent practically all of its military forces into the South and had left the North almost entirely undefended. The only thing the South had to do to win, Jackson saw, was to invade the eastern states of the Union, where the vast majority of Northern industry was located and where most of its population resided. Before any Union armies could be extricated from the South, Confederate troops could cut the single railway corridor connecting Washington with Northern states, force the Abraham Lincoln administration to abandon the capital, and, by threatening the railroads, factories, farms, and mines along the great industrial corridor from Baltimore to southern Maine, compel the Northern people to give up the struggle.
A similar assault on Southern economic prosperity was precisely the strategy that Lincoln was using to conquer the South. But the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was a decidedly third-rate leader who possessed extremely little vision or imagination. He was committed to passive defense of the South, despite the fact that it was guaranteed to fail.1 Davis refused to endorse Jackson’s strategy, although he pressed it on Davis four times.
Once Jackson realized that Davis was never going to authorize a decisive invasion of the North, he developed another method of winning the war. He saw that two new weapons had made attacks against defended positions almost certain to fail. The first weapon was the single-shot Minié-ball rifle, with a range four times that of the old standard infantry weapon, the smoothbore musket. The second was the lightweight “Napoleon” cannon (named after Napoleon III, not the emperor) that could be rolled up to the firing line and could spew out clouds of deadly metal fragments called canister into the faces of advancing enemy troops. Jackson saw that the South could be victorious if it induced Northern armies to attack well-emplaced Confederate positions. The Union armies would inevitably be defeated, and the Confederates could swing around the flank of the demoralized Northerners and force them into retreat or surrender.
None of the other commanders on either side identified the revolutionary implications of these two weapons, however, and Jackson had an extremely difficult time trying to convince the senior Confederate commander in the East, Robert E. Lee, to follow his new system.
Jackson recognized that there is only one fundamental principle of military strategy, or the successful conduct of war. It is to attack the enemy where he is not. That is, to exert force where there is little or no opposition. All the other axioms of warfare can be reduced to variations on this single elementary theme. The ancient Chinese military sage Sun Tzu encapsulated the idea in a single sentence around 400 B.C.: “The way to avoid what is strong is to strike what is weak.”2 Jackson knew nothing of Sun Tzu, but he developed the same understanding on his own.
This is an extremely difficult concept to get across, however. Warfare to most people does not seem to be so simple. They view it through the lens of very different experiences. Human beings built their concept of warfare in the Stone Age. The small bands and tribes into which the human race was divided found that direct confrontation was the most likely way to deter opposing bands and tribes from encroaching on their safe havens and hunting grounds.3 We have carried this concept of frontal challenge forward into modern times. It is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. We label persons who act otherwise as sly and shifty; we say that they blindside other people, that they stab them in the back. We revile and despise such people, while we admire people who act in a direct, straightforward manner.
Over the aeons, highly observant individuals have occasionally seen, however, that indirection is the most effective way to achieve success, in military and in other matters, and they have attacked their opponent’s weakness. But these have been rare occurrences. In times of stress we usually revert to the instinctive response we learned in the Stone Age. We challenge the opponent right in front of us.
Therefore it is the extraordinary person who can avoid straight confrontation and can recognize the wisdom of Sun Tzu, who said: “All warfare is based on deception.”4 Stonewall Jackson was such an extraordinary person. And he saw clearly ways to win by going around the enemy, not confronting him headlong.
The Civil War of 1861–65 was the greatest crisis ever to befall the American Union. This war pitted the industrial North against the agricultural South. Though the population of the United States in 1860 was only 31.5 million people, less than a tenth of what it is today, 600,000 men were killed in the war, far more than in any other war in American history, including World War II.
The primary fact about the South was that it was an overwhelmingly agrarian, preindustrial society within a larger society that was rapidly industrializing. Because of the railroad, this larger industrial society was spreading its influence and power over the entire country. Until the coming of the railroads in the 1840s, North and South had been able to maintain radically different economies without great conflict because they interacted with each other largely at the peripheries.
For example, New England was developing a textile industry that used Southern cotton as its main feedstock. But, because roads were atrocious, it was easier to import cotton from the South and to export finished textiles to the South by ship rather than by land. Therefore, New England competed directly with Britain for the South’s raw cotton and for the South’s finished textile trade. This competition kept cotton prices high and finished product prices low. Much the same was true of iron and steel. The North produced some metal products, but it competed directly with Britain’s vast iron and steel industry.
By 1860, however, the extension of the railroads had made feasible the economical shipping of Northern industrial products throughout the country. This had aroused a tremendous move in the North to establish high tariffs to protect Northern industry from the far larger and more proficient British factories. In other words, Northern industrialists wanted to create a closed American economy in which only their products would be available. And these products would cost more than British products because American industry was newer and less efficient than British industry. The South was being asked to pay to strengthen Northern industry, while at the same time it was being asked to weaken Britain, by far the greatest market for its cotton. Also, Northern textile manufacturers, with reduced competition from Britain, would have to pay less for Southern cotton. Since, therefore, a high tariff would directly damage Southern pocketbooks, Southerners were violently opposed to it—and this conflict played an important role in the division of North and South.
The key immediate dispute, however, was over the continued bondage of 3.5 million black slaves in fifteen Southern states. Only a fraction of the Southern people owned slaves. Of the 1.6 million white families in 1860, only one in four owned any slaves, and only 133,000 owned ten or more slaves, or about one family in thirteen. Only 7,000 families owned fifty or more slaves, or one family in 228.5 The overwhelming majority of slaves were owned by an extremely small, wealthy aristocracy that possessed most of the good farmland and that dominated the South politically.
Although slavery was extremely controversial, and people North and South knew it was evil and had to be ended, it was the foundation of Southern agriculture. Cotton, produced largely on big plantations in the Deep South, constituted by far the greatest portion of the region’s wealth. The Industrial Revolution had not mechanized agriculture to any substantial degree, and farmers and planters relied overwhelmingly on hand labor to produce all crops, but most especially cotton, whose fiber bolls had to be picked one at a time. Therefore, eliminating slavery in one swift process would devastate the South’s economy, and, if slave owners were not compensated, would not only impoverish the elite landed aristocracy, but also the overwhelming bulk of the Southern people, white and black.
