Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson: A Hero is Born

During the American Civil War 150 years ago, on October 7, 1861, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was promoted to major general in the Confederate Army. Jackson had earned his nickname a few months earlier during the First Battle of Bull Run when he played a pivotal role in the Confederate victory. During the height of the battle, Brigadier General Barnard Bee cried out, "There stands Jackson like a stone wall!", and a legend was born. In this excerpt from Ethan S. Rafuse's Stonewall Jackson: A Biography, Jackson is preparing his troops for the upcoming battle.

Jackson had his men up early on Sunday, July 21, but not as early as McDowell had his. At around 6:00 A.M., the sound of artillery and small arms fire could be heard upstream from Jackson’s position. A little over three hours later Jackson received a message reporting that the Federals had crossed Bull Run a few miles above the Stone Bridge that carried the Warrenton Turnpike over the creek and marked the Confederate left—and his command was needed to help deal with the threat. Jackson responded with alacrity and quickly moved his command to the vicinity of the Stone Bridge but, after listening awhile to the sound of an intense fight to the west, ordered his command to move in that direction. At around noon, Jackson reached the eastern border of a large open plateau on which the home of Judith Henry sat.

Upon reaching Henry Hill, Jackson and his men were greeted with the sight of hundreds of bloodied and exhausted Confederate troops. Included among them was artillery Capt. John Imboden. From Imboden and other sources, Jackson learned that the brigades of Col. Nathan Evans from Beauregard’s army and Brig. Gen. Bernard Bee’s and Col. Francis Bartow’s from Johnston’s army had been overwhelmed after a tough fight on Matthews Hill with a massive Union force pushing south from a crossing of Bull Run located near Sudley Church. Imboden also reported that he had used his three guns to support their fight and cover their withdrawal but had been compelled to pull back. “I’ll support your battery,” Jackson replied, “Unlimber here.” Imboden informed Jackson that he had nearly exhausted his ammunition in the course of the earlier engagement and intended to continue moving to the rear in search of ammunition to replenish his caissons, but Jackson persuaded him not to just yet.

Jackson then began methodically posting his five regiments in a tree-line in support of Imboden’s position and, to bolster the position, brought up the four guns of the Rockbridge Artillery and two guns from a Richmond battery. Meanwhile, the forces that had been so roughly handled on Matthews Hill began to rally in the area behind the right of Jackson’s line. One of their commanders, Bee, rode over to Jackson and excitedly reported, “General, they are driving us!” “Sir,” Jackson sternly replied after quickly looking over the field, “we will give them the bayonet.”


Ethan S. Rafuse is professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He is the author of several books about the Civil War, including Stonewall Jackson: A Biography; A Single Grand Victory: The First Campaign and Battle of Manassas; McClellan's War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union; and Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederacy, 1863–1865.

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