Stonewall Jackson at West Point


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Stonewall Jackson Free Online Books | Stonewall Jackson in Civil War | Stonewall Jackson Biography | Stonewall Jackson Obituary | Stonewall Jackson's Last Words | Stonewall Jackson Birthday | Stonewall Jackson Quotes

Chapter I

Stonewall Jackson Index | Stonewall Jackson at West Point | Stonewall Jackson and Mexican War | Stonewall Jackson Lexington | Stonewall Jackson and Secession | Stonewall Jackson and Harper's Ferry | Stonewall Jackson at Battle of Bull Run | Stonewall Jackson at Romney | Stonewall Jackson at Kernstown | Battle of McDowell | Battle of Winchester | Battle of Cross Keys and Port Republic | Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign | The Seven Days Battle | Battle of Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill | Battle of Cedar Run | Second Battle of Bull Run | Battle of Second Bull Run Conclusion | Battle of Harper's Ferry | Battle of Sharpsburg | Battle of Fredericksburg | The Army of Northern Virginia | Stonewall Jackson's Winter Quarters | Battle of Chancellorsville | Battle of Chancellorsville Conclusion

In the first quarter of the century, on the hills which stand above the Ohio River, but in different States of the Union, were born two children, destined, to all appearance, to lives of narrow interests and thankless toil. They were the sons of poor parents, without influence or expectations; their native villages, deep in the solitudes of the West, and remote from the promise and possibilities of great cities, offered no road to fortune. In the days before the railway, escape from the wilderness, except for those with long purses, was very difficult; and for those who remained, if their means were small, the farm and the store were the only occupations. But a farmer without capital was little better than a hired hand; trade was confined to the petty dealings of a country market; and although thrift and energy, even under such depressing conditions, might eventually win a competence, the most ardent ambition could hardly hope for more. Never was an obscure existence more irretrievably marked out than for these children of the Ohio; and yet, before either had grown grey, the names of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, and of Stonewall Jackson, Lieutenant-General in the Confederate Army, were household words in both America and Europe. Descendants of the pioneers, those hardy borderers, half soldiers and half

1  Copyright 1897 by Longmans, Green, & Co.


farmers, who held and reclaimed, through long years of Indian warfare, the valleys and prairies of the West, they inherited the best attributes of a frank and valiant race. Simple yet wise, strong yet gentle, they were gifted with all the qualities which make leaders of men. Actuated by the highest principles, they both ennobled the cause for which they fought; and while the opposition of such kindred natures adds to the dramatic interest of the Civil War, the career of the great soldier, although a theme perhaps less generally attractive, may be followed as profitably as that of the great statesmen. Providence dealt with them very differently. The one was struck down by a mortal wound before his task was well begun; his life, to all human seeming, was given in vain, and his name will ever be associated with the mournful memories of a lost cause and a vanished army. The other, ere he fell beneath the assassin’s stroke, had seen the abundant fruits of his mighty labours; his sun set in a cloudless sky. And yet the resemblance between them is very close. Both dared

For that sweet mother-land which gave them birth
Nobly to do, nobly to die. Their names,
Graven on memorial columns, are a song
Heard in the future; . . . more than wall
And rampart, their examples reach a hand
Far thro’ all years, and everywhere they meet
And kindle generous purpose, and the strength
To mould it into action pure as theirs.

Jackson, in one respect, was more fortunate than Lincoln. Although born to poverty, he came of a Virginia family which was neither unknown nor undistinguished, and as showing the influences which went to form his character, its history and traditions may be briefly related.

It is an article of popular belief that the State of Virginia, the Old Dominion of the British Crown, owes her fame to the blood of the English Cavaliers. The idea, however, has small foundation in fact. Not a few of her great names are derived from a less romantic source, and the Confederate general, like many of his neighbours in the western portion of the State, traced his


origin to the Lowlands of Scotland. An ingenious author of the last century, himself born on Tweed-side, declares that those Scotch families whose patronymics end in “son,” although numerous and respectable, and descended, as the distinctive syllable denotes, from the Vikings, have seldom been pre-eminent either in peace or war. And certainly, as regards the Jacksons of bygone centuries, the assertion seems justified. The name is almost unknown to Border history. In neither lay nor legend has it been preserved; and even in the “black lists” of the wardens, where the more enterprising of the community were continually proclaimed as thieves and malefactors, it is seldom honoured with notice. The omission might be held as evidence that the family was of peculiar honesty, but, in reality, it is only a proof that it was insignificant. It is not improbable that the Jacksons were one of the landless clans, whose only heritages were their rude “peel” towers, and who, with no acknowledged chief of their own race, followed, as much for protection as for plunder, the banner of some more powerful house. In course of time, when the Marches grew peaceful and morals improved, when cattle-lifting, no longer profitable, ceased to be an honourable occupation, such humbler marauders drifted away into the wide world, leaving no trace behind, save the grey ruins of their grim fortalices, and the incidental mention of some probably disreputable scion in a chapman’s ballad. Neither mark nor memory of the Jacksons remains in Scotland. We only know that some members of the clan, impelled probably by religious persecution, made their way to Ulster, where a strong colony of Lowlanders had already been established.