The only equitable solution was to pay the owners the value the slaves represented. But the politicians of the North were not inclined to induce the Northern people to foot most of the cost of such a transformation. This was a profoundly wrong decision, for the cost of the conflict in money alone—not to speak of the human cost and the social upheaval that it caused—was at least twice what it would have taken to purchase all of the slaves and give every freed family forty acres and a mule.6
The issue came to a head in the presidential election of 1860. Abolitionists, who were pushing for an immediate end of slavery and nothing for the planters, gained momentum, and an antislavery Republican, Abraham Lincoln, won the election. Southern planters feared he would force through laws demanded by the abolitionists.
No aristocracy ever voluntarily gives up its privileges. Every aristocracy is willing to bring down the entire social edifice to preserve its favored position. The British aristocrats refused to grant the American colonies any political rights. This set off the American Revolution of 1775 to 1783, causing the aristocrats to lose the greatest empire Britain ever possessed. The French aristocracy refused to offer the peasants and the merchants any rights and brought on the French Revolution of 1789, which destroyed the aristocracy but also threw French society into chaos.
The Southern aristocrats were no different from their British and French counterparts. Since they controlled the political fortunes of the Deep South, they passed secession ordinances in the seven Deep South states in late 1860 and early 1861. These acts catered to the aristocrats’ economic interests, and also reflected their belief that the Constitution gave them the legal right to do so. Lincoln denied this right, and in April 1861, he called on the remaining states to quash what he called the “rebellion” of these seven states. Forced to choose between Lincoln’s demand and what they believed to be morally correct and honorable, four Upper South states that had remained steadfastly loyal—North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas—refused to accept the idea of forcing their “erring sisters” back into the Union at the bayonet’s point, and seceded as well.
The entire issue of the Civil War was summarized brilliantly by an astute South Carolina woman, Mary Boykin Chesnut (1823–86), wife of a U.S. senator who became a Confederate officer. She wrote in her diary on July 8, 1862: “This war was undertaken by us to shake off the yoke of foreign invaders, so we consider our cause righteous. The Yankees, since the war has begun, have discovered it is to free the slaves they are fighting, so their cause is noble.”7
With both sides so starkly divided regarding even what the war was all about, there was little hope of compromise. Each side was convinced of the justice of its cause. The war was going to be pursued to the bitter end.
This book is a very human story of Stonewall Jackson, who was caught in the vortex of this great crisis, and of how he made the judgments that could have won the war for the South and prevented the South from descending into catastrophe. In carrying out his mission, Jackson demonstrated a transcendent superiority over every other general he encountered. He ranks as one of the supreme military geniuses in world history. Unfortunately for the South, the Confederacy was ruled by leaders who possessed none of Jackson’s vision.
The Making of a Soldier
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born January 21, 1824, in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), into a family that was beset with tragedy. On March 6, 1826, when Thomas was two years old and his brother Warren was five years old, his sister Elizabeth, six years old, died of typhoid fever. Only twenty days later his father, Jonathan, an unsuccessful attorney, also died of typhoid fever. The very next day, Thomas’s mother, Julia, gave birth to a daughter, who was named Laura.1
Julia, twenty-eight years old, was left destitute with two small boys and an infant daughter. She had to give up her home and nearly all of her resources to pay off her husband’s debts. She barely supported herself and her family by moving to a donated one-room cottage, where she took in sewing and taught paying children school. Julia herself began to weaken with the first signs of tuberculosis. Realizing that her health was slipping, Julia married Blake B. Woodson, an attorney fifteen years her senior, in 1830.
The next year Woodson became clerk of court of newly created Fayette County, in the high mountains 125 miles south of Clarksburg. The family moved to the county seat of Ansted, but Julia’s health was now deteriorating badly, and she was forced to send her son Warren, now ten years old, to live with her brother, Alfred Neale, and his family in Parkersburg, on the Ohio River, and to send Thomas and Laura to live with their uncle, Cummins Jackson, twenty-nine years old, who operated a farm and two water-powered mills, one lumber, the other grist, at a place named Jackson’s Mill on the West Fork River, four miles north of Weston, and eighteen miles south of Clarksburg. In December 1831 Julia died, leaving her children as orphans.
Young Thomas and Laura were distraught at losing the love and devotion of their mother. Although they were welcomed in the Jackson household, the children found no father figure and little comfort in Cummins Jackson. He was tall, strong, generous to his friends, and, at the time, successful in business. But he was also unscrupulous and was accused of taking over the estate of his father, Edward Jackson, and denying other members of the family their rightful share. He was extremely litigious and filed lawsuits for many causes—delinquent accounts, land claims, timber rights, and other complaints. His legal costs as well as his fondness for gambling, horse racing, and drinking caused a slow but steady decline in his fortunes over the years.
Young Tom Jackson learned a great deal at Jackson’s Mill about farming, horses, and lumbering, but he had only one close and dear confidante, his sister Laura. They faced the world together. In 1835, however, the woman who had mostly tended the children, their step-grandmother, Elizabeth Brake Jackson, died at Jackson’s Mill. Laura was sent to Parkersburg to join the Neale family, and Tom was sent to live with his aunt Polly, his father’s sister, and her husband, Isaac Brake, on a farm four miles from Clarksburg. The separation from Laura was most painful to Tom, and the situation at his new home was disastrous. Isaac Brake treated Tom as an outsider, subjecting him to verbal abuse and at least one severe whipping. Tom endured the trauma for a year, then, twelve years old, he ran away to a cousin in Clarksburg. He politely asked for food and a place to stay for the night. When the cousin remonstrated with Tom to go back to Aunt Polly’s, he answered: “Maybe I ought to, ma’am, but I am not going to.”2
The next day Tom walked the eighteen miles to Jackson’s Mill. Cummins Jackson was happy to take him in. But the experience of losing the companionship of Laura and the ill treatment of his uncle Isaac Brake left a profound and permanent mark on Thomas Jackson. They contributed to the extreme reticence to show his feelings and express his thoughts that characterized him as an adult.
Another fact became apparent after he returned to Jackson’s Mill—he was an orphan with no economic prospects whatsoever. Cummins Jackson offered no possibilities. Tom realized that whatever he achieved he would have to do alone. He saw that his only real hope was to gain an education. For the next six years, Tom spent much of his time trying to acquire knowledge. Cummins Jackson was not interested in helping, but Tom finally prevailed on him to establish a small school at the mill for boys, taught by a young man, Robert P. Rhea, who had a better-than-average education. The school, the first Tom had ever attended, opened the floodgates of Tom’s desire for knowledge.
Tom was not a great scholar, but he possessed an extraordinary attribute. He could concentrate wholly on a subject, losing sight of everything else until he had solved the problem at hand. This ability to become absorbed in a subject, to exclude all extraneous elements in order to understand fully a subject’s ramifications and extent, is a mark of genius, especially military genius.3 Nobody noticed this at the time. But when students of military leadership in later times looked back on Jackson’s origins, they saw that its appearance so early marked him as possessing a brain of exceptional strength, originality, and power.
