He was born in 1824 in Clarksburg, which was in Virginia at the time
but is now in West Virginia (West Virginia did not become a state
until 1863). He was the third of four children, with one brother and
He attended West Point, but he got in only as a replacement
because his district's top recruit dropped out after the first day.
After serving in the Mexican War, he went on to become a Confederate
general in the Civil War.
First, though, he taught science and drilled the cadets at
Virginia Military Institute from 1851 to 1861, when the Civil War
started. He did not enjoy teaching and was not particularly good at
it. His students felt the same way, as they would often ridicule him
behind his back. One former student -- who would later serve under
him in the Civil War -- even challenged him to a duel.
Thomas was a religious man who hated to fight a battle on a
Sunday. He said a prayer before and after every battle.
He rode an undersized but tough little horse named "Little
Sorrel" and had a reputation for being fearless. As legend has it,
he would even dare opposing troops to shoot at him as he approached.
The opposing troops never hit him, yet he died as a result of a
gunshot wound on the battlefield.
He is better known by his nickname than his real name. He got his
nickname during the first Battle of Bull Run when Gen. Barnard Bee
noticed that Thomas had ordered his troops into a formation like a
wall. He said that Thomas was "standing like a stone wall." Bee went
on to say, "Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer." Uh,
not to second-guess the general, but isn't the way to win a war to
get the other guy to die for his side?
[to top of second column]
By now, you've probably figured out that the soldier was Thomas
"Stonewall" Jackson. The Confederate general who was neither a very
good nor popular teacher was one of the best and most popular
generals of the Civil War.
Stonewall Jackson was shot on the
battlefield at Chancellorsville, Va., in his right hand and his left
arm on May 2, 1863. His arm had to be amputated.
There's usually something clever in these stories that surprises
you, and this one's no different. In fact, there are a couple of
things that you might not have known about Stonewall Jackson.
The headline of this story asks if his own men betrayed him.
Well, they didn't betray him, but it was one of his own men who shot
him. He was warned not to get too close to the enemy, and after he
turned around to go back to his troops, he was shot by one of his
own men who had mistaken him as a Union soldier coming at them. He
died on May 10, 1863, eight days after being shot.
Stonewall Jackson was buried in a blue coat, which was the color
of the Union army, rather than the gray coat of the Confederate
army. And whatever happened to his amputated arm?
It remains buried on land that is now owned by the National Park
Service, about 15 miles west of Fredericksburg, Va.
Paul Niemann's column has appeared in
more than 80 newspapers and counting. He is the author of the
"Invention Mysteries" series of books and can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2009