Under a milder sky and a less drastic government the expatriated Scots lost nothing of their individuality. Masterful and independent from the beginning, masterful and independent they remained, inflexible of purpose, impatient of justice, and staunch to their ideals. Something, perhaps, they owed to contact with the Celt. Wherever the Ulster folk have made their home, the breath of the wholesome North has followed them, preserving


untainted their hereditary virtues. Shrewd, practical, and thrifty, prosperity has consistently rewarded them; and yet, in common with the Irishmen of English stock, they have found in the trade of arms the most congenial outlet for their energies. An abiding love of peace can hardly be enumerated amongst their more prominent characteristics; and it is a remarkable fact, which, unless there is some mysterious property in the air, can only be explained by the intermixture of races, that Ireland “within the Pale” has been peculiarly prolific of military genius. As England has bred admirals, so the sister isle has bred soldiers. The tenacious courage of the Anglo-Saxon, blended with the spirit of that people which above all others delights in war, has proved on both sides of the Atlantic a most powerful combination of martial qualities. The same mixed strain which gave England Wolfe and Wellington, the Napiers and the Lawrences, has given America some of her greatest captains; and not the least famous of her Presidents is that General Jackson who won the battle of New Orleans in 1814. So, early in the century the name became known beyond the seas; but whether the same blood ran in the veins of the Confederate general and of the soldier President is a matter of some doubt. The former, in almost every single respect, save his warm heart, was the exact converse of the typical Irishman, the latter had a hot temper and a ready wit. Both, however, were undeniably fond of fighting, and a letter still preserved attests that their ancestors had lived in the same parish of Londonderry.1

1748   John Jackson, the great-grandfather of our hero, landed in America in 1748, and it was not long before he set his face towards the wilderness. The emigrants from Ulster appear as a rule to have moved westward. The States along the coast were already colonised, and, despite its fertility, the country was little to their taste. But beyond the border, in the broad Appalachian valley which runs from the St. Lawrence to Alabama, on the

1  This letter is in the possession of Thomas Jackson Arnold, Esquire, of Beverly, West Virginia, nephew of General “Stonewall” Jackson.


banks of the great rivers, the Susquehanna, the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee, they found a land after their own heart, a soil with whose properties they were familiar, the sweet grasses and soft contours of their native hills. Here, too, there was ample room for their communities, for the West was as yet but sparsely tenanted. No inconsiderable number, penetrating far into the interior, settled eventually about the headwaters of the Potomac and the James. This highland region was the debatable ground of the United States. So late as 1756 the State of Virginia extended no further than the crests of the Blue Ridge. Two hundred miles westward forts flying French colours dominated the valley of the Ohio, and the wild and inhospitable tract, a very labyrinth of mountains, which lay between, was held by the fierce tribes of the “Six Nations” and the Leni-Lenape. Two years later the French had been driven back to Canada; but it was not till near the close of the century that the savage was finally dispossessed of his spacious hunting grounds.

It was on these green uplands, where fight and foray were as frequent as once on the Scottish border, that John Jackson and his wife, a fellow passenger to America, by name Elizabeth Cummins, first pitched their camp, and here is still the home of their descendants.

January 21, 1824   In the little town of Clarksburg, now the county-seat of Harrison, but then no more than a village in the Virginia backwoods, Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born on January 21, 1824. His father was a lawyer, clever and popular, who had inherited a comfortable patrimony. The New World had been generous to the Jacksons. The emigrant of 1748 left a valuable estate, and his many sons were uniformly prosperous. Nor was their affluence the reward of energy and thrift alone, for the lands reclaimed by axe and plough were held by a charter of sword and musket. The redskin fought hard for his ancestral domains. The stockaded forts, which stood as a citadel of refuge in every settlement, were often the scene of fierce attack and weary leaguer, and the nursing mothers of the frontier families were no strangers to war and bloodshed. The last great


battle with the Indians east of the Ohio was fought in 1774, but the military experience of the pioneers was not confined to the warfare of the border. John Jackson and his sons bore arms in the War of Independence, and the trained riflemen of West Virginia were welcome recruits in the colonial ranks. With the exception of the Highlanders of the ’45, who had been deported in droves to the plantations, no race had less cause to remain loyal to the Crown than the men of Ulster blood. Even after the siege of Londonderry they had been proscribed and persecuted; and in the War of Independence the fiercest enemies of King George were the descendants of the same Scotch-Irish who had held the north of Ireland for King William.