In 1837 Tom was one of six indigent children taught by a prominent Weston citizen, Phillip Cox Jr., and in 1839 he studied for several weeks with Weston’s resident scholar, Colonel Alexander Scott Withers, who formed a special attachment to Tom. Other local people encouraged Tom’s interest in books by lending him volumes from their shelves. Even so, Tom’s education was spotty, undirected, and incomplete.
A further element of deep sadness struck Tom in November 1841 when his brother, Warren, who was teaching in Upshur County to the east of Weston, died of tuberculosis. Now only his sister Laura in Parkersburg was left as a member of his immediate family. In January 1842 Tom reached his eighteenth birthday. He had attained almost his full height, just below six feet. He was slender and strong, with brown hair, blue-gray eyes, and a bronzed complexion from outdoor life. But his prospects were as dismal as ever.
Then, suddenly, everything changed. Samuel L. Hays, congressman for the district including Clarksburg and Weston, announced that he would shortly interview candidates for an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Tom saw at once that this offered everything he was searching for.
Tom knew only that West Point had a high reputation and that it offered a college education at public expense. But, over the past quarter century, the academy had become a tremendously important factor in the development of the United States. The War of 1812 had revealed that the nation’s reliance on state militias for defense was totally inadequate. The politically appointed and generally unskilled officers of the state militias were almost uniformly incompetent and incapable of leading men into battle. A few outstanding commanders emerged during the war, especially Andrew Jackson, who defeated the British at New Orleans, and Winfield Scott, who conducted excellent campaigns around Niagara Falls. But the nation could not depend on the fortuitous appearance of skilled generals after a war had begun. It needed military officers who already had been trained.
National leaders found a vehicle for change in the United States Military Academy. It had been established in 1802, but had played an insignificant role to date. Under President James Madison, the academy was reorganized and given additional support. And, in 1817, it received an inspired leader, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer. By the end of his tenure in 1833, Thayer had built a school that was producing an entirely new kind of military leader. He prevailed on the U.S. government to foot all the costs of the school and of the cadets, and for congressmen and senators to appoint cadets from their states and districts. In this fashion, Thayer created a democratic officers’ corps drawn from the entire population of the United States. These citizen-soldiers reflected all the concepts of freedom, independence, and equality that permeated the American population.
In contrast, the military schools of Europe were largely limited to the aristocracy or the extremely well off. Their guiding philosophy was upholding the social and economic privileges of the upper classes, not, as was the driving ethos of West Point, to promote democracy. For the foreseeable future, the United States was not going to be a land of a huge professional standing army, and American officers were not going to constitute a separate, aloof social class, like the aristocratic Junkers who dominated the Prussian army, or the less professional but still detached gentry who held most of the places in the British army.
Under the inspiration of Colonel Thayer, West Point began producing officers who were competent and skilled, and who could adjust to and exploit the fluid, dynamic American society around them. West Point also became the top engineering school as well as one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the nation.
Four candidates emerged to take up Congressman Hays’s appointment: Tom, Gibson J. Butcher, and two others, both of whom fell by the wayside. Butcher, a local acquaintance of Tom, had far better educational preparation, however, and Hays awarded the appointment to him. It was a crushing blow to Tom Jackson. He had no other plan to fall back on, and could see only gloom in his future.
But an unexpected event took place. When Gibson Butcher arrived at West Point on June 2, 1842, he found the stern atmosphere and rigid discipline not at all to his liking. Without saying anything to anybody, Butcher turned around and went back to Weston. One of Tom’s friends discovered that Butcher had returned home. Tom saw a chance to take up the appointment, but West Point’s term began in less than three weeks. Tom frantically rushed around Weston seeking, and getting, endorsements from leading citizens that he could present to Congressman Hays.
On a morning in mid-June 1842, Tom, clad in homespun, scuffed shoes, and a floppy wagoner’s hat, all his personal possessions stuffed into a couple of saddlebags, bid farewell to Cummins Jackson, caught the eastbound stagecoach from Clarksburg, and got off at Green Valley Depot, sixteen miles east of Cumberland, Maryland, the farthest western point the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had yet reached. Taking his first train ride, Tom arrived at Hays’s office in Washington on June 17. He informed the congressman that Butcher had left the academy, and presented his letters of endorsement. Hays immediately wrote the secretary of war, John C. Spencer, recommending Tom for the place. Spencer made the appointment the next day, conditional on Tom’s passing West Point’s entrance exam.
Hays urged Tom to remain in Washington a few days to see the sights, but Tom was determined to get to the academy as quickly as possible. He made only a single tourist detour, climbing to the roof of the unfinished Capitol and gazing out over the city. Tom caught the northbound afternoon train, riding it all night to New York City. He made his way to the docks, and caught a Hudson River ferry, which deposited him on the boat landing at West Point on Sunday, June 19, 1842.
Tom passed his entrance exam, but he was woefully unprepared for college work. He was also woefully unprepared to mingle with the other cadets on a friendly, casual basis. He was solitary and awkward to begin with. And most of his fellow cadets were from far wealthier families and most were much more at ease in social situations than he. Tom also realized that he had to devote his mind fully to his subjects, for the academy dismissed all cadets who failed to keep up their work. As a result, Tom immediately got a reputation as an aloof, morose, silent, and unapproachable person. He accordingly made few friends at West Point. But he survived the intense discipline and work of learning to march and to obey the stern regulations of the academy, and he also survived the academic rigors of the classroom, but only after unrelenting, dogged work.
His first summary examination in January 1843 was almost his last. Of the 101 cadets in his class, he stood sixty-second in mathematics and eighty-eighth in French, but he barely passed. From then on, his academic path was upward, although at an extremely slow pace. Of the seventy-nine cadets still remaining in his class in January 1844, Tom was twenty-first in mathematics, sixty-first in French, fifty-eighth in grammar, but seventy-fourth in drawing. In subsequent evaluations, Jackson continued to rise slowly, reaching seventeenth among the fifty-nine cadets to graduate in June 1846. But he never excelled in academic studies. He also did not attain cadet rank, a mark of his unpopularity at the school. He served his senior year as a private in the ranks.
The West Point class of 1846 graduated just as the United States was entering into war with Mexico. The war was caused primarily because many Americans believed that the United States had a “manifest destiny” to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Under President James K. Polk, the United States sought to acquire a huge region that Mexico possessed, all the territory from Texas west to California.
