Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary

By Charles F. Ritter; Jon L. Wakelyn | Go to book overview

THOMAS JONATHAN JACKSON
(January 21, 1824–May 10, 1863)

Jon L. Wakelyn

The Confederacy’s famous General “Stonewall” Jackson belongs to that special category of heroes who transcended the reality of their accomplishments. Despite being one of the Civil War’s leading generals, the myths that have grown around his war record make it quite difficult to evaluate Jackson’s actual military contributions. But that does not mean that history has ignored his life. Except for Robert E. Lee (q.v.), no Southern hero has had more words written about him or more analysis of the deeds of his short life. Jackson remains a hero for the South and is a large part of its legends and myths. Yet although Virginia born and a hero of the Army of Northern Virginia, Jackson’s own life hardly fits the stereotype so necessary to a re-creation of that romantic past. How, then, was he made a hero, and why has he remained one?

As with so many famous figures, some of what may be understood about his own persona and of what others made of him surely comes from his upbringing. Yet even his early life is shrouded in myth, in part because those who have created the great Jackson image also have made legends of his youth to establish the adult hero. At times reality conflicts with myth, but reality does much to uncover the motivation behind the driven life of the ambitious Tom Jackson. Tom may have been of old Scotch-Irish and English Virginia stock, but he was born and grew up in the rocky hills of western Virginia, near Clarksburg, in a land of rocky soil hardly redolent of wealthy plantation slave society. He also was born into an ordinary Virginia family unencumbered with the burden of a colonial heritage. On January 21, 1824, Jonathan Jackson and Judith Beckwith (Neale) brought their second child into this life. The father was a bit of a ne’erdo-well, a country lawyer who owned some land, practiced a little law, and always seemed in debt and under the threat of lawsuit. Despite the fact that he was the father of a future great hero, the elder Jonathan probably was a bit crooked. Fortunately for those who make legends, he died in 1826, which meant

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