In Washington’s campaigns more than one of the Jacksons won rank and reputation; and when peace was established they married into influential families. Nor was the next generation less successful. Judges, senators, and soldiers upheld the honour of the name, and proved the worth of the ancestral stock. They were marked, it is said, by strong and characteristic features, by a warm feeling of clanship, a capacity for hard work, and a decided love of roving. Some became hunters, others explorers, and the race is now scattered from Virginia to Oregon. A passion for litigation was a general failing, and none of them could resist the fascination of machinery. Every Jackson owned a mill or factory of some sort—many of them more than one—and their ventures were not always profitable. Jackson’s father, among others, found it easier to make money than to keep it. Generous and incautious, he became deeply involved by becoming security for others; high play increased his embarrassments; and when he died in 1827 every vestige of his property was swept away. His young widow, left with three small children, two sons and a daughter, became dependent on the assistance of her kinsfolk for a livelihood, and on the charity of the Freemasons for a roof. When Thomas, her second son, was six years old, she married a Captain Woodson; but her second matrimonial venture was not more fortunate than her first. Her husband's means were small, and necessity


soon compelled her to commit her two boys to the care of their father’s relatives.

1831   Within a year the children stood round her dying bed, and at a very early age our little Virginian found himself a penniless orphan. But, as he never regretted his poverty, so he never forgot his mother. To the latest hour of his life he loved to recall her memory, and years after she had passed away her influence still remained. Her beauty, her counsels, their last parting, and her happy death, for she was a woman of deep religious feeling, made a profound impression on him. To his childhood’s fancy she was the embodiment of every grace; and so strong had been the sympathy between them, that even in the midst of his campaigns she was seldom absent from his thoughts. After her death the children found a home with their father’s half-brother, who had inherited the family estates, and was one of the largest slave-owners in the district. Their surroundings, however, could hardly be called luxurious. Life on the Ohio was very different from life on the coast. The western counties of Virginia were still practically on the frontier of the United States. The axe had thinned the interminable woods; mills were busy on each mountain stream, and the sunny valleys were rich in fruit and corn. But as yet there was little traffic. Steam had not yet come to open up the wilderness. The population was small and widely scattered; and the country was cut off as much by nature as by distance from the older civilisation of the East. The parallel ranges of the Alleghenies, with their pathless forests and great canyons, were a formidable barrier to all intercourse. The West was a world in itself. The only outlets eastward were the valleys of the Potomac and the James, the one leading to Washington, the other to Richmond; and so seldom were they used that the yeomen of the Ohio uplands were almost as much opposed, both in character and in mode of life, to the planters beyond the Blue Ridge, as the Covenanters of Bothwell Brig to the gentlemen of Dundee’s Life Guards.

Although the sturdy independence and simple habits of


the borderers were not affected by contact with wealthier communities, isolation was not in every way a blessing. Served by throngs of slaves, the great landowners of East Virginia found leisure to cultivate the arts which make life more pleasant. The rambling houses on the banks of the James, the Rappahannock, and the Potomac, built on the model of English manors, had their libraries and picture-galleries. A classical academy was the boast of every town, and a university training was considered as essential to the son of a planter as to the heir of an English squire. A true aristocracy, in habit and in lineage, the gentlemen of Virginia long swayed the councils of the nation, and among them were many who were intimate with the best representatives of European culture. Beyond the Alleghenies there were no facilities for education; and even had opportunities offered few would have had the leisure to enjoy them. Labour was scarce, either slave or hired. The owners of farms were their own managers and overseers, and young men had to serve a practical apprenticeship to lumbering and agriculture. To this rule, despite his uncle’s wealth, Jackson was no exception. He had to fight his own battle, to rub shoulders with all sorts and conditions of men, and to hold his own as best he could.

It was a hard school, then, in which he grew to manhood. But for that very reason it was a good school for the future soldier. For a man who has to push his own way in the world, more especially if he has to carve it with his sword, a boyhood passed amidst surroundings which boast of no luxury and demand much endurance, is the best probation. Von Moltke has recorded that the comfortless routine of the Military Academy at Copenhagen inured him to privation, and Jackson learned the great lesson of self-reliance in the rough life of his uncle's homestead.

The story of his early years is soon told. As a blue-eyed child, with long fair hair, he was curiously thoughtful and exceedingly affectionate. His temper was generous and cheerful. His truthfulness was proverbial, and his little sister found in him the kindest of playmates


and the sturdiest of protectors. He was distinguished, too, for his politeness, although good manners were by no means rare in the rustic West. The manly courtesy of the true American is no exotic product; nor is the universal deference to woman peculiar to any single class. The farmer of the backwoods might be ignorant of the conventionalities, but the simplicity and unselfishness which are the root of all good breeding could be learned in West Virginia as readily as in Richmond.