Brevet (provisional) Second Lieutenant Thomas J. Jackson had the great fortune to take part in the key campaign of the war, General Winfield Scott’s drive to seize Mexico City in 1847. This was one of the most successful campaigns ever undertaken in all military history. With an army far inferior in size to the Mexican forces confronting him, Scott made an unopposed amphibious landing at Mexico’s main seaport, Veracruz, marched 270 miles across the high mountains in the center of Mexico, broke through numerous barriers, and overwhelmed fiercely contested fortresses at the gates of Mexico City. Nowhere was he defeated, or even severely checked. In the last stage of his drive against the capital, Scott had fewer than a third the troops that the Mexicans had arrayed against him.
Jackson, who commanded artillery sections in a number of intense battles, had a marvelous school in which to learn about warfare. He took brilliant advantage of his opportunity, observing at first hand how direct attacks against strongly fortified and defended positions could result in enormous casualties and failure while, on the other hand, flanking movements around a defended enemy position could avoid these losses and could achieve victory at minimum cost.
In learning how to conduct warfare correctly, there is no satisfactory alternative to personal, up-front observation of battle. How troops actually maneuver and how they actually respond to challenges depends on the circumstances they encounter on the ground. Theoretical students of warfare, commanders without battle experience, and amateur armchair generals can spin out plans for wonderful movements and airy sweeps that achieve glorious imaginary victories. But the precise problems and conditions that commanders and their troops face in real combat are much different and much harder. Actual combat and actual campaigns are always far more complicated than paper exercises, and they are subject to immense error or misapplication.
Beyond this, learning profound lessons by personal observation requires an individual who can actually see what is happening and can actually comprehend what is taking place. History proves conclusively that Jackson did see and did comprehend the lessons taught in the campaign to capture Mexico City, for he not only summarized his knowledge in 1862 in a talk with one of his officers, John D. Imboden,4 he also applied the lessons in later campaigns. It became clear in later years, however, that Captain Robert E. Lee, who was exposed to the same examples in the Mexican campaign as Jackson, did not draw the correct conclusions, although he was on Scott’s staff and played a far more prominent role than did Jackson. In later years, Lee ignored the lessons that Scott had taught.
President Polk authorized Scott’s invasion of Veracruz because the Americans could achieve nothing decisive by driving into northern Mexico from Texas. In 1846 an American army under Zachary Taylor advanced to Saltillo, 150 miles south of the Texas-Mexico border, but could not cross the forbidding desert that stretched 250 miles to San Luis Potosí. Because the Mexicans possessed no navy, a good alternative was to seize Veracruz and advance over the national highway from there to the capital.
The Mexicans were well aware that the Americans intended to land at Veracruz, but they failed to reinforce the garrison of 4,400 men. And the commander, Juan Morales, showed no initiative. The 10,000 Americans came ashore on March 9, 1847, in surfboats about three miles south of the city, against no opposition. Jackson got his first lesson in defensive possibilities on this day. For the Mexicans accurately anticipated the spot the Americans were going to land. If General Morales had merely hidden cannons behind the site and had rolled them forward as the Americans approached, he could have sunk many of the surfboats and decimated any soldiers who reached the beach. But Morales did not make any attempt at defense. He waited passively for the blow to be struck, withdrawing his troops behind the walls of Veracruz. It was a simple matter, therefore, for Scott’s cannons to pound the garrison into surrender on March 29, 1847.
Scott gathered supplies and moved out toward Mexico City on April 8. He wanted to get into the highlands as quickly as possible, because yellow fever was endemic in the lowlands along the gulf, and was certain to break out as the hottest months approached. Yellow fever is a deadly virus, and its spread by mosquito bites was unknown until the turn of the twentieth century.
The Mexican president and commander, Antonio López de Santa Anna, tried to stop Scott before he could reach fever-free Jalapa, 4,700 feet above sea level in the Sierra Madre Mountains, seventy-four miles inland from Veracruz. Santa Anna assembled 12,000 troops at Cerro Gordo (Fat Mountain), ten miles east of Jalapa. He placed most of his troops right on the national highway, directly barring the pass through the mountains. When General Scott approached, he saw that Santa Anna had made no provision for an envelopment of his position. While holding a few forces in the roadway to threaten the pass, Scott sent a larger force, including Jackson’s artillery section, around the northern flank of the Mexican position, where it emerged on the enemy rear, completely surprising the Mexican defenders and sending them into panicked flight. The Mexican army disintegrated, and Scott marched without further ado to Jalapa, then on to Puebla, only eighty miles east of Mexico City.
Cerro Gordo was a solid object lesson for a young officer like Jackson. Scott had applied one of the oldest maxims of warfare. He made threatening moves against the main enemy force, thereby holding that force at the Cerro Gordo pass. Meanwhile, Scott delivered an indirect strike with another force on the enemy rear, throwing the entire enemy army into chaos. That Santa Anna should have anticipated this flanking move is obvious. But Scott knew that generals over the aeons have tended to build their strongest defenses at places of the most evident danger, in this case the pass at Cerro Gordo. Most generals fail to anticipate that the enemy might merely fake an assault on the obvious target, and might land his real blow elsewhere. Scott recognized that Santa Anna was such an unimaginative officer, and that he could safely strike Santa Anna’s rear.
By the time Scott reached Puebla, he had lost 3,000 of his men, volunteers whose one-year enlistments were expiring. As these 3,000 men marched back to Veracruz for the voyage home, President Polk and Secretary of War William I. Marcy were creating new regiments to replace them. But this would take time, and meanwhile Scott, with only 7,000 men, was immobilized at Puebla.
The major danger that Scott was facing was so-called guerrilla attacks on his supply line back to Veracruz. These guerrillas were really largely bandits, not organized Mexican army forces. But the attacks were making it too hazardous to dispatch supply convoys to and from Veracruz without strong escorts. On June 4, 1847, therefore, Scott abandoned all stations between Veracruz and Puebla, thereby cutting his army off from the coast. With no supply line, his army would have to live off the land.
It was quite plain that Santa Anna now possessed a superb opportunity to besiege the Americans at Puebla and, by denying them food, force their surrender. But Santa Anna did not make any effort to do so. He did not even dispatch forces to prevent Americans from sending foraging expeditions into the countryside to procure food and fodder. Indeed, the Americans were left wholly at ease at Puebla. This, too, was a tremendous object lesson for young officers, for it is a monstrous military mistake to allow an enemy force to abide without danger inside one’s own country. The enemy should be attacked and harassed in every way possible. Most especially, his food and fodder supply should be threatened. It is evident that Jackson, while he waited with other Americans at Puebla, learned this lesson well, for he applied it to tremendous effect in a campaign that was to come.
