Monday, January 21, 2013

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Born January 21, 1824

 

Excerpt from January 2012 Lee-Jackson Day Observance, Kinston, North Carolina, address by Bernhard Thuersam, North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission Chairman.

“I want to quote from John Esten Cooke’s Military Biography of Jackson in 1876 – he wrote of Jackson’s death:

“Apprised that his final moment was approaching, he sent kind messages to all his friends, the Generals and others; taking thus his leave of earth, and sending his…farewells. He who had passed through a thousand scenes of carnage, expired upon his bed, surrounded by weeping friends, who were taught by that….spectacle [of] how a Christian soldier can die.”  

Jackson was a born leader, and had that supreme spirit of combativeness, the very foundation of military success. But combativeness and military ardor do not make a commander – enterprise is essential, and this was the secret of Jackson’s astonishing success.  His rule was never to allow an enemy to rest, attack whenever possible, and press on until all opposition was broken down and the day gained. 

He always preferred to arrive, by forced marches, in the face of an unprepared enemy. A sluggish or unwary adversary was doomed already – when he least expected it, Jackson was before him, attacking with all the advantages of surprise. He aimed to succeed rather by sweat than blood.  Douglas McArthur’s Inchon landing in Korea was pure Stonewall Jackson. 

Jackson’s military movements were always based upon close calculation, and he was certainly not wanting in foresight and caution.  He seemed to have known what was in his power to achieve, and as thoroughly what was beyond his strength.  He generally kept open his lines of retreat and provided for potential disaster.

It may be said of him with truth, that he deserved victory. No man was more careful in the use of every precaution to ensure success, and no soldier was ever less indebted to sheer luck.  No general ever made a greater use of mystery. He would not permit his men to enquire about the names of towns through which they passed – he directed his troops to answer questions about destinations with “I don’t know.” 

Until all his arrangements were made, no adversary could draw him into action. When the final moment came, he attacked with all his strength – if one assault failed, he made a second.  If this failed, he sent in the reserve, if this didn’t retrieve fortune, he placed himself in front of his troops to conquer or die.  His battle cry was “give them the bayonet!”

Napoleon trusted his star, and Jackson it is rightly said, believed in his destiny -- and the Lord of Hosts – for his ability to gain success against his enemies. There were no half measures with him, he always favored decisive blows to his enemy.  Limited wars such as Korea and Vietnam would not have interested him. 

He was the only Southern general in favor of attacking the Northern invader at Fredericksburg; at night and to drive him relentlessly into the river.  At Port Republic he said “if the President will give me 60,000 men, I will be in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in two weeks.”  One certainly saw much of Stonewall Jackson in another Southern general -- George S. Patton. 

But Jackson was not a hard man. On the field he was absorbed with his task – but his bearing, his smile and the ready hand to his cap, were always courteous, and never seemed to lose the simple and modest air of kindly good Christian breeding. 

Had the war closed with Southern military success and his life intact, it is not likely he would have been a man of politics. It is certain he would have been a dominant man, and if dragged into the presidency would have administered government in accordance with his views of Christian right-thinking. 

As a man, his virtues were recognized even by his opponents. Humble before his Maker, gentle in daily life, a sincere politeness to every human being, steadfast in purpose, and when fully aroused, as in the crisis of battle, he was sublime in the fire of his spirit. 

As we all know here, his religion was his life. It was the broad foundation of all his thoughts and words and deeds. He seemed to live, consciously, under the very eye of God, and shaped all his actions with reference to Divine approval.  The question was always: “Am I conforming my life to the will of God.” 

No stain of insincerity, meanness, or vanity ever marred his character, the character which combines the loftiest virtues of the gentleman, the soldier, and the Christian.  He sleeps now, cold to praise and blame – and an example to us all.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman, North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission. www.ncwbts150.com

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