Once, tempted by his brother, the boy left his adopted home, and the two children, for the elder was no more than twelve, wandered down the Ohio to the Mississippi, and spent the summer on a lonely and malarious island, cutting wood for passing steamers. No one opposed their going, and it seems to have been considered quite natural in that independent community that the veriest urchins should be allowed to seek their fortunes for themselves. Returning, ragged and fever-stricken, the little adventurers submitted once more to the routine of the farm and to the intermittent studies of a country school. After his failure as a man of business, our small hero showed no further inclination to seek his fortunes far afield. He was fond of his home. His uncle, attracted by his steadiness and good sense, treated him more as a companion than a child; and in everything connected with the farm, as well as in the sports of the country side, the boy took the keenest interest. Delicate by nature, with a tendency to consumption inherited from his mother, his physique and constitution benefited by a life of constant exercise and wholesome toil. At school he was a leader in every game, and his proficiency in the saddle proved him a true Virginian. Fox-hunting and horse-racing were popular amusements, and his uncle not only kept a stable of well-bred horses, but had a four-mile race-course on his own grounds. As a light-weight jockey the future general was a useful member of the household, and it was the opinion of the neighbourhood that “if a horse had any winning qualities whatever in him, young Jackson never failed to bring them out.”

In the management of the estate he learned early to put


his shoulder to the wheel. Transporting timber from the forest to the saw-mill was one of his most frequent tasks, and tradition records that if a tree were to be moved from ground of unusual difficulty, or if there were one more gigantic than the rest, the party of labourers was put under his control, and the work was sure to be effected.

One who knew him well has described his character. “He was a youth of exemplary habits, of indomitable will and undoubted courage. He was not what is nowadays termed brilliant, but he was one of those untiring, matter-of-fact persons who would never give up an undertaking until he accomplished his object. He learned slowly, but what he got into his head he never forgot. He was not quick to decide, except when excited, and then, when he made up his mind to do a thing, he did it on short notice and in quick time. Once, while on his way to school, an overgrown rustic behaved rudely to one of the school-girls. Jackson fired up, and told him he must apologise at once or he would thrash him. The big fellow, supposing that he was more than a match for him, refused, whereupon Jackson pitched into him, and gave him a severe pounding.”

His surroundings, then, although neither refined nor elevating, were not unwholesome; but of the moral influences to which he was subjected, so much cannot be said, while the stock of piety that the original settlers brought with them had not entirely vanished. There was much irregularity of life; few men gave any thought to religion, and young Jackson drifted with the tide. Yet there was something that preserved him from contamination. His uncle, kindest of guardians, though irreligious and a sportsman, was scrupulously exacting in matters of integrity and veracity. His associates included the most respectable, yet the morals of the sporting fraternity of a frontier settlement are not likely to have been edifying. That his nephew, as he himself declares, was an ardent frequenter of races, “house-raisings,”1 and country dances is hardly surprising, and it is assuredly no ground whatever for reproach. Nor is it strange that, amid much laxity, he should have retained

1  Anglice, “house-warmings.”


his integrity, that his regard for truth should have remained untarnished, and that he should have consistently held aloof from all that was mean and vile. His mother was no mere memory to that affectionate nature.

His good qualities, however, would scarcely of themselves have done more than raise him to a respectable rank amongst the farmers of West Virginia. A spur was wanting to urge him beyond the limits of so contracted an existence, and that spur was supplied by an honourable ambition. Penniless and dependent as he was, he still remembered that his ancestors had been distinguished beyond the confines of their native county, and this legitimate pride in his own people, a far-off reflection, perhaps, of the traditional Scottish attitude towards name and pedigree, exercised a marked influence on his whole career. “To prove himself worthy of his forefathers was the purpose of his early manhood. It gives us a key to many of the singularities of his character; to his hunger for self-improvement; to his punctilious observance, from a boy, of the essentials of gentlemanly bearing, and to the uniform assertion of his self-respect.”1

1841   It was his openly expressed wish for larger advantages than those offered by a country school that brought about his opportunity. In 1841, at the age of seventeen, he became a constable of the county. A sort of minor sheriff, he had to execute the decrees of the justices, to serve their warrants, to collect small debts, and to summon witnesses. It was a curious office for a boy, but a year or two before he had been seized with some obscure form of dyspepsia, and the idea that a life on horseback, which his duties necessitated, might restore his health, had induced his relatives to obtain the post for him. Jackson himself seems to have been influenced by the hope that his salary would help towards his education, and by the wish to become independent of his uncle’s bounty. His new duties were uncongenial, but, despite his youth, he faced his responsibilities with a determination which men of maturer years might well have envied. In everything

1  Dabney, vol. i, p. 29.


he was scrupulously exact. His accounts were accurately kept; he was punctuality itself, and his patience was inexhaustible. For two years he submitted cheerfully to the drudgery of his position, re-establishing his health, but without advancing a single step towards the goal of his ambition. But before he was nineteen his hopes were unexpectedly realised.