On July 8, 1847, Scott finally received 4,500 new troops, and on August 6 got 2,400 more. Leaving a garrison at Puebla, Scott set forth the next day on the march on Mexico City. He had 11,000 men. Santa Anna meanwhile had assembled an army of 36,000 men, but no better trained or led than the army that had bolted at Cerro Gordo. He intended to remain on the defensive, relying on the fact that Mexico City is built in the Valley of Mexico on a former Aztec island in a once-huge lake that was slowly drying. The valley floor contained six lakes, extensive marshes and low-lying fields. Mexico City could be approached only along raised roads and causeways. Santa Anna figured that his troops, placed along these narrow elevated avenues, could stop any American advance.
Confident that the Americans would approach along the national highway from the east, Santa Anna posted thirty cannons and 7,000 troops atop El Peñon, a 450-foot hill just south of the highway, and eight miles east of the capital.
When the American advance guard arrived east of El Peñon on August 12, 1847, engineer Captain Robert E. Lee, on Scott’s staff, rode ahead to confirm that the Mexicans were in force there and that seizing the position would be costly, since the only approach was along the causeway with a wet marsh on either side. However, Santa Anna had already failed to anticipate a tactical movement around his massed army at Cerro Gordo, and Scott figured that he might fail to anticipate a similar strategic movement around his entire position in front of Mexico City.
Accordingly, Scott told Captain Lee to search for a different avenue of approach. Lee found one in a road seventeen miles to the south. This road ran around the southern edges of lakes Chalco and Xochimilco to the town of San Augustín, nine miles due south of Mexico City.
Scott ordered the army to swing around the lakes to San Augustín, a distance of twenty-five miles. The Americans emerged on August 18 at San Augustín. By this time Santa Anna had figured out the direction of the march and had assembled more than 20,000 men, twice the size of Scott’s army, along a four-mile east-west line about six miles south of the city. Santa Anna’s main defensive bastion was the village of San Antonio, a couple miles north of San Augustín and on the main avenue leading to Mexico City from the south. Santa Anna believed his forces there were safe. Directly on the east was soft, marshy ground next to Lake Xochilmilco. Directly to the west was the Pedregal, an egg-shaped lava field two and a half miles wide and a couple miles deep, reputed to be impassable by man or beast.
When American cavalry rode up the avenue toward San Antonio, they met a hail of cannon fire. Once again Scott faced a heavily armed Mexican force emplaced in a strong defensive position. But unlike Cerro Gordo, the San Antonio position could not be turned by flanking it. This called for an even wider turning movement. A strike to the east was impossible because of the lakes and the marshy ground. A strike to the west seemed just as fruitless because of the Pedregal.
But Scott told Captain Lee to see if he could find some path over this lava field. Lee located a rough trail on the southern edge that connected with a north-south road west of the lava field that ran through the village of San Angel and connected to elevated causeways that led into Mexico City. Scott set soldiers to work with pickaxes and shovels to carve out a rough road over which infantry could march and cannons and artillery caissons could roll. Scott then ordered about half of his army, including Jackson’s artillery section, to advance along the trail on August 19.
Just west of the Pedregal, the Americans encountered the division of General Gabriel Valencia, a political rival of Santa Anna, who had shifted his 5,000-man force from the main Mexican defensive position at San Angel to the village of Contreras, a couple miles south. This move was in direct disobedience of orders from Santa Anna, since it split the Mexican forces. But Valencia had visions of achieving glory by defeating the Yankees.
In the early afternoon of August 19, three American brigades, 4,500 men, including Jackson’s guns and other cannons, moved between Contreras and San Angel, and cut Valencia off from the rest of the Mexican army. During the whole afternoon, the Americans endured heavy artillery fire against their positions, but they held on grimly. If the Mexicans had organized infantry assaults from San Angel in one direction and Contreras in the other, the three American brigades might have been crushed. But Santa Anna did nothing. That night Santa Anna sent Valencia an order to slip his men northward in the darkness past the Americans. But Valencia refused. On the morrow, he replied, he would smash the Americans.
During this same night, American engineers found a path that circled around Contreras, and allowed picked American units to assemble in secret to the south and to the west of Valencia’s division. At dawn on August 20, the Americans attacked directly from the north at the same time as the forces hidden on the south and west struck. Valencia’s division collapsed in chaos, and the survivors flew in panic in all directions.
Santa Anna immediately escaped northward, ordering the forces at San Antonio, on the east, to withdraw as well. To cover his retreat, he directed 1,500 men to hold the Franciscan convent of San Mateo on the south bank of the small Churubusco River, just north of San Antonio, and for a regiment to guard a fortified bridgehead on the south bank of the river, 300 yards to the east of the convent. The remainder of Santa Anna’s forces escaped to the north side of the river.
Now, for the first time, the Americans encountered inspired defense from the Mexicans. The soldiers at the convent beat off every rush of the Americans, while cannons posted there did heavy execution. The Mexican regiment at the bridgehead threw back two American charges, but at last succumbed in hand-to-hand fighting, while the troops defending the convent finally surrendered after an American scaling party breached the walls.
The Mexicans were in turmoil, the city of Mexico virtually defenseless, and the Americans surged forward in the flush of victory. But General Scott now made a grave mistake. Santa Anna proposed a truce, and Scott fell for the ploy, thinking that Santa Anna was going to agree to peace. From August 25 to September 6, 1847, while an American State Department official got nowhere negotiating terms, Santa Anna resurrected a defense of the city. At last Scott, realizing he had been duped, resumed hostilities.
On September 8, 1847, Scott’s forces attacked El Molino del Rey (King’s Mill) and Casa de Mata, a group of stone buildings a thousand yards west of the castle of Chapultepec, located a couple miles west of the city of Mexico. The headlong attacks were ill-conceived and badly executed. The Americans finally drove off the Mexican defenders, but they lost a quarter of their entire force. And the possession of the buildings did nothing to help in the seizure of Chapultepec Castle. Jackson was present, but took no part in the assaults. The terrible cost and the lack of any gains, however, reinforced an abhorrence already growing in his mind to headlong assaults against heavily fortified positions.
