Thomas Jonathan (“Stonewall”) Jackson was born in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1824. His father and older sister died of typhoid fever when Jackson was just two years old. His mother raised Jackson and two siblings by herself until she was able to remarry in 1830. His new stepfather did not like his stepchildren, however, and they were sent to live with an uncle when Jackson’s mother died in 1831. Jackson’s older brother, Warren, died of tuberculosis in 1841.
Jackson was mostly self-educated when he managed to secure admission to West Point in 1842. He began his schooling there in last place academically, but through sheer determination and hard work managed to graduate 17th in a class of 52. He participated in the Mexican-American War as an artillery officer, and received two brevet promotions for bravery, as well as a Regular Army promotion to 1st Lieutenant.
He left the army to teach at Virginia Military Institute in 1851. Jackson was not popular with his students, because he memorized his lectures and delivered them verbatim in class. If a student asked a question, he simply backed up and repeated that part of the lecture. He also taught Sunday School for black persons at the local Presbyterian Church, and was apparently very popular with those students. He owned six slaves, but was widely known as a “fair and humane” master.
Jackson supervised a contingent of VMI artillerists during the 1859 hanging of John Brown. When war broke out, Virginia Governor John Letcher appointed him a Colonel. Jackson organized the military unit that would later be named after him: the Stonewall Brigade. He was known as a rigid disciplinarian, but was nonetheless popular with most of his men because he was personally fearless, and because his methods seemed to work.
He earned his nickname at First Bull Run, where another general rallied his own troops by saying, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians!” His direction of his troops on the battlefield had made him a legend by the time he was wounded in an accidental shooting by his own men on the Chancellorsville battlefield (2 May 1863). His left arm had to be amputated, and he died of complications from pneumonia on 10 May 1863. His wife, Mary Anna, moved to North Carolina but never remarried. She was known as the Widow of the Confederacy, and died in 1915.
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