1842   The Military Academy at West Point not only provided, at the expense of the nation, a sound and liberal education, but offered an opening to an honourable career. Nominations to cadetships were made by the Secretary of War, on the recommendation of members of Congress, and in 1842 a vacancy occurred which was to be filled by a youth from the Congressional District in which Clarksburg was included. Jackson, informed of the chance by a friendly blacksmith, eagerly embraced it, and left no stone unturned to attain his object. Every possible influence that could be brought to bear on the member for the district was immediately enlisted. To those who objected that his education was too imperfect to enable him even to enter the Academy, he replied that he had the necessary application, that he hoped he had the capacity, and that he was at least determined to try. His earnestness and courage won upon all. His application was strongly backed by those who had learned to value his integrity and exactness, and Mr. Hays, the member for the district, wrote that he would do all in his power to secure the appointment. No sooner had the letter been read than Jackson determined to go at once to Washington, in order that he might be ready to proceed to West Point without a moment’s delay. Packing a few clothes into a pair of saddlebags, he mounted his horse, and accompanied by a servant, who was to bring the animal home, rode off to catch the coach at Clarksburg. It had already passed, but galloping on, he overtook it at the next stage, and on his arrival at Washington, Mr. Hays at once introduced him to the Secretary of War. On presenting him, he explained the disadvantages of his education, but begged indulgence for him on account of his pluck and determination. The Secretary plied him with questions,


but Jackson was not to be diverted from his purpose; and so good was the impression which he made that he then and there received his warrant, accompanied by some excellent advice. “Sir,” said the Secretary, “you have a good name. Go to West Point, and the first man who insults you, knock him down, and have it charged to my account!”

Mr. Hays proposed that the new-fledged cadet should stay with him for a few days in order to see the sights of Washington. But as the Academy was already in session, Jackson, with a strong appreciation of the value of time, begged to decline. He was content to ascend to the roof of the Capitol, then still building, and look once on the magnificent panorama of which it is the centre.

At his feet lay the city, with its busy streets and imposing edifices. To the south ran the Potomac, bearing on its ample tide the snowy sails of many merchantmen, and spanned by a bridge more than a mile in length. Over against the Capitol, looking down on that wide-watered shore, stood the white porch of Arlington, once the property of Washington, and now the home of a young officer of the United States army, Robert Edward Lee. Beyond Arlington lay Virginia, Jackson’s native State, stretching back in leafy hills and verdant pastures, and far and low upon the western horizon his own mountains loomed faintly through the summer haze. It was a strange freak of fortune that placed him at the very outset of his career within sight of the theatre of his most famous victories. It was a still stranger caprice that was to make the name of the simple country youth, ill-educated and penniless, as terrible in Washington as the name of the Black Douglas was once in Durham and Carlisle.

1842   It was in July 1842 that one of America's greatest soldiers first answered to his name on the parade-ground at West Point. Shy and silent, clad in Virginia homespun, with the whole of his personal effects carried in a pair of weather-stained saddle bags, the impression that he made on his future comrades, as the Secretary of War appears to have anticipated, was by no means favourable. The West Point cadets were then, as now, remarkable


for their upright carriage, the neatness of their appointments, and their soldierly bearing towards their officers and towards each other. The grey coatee, decorated with bright buttons and broad gold lace, the shako with tall plumes, the spotless white trousers, set off the trim young figures to the best advantage; and the full-dress parade of the cadet battalion, marked by discipline and precision in every movement, is still one of the most attractive of military spectacles.

These natty young gentlemen were not slow to detect the superficial deficiencies of the newcomer. A system of practical joking, carried to extremes, had long been a feature of West Point life. Jackson, with the rusticity of the backwoods apparent at every turn, promised the highest sport. And here it may be written, once for all, that however nearly in point of character the intended victim reached the heroic standard, his outward graces were few. His features were well cut, his forehead high, his mouth small and firm, and his complexion fresh. Yet the ensemble was not striking, nor was it redeemed by grave eyes and a heavy jaw, a strong but angular frame, a certain awkwardness of movement, and large hands and feet. His would-be tormentors, however, soon found they had mistaken their man. The homespun jacket covered a natural shrewdness which had been sharpened by responsibility. The readiness of resource which had characterised the whilom constable was more than a match for their most ingenious schemes; and baffled by a temper which they were powerless to disturb, their attempts at persecution, apparently more productive of amusement to their victim than to themselves, were soon abandoned.

