Article abstract: The ablest and most renowned of Lee’s lieutenants, Jackson led daring marches and employed do-or-die battle tactics which resulted in key victories by which the Confederacy was sustained during the first two years of the Civil War.
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born January 21, 1824, in Clarksburg, Virginia (in modern West Virginia), a hilly, heavily forested region sparsely populated by the Scotch-Irish settlers who were Jackson’s forebears. Self-reliance was thrust upon the boy at an early age; the third of four children, he was orphaned by the age of seven. Taken in by an uncle, Cummins Jackson, he grew up in a farm environment in which he acquired numerous practical skills but very little schooling. Even as a teenager, however, Jackson clearly demonstrated the traits of physical courage, uncompromising moral integrity, and high ambition serviced by an iron will. Resolved to improve his lot by education, Jackson obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. The shambling young man from the hills cut a poor figure among the generally more sophisticated and better educated cadets. Yet, impervious to taunts, he earned the respect of his classmates by perseverance and phenomenal concentration, finishing seventeenth in a class of fifty-nine.
Shortly after he was graduated in 1846, Jackson was ordered to Mexico as a second lieutenant of artillery. He took part in the siege of Vera Cruz and distinguished himself in several battles during the advance on Mexico City in the summer of 1847. Jackson’s courage and effectiveness brought admiration from his superiors and a rapid succession of promotions; by the end of the war, at the age of twenty-two, he had attained the rank of brevet major. A photograph taken of him at that time shows a man with a trim figure (Jackson stood about five feet, ten inches, and weighed about 150 pounds) and a pleasant, earnest face characterized chiefly by the firm set of the mouth and clear, deep-set eyes that gaze out solemnly beneath a prominent brow. (The flowing beard that would give Jackson the appearance of an Old Testament prophet was to come later.)
Assigned to Fort Hamilton, New York, in 1848, Jackson entered the routine existence of a peacetime army garrison for the next two years. During this time, however, he became more and more deeply involved in religious pursuits. Jackson came to think of his rather frail health, with its persistent digestive disorders, as a visitation of Providence to lead him into more righteous ways. He was baptized, unsure whether he had been as a child, and from that time on, the course of his life was inseparable from his sense of consecration to the will of the Almighty.
In the spring of 1851, an instructor’s position at the Virginia Military Institute, founded twelve years earlier on the model of West Point, became available. Jackson was nominated for it, and, bored with his work as a peacetime army officer, he resigned his commission and reported to Lexington in July, 1851, to take up the duties of a professor of natural philosophy (or, in modern terminology, general science) and artillery tactics for the next nine years.
Not by any account an inspiring teacher, Jackson nevertheless mastered topics in which he had no formal credentials, thereby earning at least the grudging respect of his students. Jackson also came to be regarded as something of an eccentric for his rigid ways and odd personal mannerisms—for example, his habit of frequently raising his left arm, ostensibly to improve circulation, and his silent grimace serving in place of a laugh—which would be remarked on by his troops during the Civil War and give color and distinction to the legend of “Old Jack.”
Settled in his new life, Jackson turned his thoughts to marriage. Seeking a wife from the religious community of Lexington, in 1853 he married Eleanor Junkin, the daughter of the Reverend Dr. George Junkin. The union was tragically brief; Eleanor died the next year in childbirth. Two years later and after a summer tour of Europe that restored him from the lethargy of mourning, Jackson courted and married Mary Anna Morrison, the daughter of another clergyman, who would remain his devoted wife until his death and would eventually bear him a daughter.
Life for the Jacksons during the next three years was characterized by affection, tranquillity, and a mutual sense of religious purpose (Jackson was by now a deacon of the Presbyterian Church and maintained a Sunday school for black slaves). The impending events of the Civil War were to bring all that to an end. While not a champion of either slavery or secession, Jackson felt loyalty deeply rooted to his native soil, and when Virginia seceded...
(The entire section is 1973 words.)