Chapultepec, on a 200-foot hill, was the former residence of the Spanish viceroys and was now the site of the Mexican military academy. Chapultepec guarded access to both causeways leading to the city from the west. On September 12, American soldiers surged over the parapets of Chapultepec, and shot or brushed aside Mexican defenders. Six young cadets died in the melee, to be venerated in Mexican history as los Niños Heroicos. The Americans now rushed down the two causeways to the city itself. Jackson’s cannon section provided brilliant support for this advance. For his action here and throughout the campaign, Jackson was nominated for promotion to brevet major.
In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, the Mexicans granted the Americans what they were seeking: the territory that became the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming.
Jackson had learned a great deal in the Mexican War. He had seen that direct assaults on fortified positions were extremely costly in lives. He had also seen that indirect moves, either on the battlefield, or in approaching the large target of Mexico City, were far more likely to produce victory.
After the war Jackson’s artillery unit returned to its permanent station in New York. At this time Jackson developed a strong religious bent that had commenced in Mexico. He also was concerned about his health, although his only real complaint was dyspepsia. New York was a stimulating city, containing a large number of educated and gifted people. But Jackson’s social awkwardness and his unwillingness to express his thoughts closed off this avenue of intellectual advancement. Jackson did, at least, visit art galleries and bookstores, where he purchased a number of books, especially military history studies.
Life took a decided turn for the worse in December 1850, however, when the army transferred him to a small post in near-frontier country in central Florida, east of Tampa. Conditions were uncomfortable and unhealthy, but Jackson’s main complaint was a pettifogging commander who made unreasonable demands and leveled unjustified complaints.
Jackson became increasingly aware that no bright future was likely for him in the Regular Army. The campaigns of the Mexican War had been extremely stimulating, but he was finding garrison duty in peacetime to be dull, repetitious, full of useless regulations, and offering little scope for intellectual growth. Promotion depended wholly on time served, not merit. Ten officers were ahead of him in his artillery regiment alone. Many of the army’s best officers were leaving the service because opportunities were far better in civilian life.
One of these departed officers was about to have a profound effect on Jackson’s life and career. In early February 1851, D. Harvey Hill, West Point class of 1842, called on a fellow West Point alumnus, Colonel Francis Henney Smith, commandant of Virginia Military Institute, a state school modeled on West Point established eleven years previously in Lexington, a town of 1,700 people in the southern reaches of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. After brilliant service in the Mexican War, Hill had resigned from the army in 1849 to become a professor of mathematics at Washington College, located directly alongside the VMI campus in Lexington.
Colonel Smith presented Hill with a problem. VMI was in need of a new natural philosophy professor who could also teach artillery tactics, and his prime candidate had unexpectedly declined the job. Smith asked Hill to look through the army register and propose an officer of talent and character. Hill thumbed through the pages and his eyes fell on the listing of Thomas J. Jackson, whom Hill had known in Mexico and for whom he had high respect. This is your man, Hill told Colonel Smith emphatically. Smith made a quick trip to the state capital, Richmond, to learn Jackson’s reputation from John S. Carlile, a state senator from the district around Clarksburg and Weston, Jackson’s home. Carlile knew Jackson and strongly seconded Hill’s recommendation.
Colonel Smith immediately wrote Jackson in Florida, asking whether he would be a candidate. This was a bolt out of the blue, but it offered a number of advantages. Jackson would still be in a familiar military environment, teaching offered far more stimulus than service in isolated military posts, and a professorship would give him substantial social status. So, having just turned twenty-seven years of age, Jackson wrote Smith that he would like to be considered. On March 28, 1851, the VMI Board of Visitors, of which Senator Carlile was a member, elected Jackson by acclamation.
Jackson was neither a great scholar nor a good teacher, and he was ill-prepared to pass on to students what VMI called “natural and experimental philosophy,” which was actually a loose combination of physics, astronomy, and mechanics, plus a few other sciences. Topics included electricity, magnetics, acoustics, and optics. Jackson managed to stay just ahead of his students, but the task was hard, and he never excelled. Jackson’s own personality also prevented him from achieving rapport with the cadets. A member of the VMI Board of Visitors, who met him in the fall of 1851, described him as “reserved yet polite, reticent of opinion, but fixed in the ideas he had formed.” The board member said his manner was abrupt, and “a crisp but not brusque form of expression did not tend to render him popular with the young men under his charge.”5
For this reason, Jackson acquired the reputation among cadets as being “as exact as a multiplication table and as full of things military as an arsenal.” As for his teaching skills, one of Jackson’s students left the following verse in the flyleaf of his textbook: “’Tis said that optics treats of light, But oh! believe it not, my lark, I’ve studied it with all my might, And still it’s left me in the dark.” Whenever Jackson occasionally made an ironic remark, he quashed its impact by adding, “Not meaning exactly what I say.” This expression was a wonderful bonanza to the cadets, and it became their tag line for everything in life.6
Jackson developed three firm friends in Lexington: Harvey Hill, who was instrumental in Jackson’s appointment to VMI; his wife, Isabella, daughter of a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina; and John Blair Lyle, a bachelor sixteen years Jackson’s senior, and owner of the town’s primary bookstore. Harvey and Isabella were firm Calvinists, as was Lyle. They led Jackson to become a member of the Lexington Presbyterian Church, the biggest in town with 250 members. The Presbyterian faith immediately became Jackson’s home, his fortress, and his refuge. He began to see everything in terms of his faith.
In late 1852 the Reverend Dr. George Junkin, president of Washington College, and a leading Presbyterian cleric, offered his friendship to Jackson, who accepted it eagerly. The academe’s wife, Julia Miller Junkin, a product of Philadelphia high society, presided over a household that included, on a regular basis, three to five Junkin children and two nephews. The oldest of the Junkin daughters was redheaded Margaret, at thirty-two years of age definitely an old maid. Maggie Junkin was inseparable from her sister, Elinor or Ellie, twenty-seven years of age, and the prettier of the two. Jackson quickly became enamored of Ellie, and early in 1853 she accepted Jackson’s offer of marriage. However, after Maggie exploded in anger at the news, Ellie broke the engagement. The estrangement lasted until spring, when Ellie reached some kind of sisterly understanding with Maggie, and renewed the engagement. On August 4, 1853, the Reverend Junkin married his daughter Elinor to Thomas J. Jackson in the parlor of his home.