Rough as was the life of the Virginia border, it had done something to fit this unpromising recruit for the give and take of his new existence. Culture might be lacking in the distant West, but the air men breathed was at least the blessed breath of independence. Each was what he made himself. A man’s standing depended on his success in life, and success was within the reach of all. There, like his neighbours, Jackson had learned to take his


own part; like them he acknowledged no superiority save that of actual merit, and believing that the richest prize might be won by energy and perseverance, without diffidence or misgiving he faced his future. He knew nothing of the life of the great nation of which he was so insignificant an atom, of the duties of the army, of the manners of its officers. He knew only that even as regards education he had an uphill task before him. He was indeed on the threshold of a new world, with his own way to make, and apparently no single advantage in his favour. But he came of a fighting race; he had his own inflexible resolution to support him, and his determination expressed itself in his very bearing. Four cadets, three of whom were afterwards Confederate generals,1 were standing together when he first entered the gates of the Academy. “There was about him,” says one of them, “so sturdy an expression of purpose that I remarked, ‘That fellow looks as if he had come to stay.’ ”

Jackson’s educational deficiencies were more difficult of conquest than the goodwill of his comrades. His want of previous training placed him at a great disadvantage. He commenced his career amongst “the Immortals” (the last section of the class), and it was only by the most strenuous efforts that he maintained his place. His struggles at the blackboard were often painful to witness. In the struggle to solve a problem he invariably covered both his face and uniform with chalk, and he perspired so freely, even in the coldest weather, that the cadets, with boyish exaggeration, declared that whenever “the General,” as he had at once been dubbed in honour of his namesake, the victor of New Orleans, got a difficult proposition he was certain to flood the classroom. It was all he could do to pass his first examination.2

"We were studying," writes a classmate, "algebra and analytical geometry that winter, and Jackson was very low in his class. Just before the signal lights out he would pile up his grate with anthracite coal, and lying prone before it on the floor, would work away at his lessons by

1  A. P. Hill, G. E. Pickett, and D. H. Maury.
2  Communicated by General John Gibbon, U.S.A.


the glare of the fire, which scorched his very brain, till a late hour of the night. This evident determination to succeed not only aided his own efforts directly, but impressed his instructors in his favour. If he could not master the portion of the text-book assigned for the day, he would not pass it over, but continued to work at it till he understood it. Thus it often happened that when he was called out to repeat his task, he had to reply that he had not yet reached the lesson of the day, but was employed upon the previous one. There was then no alternative but to mark him as unprepared, a proceeding which did not in the least affect his resolution.”

Despite all drawbacks, his four years at the Academy were years of steady progress. “The Immortals” were soon left far behind. At the end of the first twelve months he stood fifty-first in a class of seventy-two, but when he entered the first class, and commenced the study of logic, that bugbear to the majority, he shot from near the foot of the class to the top. In the final examination he came out seventeenth, notwithstanding that the less successful years were taken into account, and it was a frequent remark amongst his brother cadets that if the course had been a year longer he would have come out first. His own satisfaction was complete. Not only was his perseverance rewarded by a place sufficiently high to give him a commission in the artillery, but his cravings for knowledge had been fully gratified. West Point was much more than a military school. It was a university, and a university under the very strictest discipline, where the science of the soldier formed only a portion of the course. Subjects which are now considered essential to a military education were not taught at all. The art of war gave place to ethics and engineering; and mathematics and chemistry were considered of far more importance than topography and fortification. Yet with French, history, and drawing, it will be admitted that the course was sufficiently comprehensive. No cadet was permitted to graduate unless he had reached a high standard of proficiency. Failures were numerous. In the four years the classes grew gradually


smaller, and the survival of the fittest was a principle of administration which was rigidly observed.

The fact, then, that a man had passed the final examination at West Point was a sufficient certificate that he had received a thorough education, that his mental faculties had been strengthened by four years of hard work, and that he was well equipped to take his place amongst his fellow men. And it was more than this. Four years of the strictest discipline, for the cadets were allowed only one vacation during their whole course, were sufficient to break in even the most careless and the most slovenly to neatness, obedience, and punctuality. Such habits are not easily unlearned, and the West Point certificate was thus a guarantee of qualities that are everywhere useful. It did not necessarily follow that because a cadet won a commission he remained a soldier. Many went to civil life, and the Academy was an excellent school for men who intended to find a career as surveyors or engineers. The great railway system of the United States was then in its infancy; its development offered endless possibilities, and the work of extending civilisation in a vast and rapidly improving country had perhaps more attraction for the ambitious than the career of arms. The training and discipline of West Point were not, then, concentrated in one profession, but were disseminated throughout the States; and it was with this purpose that the institution of the Academy had been approved by Congress.

