Stonewall Jackson was Robert E. Lee’s most trusted officer, catapulting to the rank of major general in 1861. By turns courageous, eccentric, and secretive, he was unfailingly effective as a leader, driving himself as hard as his men. His death—of pneumonia, after being shot by friendly fire—inspired legendary tributes.
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). After the death of his parents, young Thomas spent the majority of his youth at his uncle’s gristmill, where he developed a strong work ethic. He graduated 17th in a class of 59 at West Point and served in the Mexican-American War, where he first met Lee. Distinguishing himself in both judgment and bravery, he was promoted to the rank of major.
After a decade of teaching at Virginia Military Institute, Jackson accepted orders at the outbreak of the Civil War as colonel of the Virginia militia. He earned his nickname “Stonewall” from his resolute stature during the First Battle of Bull Run, refusing to crumble under the heavy Union assault. Shortly thereafter, in November 1861, he was promoted to major general and sent to the Shenandoah Valley, where he would defend the South from Federal troops headed towards Richmond.
Jackson engineered and commanded successful military campaigns at Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic the following spring. His corps distinguished themselves at Second Bull Run and at Antietam. In December of 1862, Jackson led the Second Corps to victory at Fredericksburg, followed by the famous flank march at Chancellorsville in May. On the night of the victory, Jackson was mistakenly shot by Confederate troops, leading to the amputation of his left arm. When Lee heard of the injury, he commented, “Give General Jackson my affectionate regards, and say to him: he has lost his left arm but I my right.”
Stonewall Jackson died eight days later from pneumonia. The doctor attending him recorded his final words: “Let us cross over the river,” Jackson said, a look of serenity on his face, “and rest under the shade of the trees.”