When the new couple departed on their honeymoon, Maggie Junkin insisted on going along, and Ellie agreed. This peculiar social group went to Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, Montreal, and Quebec, where Jackson made a point of visiting the Plains of Abraham, site of the victory of British General James Wolfe over the French in 1759 that won Canada for Britain and cost Wolfe his life. After a visit to Boston, the three returned to Lexington in late August. Jackson and Ellie, despite the bizarre arrangement, had enjoyed the honeymoon. Maggie had not. Marriage, she told a friend, “took from me my only bosom companion, and put between us a stranger.”7
Jackson and his bride moved into a new bedroom and study added to the Junkin home, so Ellie did not break her close connection with her family. In early 1854 it became certain that Ellie was pregnant, but on February 23, 1854, tragedy struck the Junkin family. The matriarch, Julia Junkin, who was thought to be suffering only from chronic rheumatism, suddenly died. Maggie collapsed in anguish, but Ellie proclaimed God’s will at work and bore the loss quietly. Another loss to Jackson came in the summer, when Harvey and Isabella Hill departed for Davidson College, a few miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina, where Harvey had accepted a professorship in mathematics.
On October 22, 1854, Ellie went into labor. She gave birth to a stillborn son but appeared to have come through the ordeal safely. An hour or so later, however, an uncontrollable hemorrhage began and she died within a very short time.
Jackson was devastated. Absolute despair coursed through his heart. Mother and child were buried in a single coffin in the Junkin family plot in Lexington Presbyterian Church Cemetery on October 24, 1854. Maggie Junkin was so stunned by grief that she could not bear to visit Ellie’s grave. She left in December for an extended visit to her brother, George, in Philadelphia. Jackson went to the grave site every day for a long time. He returned paler and quieter to his work at VMI, but somehow he accepted the tragedy as God’s will. In this way, he survived.
In the summer of 1856, as much to get away from sad memories of his life with Ellie as for any other reason, Jackson embarked on a journey he had wanted to take all his adult life. He departed in early July on a three-month European tour. Crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Asia, Jackson visited England, Scotland, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Except for visiting the battlefield of Waterloo, Jackson paid little attention to military sites. Instead, he sought famous attractions—cathedrals, abbeys, the mountains of Scotland, the castles and vineyards of the Rhine River, the Swiss Alps, Venice, the paintings and sculpture of Florence, the ruins of Rome, the Bay of Naples, the landscapes of France, and the beauties of Paris.
Jackson returned to Lexington a new man. He had at last assuaged his grief at the loss of Ellie. He was seeking a new life, and a new wife.
Jackson remembered a visit to Lexington in the spring of 1853 by two of Isabella Hill’s sisters from Lincoln County, North Carolina—Mary Anna and Eugenia Morrison. Jackson especially remembered Anna, seven and a half years younger than he, with soft brown eyes, dark brown hair, and a sunny, quiet disposition.
One day in the autumn of 1856, Anna received a letter from Jackson, expressing happy memories of her visit to Lexington. Eugenia predicted an early visit from the major. A few days before Christmas, Jackson appeared at the farm of Anna’s father, the Reverend Robert Hall Morrison, about twenty miles northwest of Charlotte. Morrison had served as Davidson College’s first president, but had to retire because of a throat ailment. The visit was pleasant for all concerned. Jackson made his interest in Anna known. Anna remembered with pleasure her association with Jackson in Lexington three years previously. And Morrison and his wife, Mary, were impressed with Jackson’s religious faith and his integrity. Matters proceeded on a predictable path to July 16, 1857, when Jackson and Anna were married at her home.
They set out on a honeymoon to Philadelphia, New York City, West Point, Niagara Falls, and Saratoga, New York. By the time the couple headed back south to Lexington, Anna was pregnant. On April 30, 1858, mother and baby came through the ordeal of delivery safely, but the child, a daughter, was weak and died of liver failure on May 25. Five weeks later, Anna’s sister Eugenia died of typhoid fever in North Carolina. Anna took the double loss extremely hard. Jackson also suffered intense sorrow, but he bore the pain in silence, attributing the deaths to God’s will.
In the face of these blows, Jackson took his wife away for a second northern trip as soon as the VMI session ended. This time they rode a steamer from Old Point Comfort at Hampton Roads, Virginia, to Cape May, New Jersey, for several days of ocean bathing. They were now talking of buying a home in Lexington. In New York City, they purchased a large number of household goods, including a piano, because, even with shipping charges, they were much cheaper there than in Lexington. In November they found the property they were looking for, a two-story brick-and-stone house with an English basement in the middle of town close to the church and to VMI.
Jackson had been smitten with Anna ever since he renewed their friendship in late 1856. But his devotion to his wife grew tremendously once they were married. Indeed, with Anna Jackson he was wholly different from the rigid, austere persona he presented to the world. In later times, Anna remarked that others “would have found it hard to believe that there could be such a transformation as he exhibited in his domestic life.” She wrote: “No man could be more demonstrative, and he was almost invariably playful and cheerful and as confiding as possible. . . . We rarely ever met alone without caresses and endearing epithets.” On his return from the institute, “his face would beam with happiness, and he would spend a few minutes in petting me, as he called it, and then go to his duties.” Jackson opened his heart to Anna with trust and tenderness, emotions that she clearly reciprocated. Jackson’s love for his wife never ceased.8
Thomas and Anna Jackson were wholly absorbed in their home and their hopes for the future. But their concerns, as well as the concerns of virtually all Americans, were about to be swept aside by a dispute—over slavery—that was shaking the very foundations of the American union.
This issue had endured for virtually the entire existence of the American people. In 1619 a Dutch ship arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, with a load of African slaves for sale. This was just twelve years after Jamestown was founded and a year before the first Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Thenceforth, slavery was practiced in all of the colonies, but slaves were especially important in the South, which depended for its prosperity on hard labor in rice, indigo, tobacco, and cotton fields. The institution was important enough that Southern politicians insisted on its acceptance in the United States Constitution.
But slavery was dying out because it could not compete with free laborers. Slaves had to be provided for all year, whereas farm laborers had to be paid only for the limited periods, like planting and harvesttime, when their labor was required. In 1793, however, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. The gin easily separated cottonseeds from cotton fibers and made it feasible to grow short-staple upland cotton throughout the South. Planters opened thousands of new acres to cotton, and the impetus toward emancipation stopped. In 1791 cotton exports from the South totaled 2 million pounds. By 1811 they had risen to 80 million pounds and were growing every year. Cotton was producing tremendous wealth for the great landowners, and their avarice blocked any movement to end slavery.
But the immorality of human bondage was so self-evident that, by 1859, it had been prohibited throughout the country except in fifteen Southern states. Their economies were overwhelmingly agricultural and—since the Industrial Revolution had made few inroads into farming—they depended on heavy hand labor in hot fields to produce their crops, most especially cotton, by far the most important moneymaker.