In the wars with England the militia of the different States had furnished the means both of resistance and aggression, but their grave shortcomings, owing principally to the lack of competent officers, had been painfully conspicuous. After 1814, the principle that the militia was the first line of defence was still adhered to, and the standing army was merely maintained as a school for generals and a frontier guard. It was expected, however, that in case of war the West Point graduates would supply the national forces with a large number of officers who, despite their civil avocations, would at least be familiar with drill and discipline. This fact is to be borne in mind


in view of the Civil War. The demands of the enormous armies then put into the field were utterly unprecedented, and the supply of West Pointers was altogether inadequate to meet them; but the influence of the Military Academy was conspicuous throughout. Not a few of the most able generals were little more than boys; and yet, as a rule, they were far superior to those who came from the militia or volunteers. Four years of strict routine, of constant drill, and implicit subordination, at the most impressionable period of life, proved a far better training for command than the desultory and intermittent service of a citizen army.

During his stay at West Point Jackson’s development was not all in one direction. He gained in health and strength. When he joined he had not yet attained his full height, which fell short of six feet by two inches. The constant drilling developed his frame. He grew rapidly, and soon acquired the erect bearing of the soldier; but notwithstanding the incessant practice in riding, fencing and marching, his anatomical peculiarities still asserted themselves. It was with great difficulty that he mastered the elementary process of keeping step, and despite his youthful proficiency as a jockey, the regulation seat of the dragoon, to be acquired on the back of a rough cavalry trooper, was an accomplishment which he never mastered. If it be added that his shyness never thawed, that he was habitually silent, it is hardly surprising to find that he had few intimates at the Academy. Caring nothing for the opinion of others, and tolerant of association rather than seeking it, his self-contained nature asked neither sympathy nor affection. His studious habits never left him. His only recreation was a rapid walk in the intervals of the classes. His whole thoughts and his whole energy were centred on doing his duty, and passing into the army with all the credit he could possibly attain. Although he was thoroughly happy at West Point, life to him, even at that early age, was a serious business, and most seriously he set about it.

Still, unsociable and irresponsive as he was, there were those in whose company he found pleasure, cadets who had


studied subjects not included in the West Point course, and from whom there was something to be learned. It was an unwritten law of the Academy that those of the senior year should not make companions of their juniors. But Jackson paid no heed to the traditionary code of etiquette. His acquaintances were chosen regardless of standing, as often from the class below him as his own; and in yet another fashion his strength of character was displayed. Towards those who were guilty of dishonourable conduct he was merciless almost to vindictiveness. He had his own code of right and wrong, and from one who infringed it he would accept neither apology nor excuse. His musket, which was always scrupulously clean, was one day replaced by another in most slovenly order. He called the attention of his captain to his loss, and described the private mark by which it was to be identified. That evening, at the inspection of arms, it was found in the hands of another cadet, who, when taxed with his offence, endeavoured to shield himself by falsehood. Jackson’s anger was unbounded, and for the moment his habitual shyness completely disappeared. He declared that such a creature should not continue a member of the Academy, and demanded that he should be tried by court-martial and expelled. It was only by means of the most persevering remonstrances on the part of his comrades and his officers that he could be induced to waive his right of pressing the charge. His regard for duty, too, was no less marked than his respect for truth. During one half-year his room-mate was orderly-sergeant of his company, and this good-natured if perfunctory young gentleman often told Jackson that he need not attend the réveille roll-call, at which every cadet was supposed to answer to his name. Not once, however, did he avail himself of the privilege.1

At the same time he was not altogether so uncompromising as at first sight he appeared. At West Point, as in after years, those who saw him interested or excited noticed that his smile was singularly sweet, and the cadets knew that it revealed a warm heart within. Whenever, from sickness or misfortune, a comrade stood in need of

1  Communicated by Colonel P. T. Turnley.


sympathy, Jackson was the first to offer it, and he would devote himself to his help with a tenderness so womanly that it sometimes excited ridicule. Sensitive he was not, for of vanity he had not the slightest taint; but of tact and sensibility he possessed more than his share. If he was careless of what others thought of him, he thought much of them. Though no one made more light of pain on his own account, no one could have more carefully avoided giving pain to others, except when duty demanded it; and one of his classmates1 testifies that he went through the trying ordeal of four years at West Point without ever having a hard word or bad feeling from cadet or professor.

Nor did his comrades fail to remember that when he was unjustly blamed he chose to bear the imputation silently rather than expose those who were really at fault. And so, even in that lighthearted battalion, his sterling worth compelled respect. All honoured his efforts and wished him God-speed. “While there were many,” says Colonel Turnley, “who seemed to surpass him in intellect, in geniality, and in good-fellowship, there was no one of our class who more absolutely possessed the respect and confidence of all; and in the end Old Jack, as he was always called, with his desperate earnestness, his unflinching straightforwardness, and his high sense of honour, came to be regarded by his comrades with something very like affection.”

One peculiarity cannot be passed by.

