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Stonewall Jackson. Reminiscences of him as a Professor in the Virginia military Institute. Some of his peculiarities shown. [from the Montgomery, Alabama, Advertiser, November 27, 1892.]

Rev. J. C. Hiden, his former class-mate, gives New and interesting particulars.

Stonewall Jackson, as a lieutenant during the Mexican war, and as a ‘Bellona's Bridegroom’ in the late civil war, is reasonably well known to the reading world. The ‘Life’ by Dr. Dabney is in many respects worthy of the illustrious subject as well as the very able and accomplished author. But this ‘Life,’ and all other ‘Lives,’ are devoted mainly to the task of depicting the Christian warrior, and as this is the role in which Jackson figured most conspicuously before the world at large and in which he was not fully himself, it was natural and proper that the several biographers should concern himself especially with this manifestation of the man.

Still, it is well known that Jackson spent a considerable part of his life as professor of natural philosophy, and of artillery tactics in the Virginia Military Institute, at Lexington; and it is manifest to the observant reader that this portion of his life has received scant measure at the hands of the biographers.

This, however, is not due to any neglect on the part of these writers, for they must have known that all intelligent readers would be interested to know how Professor Jackson lived; how and what he taught his pupils; what he said and did in the class-room; indeed, anything that would throw any light upon the character and conduct of the man who said so little and did so much.

The simple truth is that there was precious little to tell about this phase of Jackson's life. A biography of a great literary man is apt to be but little more than a review of his work. The biography of a thinker must often be simply an account of his thinking and its [308] results, and the biography of a teacher, even though he be a great master of his profession, will not often contain much that is very new or very striking to the non-professional reader.

But Jackson's life, as a teacher, was singularly monotonous. He seldom opened his mouth except from absolute necessity. As Dick Taylor said: ‘If silence is golden, Jackson was a bonanza.’ He had his text-books, and he prescribed the lessons—fearfully long and desperately hard lessons they were—and at the appointed time he ‘heard’ them, and this was about all of it. Discussions in the class-room were unknown, and even explanations were infrequent, and when they did occur they usually left the matter where they found it. The text was the one great thing which he came to ‘hear,’ and we came to ‘say,’ if we could, and most of us commonly couldn't, when the said text was Bartlett's Course of Natural Philosoipy, in three of the toughest volumes that this scribe ever attacked—‘Mechanics,’ ‘Optics and Acoustics,’ and ‘Spherical Astronomy.’

Poor Allen! He was my room-mate during my first year (1854-55), and with L. B. Williams, of Orange; L. W. T. Patton, of Richmond; Peyton Slaughter, of Madison, and myself, made up room No. 13. Where are they now? Williams, Allen and Patton were all of the same class; all occupied the same room; all graduated the same day; were all young lawyers; all colonels of Virginia regiments, and all fell at Gettysburg! And Slaughter had been disabled for life before the sad day on which our room-mates fell.

When I went in the ‘Third Class’ I used to see Allen tugging over ‘Old Jack's’ terrible lessons in Bartlett's Optics, and one day I opened the book and found on the fly-leaf the following stanza, which I suspect was Allen's own:

'Tis said that Optics treats of light,
     But oh! believe it not, my lark;
I've studied it with all my might,
     And still it's left me in the dark.

Major Jackson was perfectly at home in the long, intricate and multitudinous ‘equations’ and other mathematical formulas which make up so large a part of Bartlett's three volumes, and many of the cadets often expressed the belief that none of these ponderous tomes contained an equation or a formula which ‘Old Jack’ could not repeat ‘by heart.’ [309]

And yet, with all his minute and accurate acquaintance with the course, there was very little teaching done in that department, unless teaching be understood to mean the prescribing and hearing of lessons. Teaching, in the modern sense of that term, was not Jackson's forte. His silence was phenomenal, and sometimes portentous. He had no turn for explanation, no talent for putting things in various points of view, so as to adapt them to the various mental conditions of his pupils. During the war he was often and highly commended for keeping his plans to himself; but I doubt if he could have explained those plains if he had done his best.