All thinking Southerners knew that slavery had to be abolished. But people argued heatedly over how to accomplish it. Outright emancipation would impoverish the landed aristocracy that had dominated the South from the earliest colonial days. The solution, of course, was for the entire nation to assume the cost of freeing the slaves, and for the national government to pay the slave owners the value of their slaves. But avarice also ruled in the North, and few Northerners were interested in giving up some of their wealth to Southern slave owners, especially as a vociferous abolitionist movement gained strength and condemned the institution strictly on moral grounds. The abolitionists wanted the slave owners to be punished for their sins, not compensated.
Like most human conflicts, therefore, the dispute over slavery came down to a question of money. In other words, who would suffer economic losses in order to eliminate the institution? If the issue could have been restricted to the financial question, it could ultimately have been solved by some monetary compromise. But the moral question was becoming paramount in the North, and an ethical crusade that seemed to Southerners to be verging on revolution finally brought the entire dispute to a tragic and decisive head in 1859.
The instrument of this pivotal transformation was a militant abolitionist, John Brown, who, on October 16, 1859, led an attack with eighteen followers on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, on the Potomac River at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. Brown intended to seize the 100,000 muskets and rifles stored at the arsenal in order to arm slaves and lead a bloody slave revolt across the South. The raiders killed three townspeople, including one black man, before a contingent of U.S. Marines under army Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived from Washington. The marines stormed the fire engine house where Brown and a part of his group were barricaded. The marines killed ten of the raiders, and seized Brown and the remainder to go on trial for treason, murder, and insurrection. Brown was quickly sentenced to die. The hanging took place on December 2, 1859. Jackson and the VMI corps of cadets were present as part of the security detail. The noted Northern abolitionist Frederick Douglass had refused to join Brown’s cause, saying it was a suicide mission. Not a single slave joined John Brown’s cause.
The John Brown raid divided the nation as nothing previously had ever done. It aroused absolute consternation and a deep fear throughout the South, but it generated tremendous excitement in the North. The raid intensified the bad feeling that existed between the two sections of the country. More important than anything else, the raid ended any rational discussion of the subject of slavery. From now on, it became a matter of intense emotional feeling. In the North, the abolitionist movement gained steady ground. In the South, resistance to forced emancipation accelerated, giving rise to more and more legal interpretations that states had the right to leave the Union if they chose. The space in which compromise could be achieved had shrunk to an almost meaningless dimension. John Brown’s raid had split the nation in half ideologically. It was a deadly blow.
In the presidential election of 1860, the dominant Democratic Party splintered into three antagonistic particles, allowing the new Republican Party with strong antislavery tendencies to sweep all the Northern states and give the presidency to Abraham Lincoln.
Between late 1860 and early 1861, the seven Deep South states seceded from the Union, but the eight remaining slave states stayed loyal. Leaders launched sincere efforts to reach some arrangement to bring the seven states back in. But Lincoln refused to budge. He would allow no compromise, not even a national referendum. Yet a popular vote undoubtedly would have approved a solution acceptable to both sides—emancipation and compensation to slave owners. In April 1861, Lincoln announced that the seceded states were in “rebellion” and he called on the remaining states to force the seven states back into the Union at the bayonet’s point. Lincoln’s call for troops forced the hand of four border states—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. They could not accept the idea of fighting the Deep South states, and they seceded as well.
The Civil War had begun. The terrible division of the nation was duplicated within Jackson’s own family. His beloved sister Laura, who had married and moved to Beverly in northwestern Virginia, became a Unionist, and thus in direct conflict with her brother. Thomas’s last contact with his sister was a kind letter he wrote to her on April 6, 1861, a week before Confederates bombarded Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, the event that set off the war.9
“There Stands Jackson Like a Stone Wall”
Thomas Jackson had no crisis of conscience when the nation split apart. Anna Jackson later explained his response: “He deplored the collision most earnestly. But he believed that the constitutional rights of the states had been invaded, and he never had a doubt as to where his allegiance was due. His sword belonged to his state.”1
On Sunday April 21, 1861, Virginia governor John Letcher ordered the Virginia Military Institute cadet corps to Richmond to teach new volunteers how to drill. Major Thomas J. Jackson led the cadets to Richmond’s fairgrounds west of the city, converted into an army camp. There the young cadets did excellent service in teaching the raw recruits the rudiments of marching.
Excerpted from "Such Troops as These"
Copyright © 2015 Bevin Alexander.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Jackson's Recipes for Victory 1
Chapter 1 The Making of a Soldier 9
Chapter 2 "There Stands Jackson Like a Stone Wall" 37
Chapter 3 Jackson Shows a Way to Victory 61
Chapter 4 The Shenandoah Valley Campaign 81
Chapter 5 The Disaster of the Seven Days 111
Chapter 6 Finding a Different Way to Win 121
Chapter 7 Second Manassas 141
Chapter 8 Calamity in Maryland 175
Chapter 9 Hollow Victory 203
Chapter 10 The Fatal Blow 235
Epilogue: The Cause Lost 273
Selected Bibliography 285
What People are Saying About This
“In his superb new book, Bevin Alexander continues to demonstrate the breadth of his historical knowledge, the keenness of his insight and his outstanding capacity to write a compelling and engaging narrative. This is the best book on Stonewall Jackson’s unique military genius and unmatched leadership published in many years. Alexander cuts through a century and a half of mythmaking about the Confederate high command to reveal not only Jackson’s true genius, but to also expose the failures of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis that cost the South any chance of victory.” —Colonel Jerry D. Morelock, PhD, U.S. Army, ret., Editor in Chief, Armchair General magazine
"[This] book belongs in the library of any serious student of military lore."General Frederick J. Kroesen, former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army and commander in chief, U.S. Army Europe
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The publisher would have you believe, as it wrote on the back cover, that the author "presents a compelling case for Jackson as the greatest general in American history". A sweeping statement that Alexander fails to prove, or even provide comparative examples that would move the debate into his corner. Alexander comes across as a one-man Stonewall Jackson cheering section who takes every opportunity to denigrate Robert E. Lee. Within the space of two sentences at the end of the book he castigates Lee as a "second-rate individual" and "deadweight" who single-handedly held down the Army of Northern Virginia, thus keeping it from being able to "ascend to glory". If you leave aside his outspoken bias against Lee, his breathless admiration for Jackson and his disregard for the contribution of most others, you might actually enjoy this narrative of Stonewall's greatest hits.