When at study he always sat bolt upright at his table with his book open before him, and when he was not using pencil and paper to solve a problem, he would often keep his eyes fixed on the wall or ceiling in the most profound abstraction. “No one I have ever known,” says a cadet who shared his barrack-room, “could so perfectly withdraw his mind from surrounding objects or influences, and so thoroughly involve his whole being in the subject under consideration. His lessons were uppermost in his mind, and to thoroughly understand them was always his

1  Colonel Turnley.

Stonewall Jackson MAXIMS  21

determined effort. To make the author’s knowledge his own was ever the point at which he aimed. This intense application of mind was naturally strengthened by constant exercise, and month by month, and year by year, his faculties of perception developed rapidly, until he grasped with unerring quickness the inceptive points of all ethical and mathematical problems.”

This power of abstraction and of application is well worth noting, for not only was it remarkable in a boy, but, as we shall see hereafter, it had much to do with the making of the soldier.

At West Point Jackson was troubled with the return of the obscure complaint which had already threatened him, and he there began that rigid observance of the laws of health which afterwards developed to almost an eccentricity. His peculiar attitude when studying was due to the fear that if he bent over his work the compression of his internal organs might increase their tendency to disease.

And not only did he lay down rules for his physical regimen. A book of maxims which he drew up at West Point has been preserved, and we learn that his scrupulous exactness, his punctilious courtesy, and his choice of companions were the outcome of much deliberation.

Nothing in this curious volume occurs to show that his thoughts had yet been turned to religion. It is as free from all reference to the teachings of Christianity as the maxims of Marcus Aurelius.

Every line there written shows that at this period of Jackson’s life devotion to duty was his guiding rule; and, notwithstanding his remarkable freedom from egotism, the traces of an engrossing ambition and of absolute self-dependence are everywhere apparent. Many of the sentiments he would have repudiated in after-life as inconsistent with humility; but there can be no question that it was a strong and fearless hand that penned on a conspicuous page the sentence: “You can be what you resolve to be.”

Jackson was already a man in years when he passed his final examination, and here the record of his boyhood


may fitly close. He had made no particular mark at the Academy.

1846   His memory, in the minds of his comrades, was associated with his gravity, his silence, his kind heart, and his awkward movements. No one suspected him of nobler qualities than dogged perseverance and a strict regard for truth. The officers and sergeants of the cadet battalion were supplied by the cadets themselves; but Jackson was never promoted. In the mimic warfare of the playground at Brienne Napoleon was master of the revels. His capacity for command had already been detected; but neither comrade nor teacher saw beneath the unpromising exterior of the West Point student a trace of aught save what was commonplace.

And yet there is much in the boyhood of Stonewall Jackson that resembles the boyhood of Napoleon, of all great soldiers the most original. Both were affectionate. Napoleon lived on bread and water that he might educate his brothers; Jackson saved his cadet’s pay to give his sister a silk dress. Both were indefatigable students, impressed with the conviction that the world was to be conquered by force of intellect. Jackson, burning his lessons into his brain, is but the counterpart of the young officer who lodged with a professor of mathematics that he might attend his classes, and who would wait to explain the lectures to those who had not clearly understood them. Both were provincial, neither was prepossessing. If the West Point cadets laughed at Jackson’s large hands and feet, was not Napoleon, with his thin legs thrust into enormous boots, saluted by his friend’s children, on his first appearance in uniform, with the nickname of Le Chat Botté? It is hard to say which was the more laughable: the spare and bony figure of the cadet, sitting bolt upright like a graven image in a tight uniform, with his eyes glued to the ceiling of his barrack-room, or the young man, with gaunt features, round shoulders, and uncombed hair, who wandered alone about the streets of Paris in 1795.

They had the same love of method and of order. The accounts of the Virginian constable was not more scrupulously kept than the ledgers of Napoleon’s household, nor


could they show a greater regard for economy than the tailor’s bill, still extant, on which the future Emperor gained a reduction of four sous. But it was not on such trivial lines alone that they run parallel. An inflexibility of purpose, an absolute disregard of popular opinion, and an unswerving belief in their own capacity, were predominant in both. They could say “No.” Neither sought sympathy, and both felt that they were masters of their own fate. “You can be whatever you resolve to be” may be well placed alongside the speech of the brigadier of five-and-twenty: “Have patience. I will command in Paris presently. What should I do there now?”

But here the parallel ends. In Jackson, even as a cadet, self was subordinate to duty. Pride was foreign to his nature. He was incapable of pretence, and his simplicity was inspired by that disdain of all meanness which had been his characteristic from a child. His brain was disturbed by no wild visions; no intemperate ambition confused his sense of right and wrong. “The essence of his mind,” as has been said of another of like mould, “was clearness, healthy purity, incompatibility with fraud in any of its forms.” It was his instinct to be true and straightforward as it was Napoleon’s to be false and subtle. And, if, as a youth, he showed no trace of marked intellectual power; if his instructors saw no sign of masterful resolution and a genius for command, it was because at West Point, as elsewhere, his great qualities lay dormant, awaiting the emergency that should call them forth.



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