Though I drilled under him for three years, and recited to him daily for a year and a half, I never saw him laugh outright. A very quiet, subdued sort of smile was the nearest thing to laughter that I ever saw him indulge in; and those smiles were very infrequent, and, indeed, occurred only when outrageously ludicrous things took place in his immediate presence.

If Abe Fulkerson put on a collar made to order out of some three-quarter of a yard of linen, and then convulsed the whole class with laughter at the grave but irresistably ludicrous way in which he would wear that unique collar in the class-room, Major Jackson would smile, knowing, as he did, that the collar was the only visible article of a cadet's wearing apparel of which the iron-clad Regulations did not rigidly prescribe the form and substance.

If Davidson Penn, a portent of mischief, put on an uncommonly serious face and asked, apparently in good faith, ‘Major, can a cannon be so bent as to make it shoot around a corner?’ the Professor of Artillery would show not the slightest sign of merriment or impatience, but would, after a moment of sober reflection, reply: ‘Mr. Penn, I reckon hardly.’ We could never decide whether his gravity on such an occasion was real or assumed, but, if it was assumed, it was certainly well acted.

I have often wondered if Jackson managed to preserve his gravity when he read a certain ‘excuse’ handed him by Hambrick. We had been at artillery drill, and Hambrick, along with the rest of us third-classmen and ‘plebs,’ had to perform the rather troublesome duty of pulling the cannon. Jackson had given the command—a favorite one with him and a very abomination to us— “Timbers and caissons, pass your pieces, trot, march!” Hambrick had failed to ‘trot’ at command, and was accordingly reported by Jackson. The next morning the following excuse was handed in:

‘Report: [310] Cadet Hambrick, not trotting at artillery drill. Excuse: I am a natural pacer.’ If Major Jackson did laugh when he read this document none of us ever found it out, as the paper was probably read in private.

Auburn, Alabama, November 19, 1892.
Editor Advertiser:
The above, clipped from a recent issue of the Richmond State, will doubtless be read with interest by the older graduates of the ‘West Point of the South,’ and at the same time serve to recall many interesting and amusing reminiscences of ‘Old Jack,’ as he was familiarly called by the cadets.

The three gallant Virginia colonels who so gloriously gave up their young lives at Gettysburg were of the class immediately after mine, and the now eminent Baptist divine, Dr. Hiden, was a ‘plebe’ when I graduated. Many other amusing incidents connected with Jackson's career as a professor might be given to interest the public, and it is hoped that our distinguished educator, Colonel James T. Murfee, with his tenacious memory and graceful pen will soon follow Dr. Hiden's commendable example. We would like to know especially what was Colonel Murfee's scientific answer to ‘Old Jack's conundrum.’

Many of the Colonel's class of 1853 were ‘called up’ by the immortal Jackson and asked why a telegram—then a ‘telegraphic message’ could not be sent from Lexington to Staunton. The immense deposit of iron ore in the immediate neighborhood and other scientific reasons were assigned, to all of which Jackson gave that well-remembered shake of the head, while there was a twinkle in his bright eye and the faintest smile played around the corners of his mouth. Finally, ‘Old Gabe’—Gabriel Gray, another Baptist minister by the way—was ‘called up,’ and in his amusingly peculiar and blunt way, he jerked out the following reply: ‘I don't know, Major, unless it is because there is no telegraph line between this place and Staunton.’ During the laugh that followed, Gray stood blushing, while Jackson, with his eyes fixed immovably upon him looked like a statue. As soon as order was restored, to the great amazement and amusement of the whole class, ‘Old Gabe’ not excepted, Jackson, with a stiff military salute and a much more [311] perceptible smile on his face, replied: ‘Yes, sir! that is right; you can take your seat, Mr. Gray.’ This, ‘Old Jack's conundrum,’ was the talk of that happy, merry-hearted corps for years afterwards. Little did we ‘young rascals’—embryo Southern soldiers—then dream that our plain, ‘big-footed,’ taciturn, fearless, prayerful, tender-hearted and punctiliously polite ‘Professor of Natural Philosophy’ was to flash so soon, meteor-like, before the world as one of its greatest military heroes, and that so many of us bright, ruddy faced boys, under his matchless leadership, were to go down to death with him under the ‘Stars and Bars,’ in defense of ‘Dixie,’ the land of fair women and brave men.

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