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Stonewall Jackson. His old schoolmaster tells of his boyhood days in Weston. Slow but studious scholar.

Awkward as a youth, successful as a teacher, and finally one of the great Generals of the age.

The region about Weston, this State, is rich in memories surrounding the name of Jackson. To that county one of the Jacksons emigrated from old Virginia one hundred years ago, and became the head of a family which has numbered among its members many distinguished men. All the Jacksons have been men noted for their honesty, integrity and force of character. Recollections of the older members of the family still linger among the people there, and many a time-worn man delights to talk of Jonathan and Cummins Jackson, and the traits of character which made them known for miles around, but the one of whom they are most proud is Stonewall Jackson, who was born there, trudged as a boy over the hills to school, and at eighteen went out into the world to become the leader of his class at West Point, a brilliant officer in the war with Mexico, a successful teacher, and finally one of the great generals of the age.

There are old men about Weston who remember an awkward boy, clad in blue corduroy, who used to ride the horses of his sport-loving uncle on courses where large prizes were at stake, and rarely failed bringing the horse through as the winner. Others remember ‘Tom’ Jackson, their old schoolfellow, as a boy fond of sport, and prompt to go to the defence of a wronged schoolmate. There are women, mothers of families, and many of them grandmothers, who remember the young officer, who, after his services in the Mexican war, came back to his old home for a few months of rest and quiet, to become for a time the coveted prize of all the country belles. There is nothing of which these people love better to talk than of Stonewall Jackson, and until a few years ago, when torn down to [158] make room for improvements, the first thing pointed out to a stranger visiting Clarksburg was the old house in which he was born.

Zzzhis schoolmaster.

In Weston lives William E. Arnold, an old-time gentleman and lawyer, Stonewall Jackson's first schoolmaster, and his close and life-long friend. He, perhaps, more intimately than any other, knew Jackson during his early years. In his law office (for though more than eighty years of age, he still practices law) I found Mr. Arnold a few days ago and told him my errand. A long and interesting chat followed, and then the old gentleman kindly volunteered to go with me to the farm where Jackson spent his boyhood. A ride of four miles over a pleasant country road brought us to the old Jackson house and mills on the west bank of the Monongahela river. The house, long vacant, is now falling into decay. In a few years only a mass of crumbling ruins will remain. We strolled over the fields and along the river's edge, and then sat down to rest on the porch of the old house. Here, warmed by the sunshine of the bright June morning, Mr. Arnold chatted of Jackson's boyhood. Much that he said was new, and all so interesting that I give it in full. Said he:

I knew Stonewall Jackson from infancy. I remember a visit to his father at Clarksburg, where he practiced law a few months before he died. His death, when Stonewall was three years old, left his family very poor. His wife, a proud, high-spirited woman, for a time supported herself and children by teaching and needle-work. Finally she married a lawyer named Woodson, and her children were scattered among their several uncles and aunts. A year or so later the mother died. Thomas, then a lad of eight, was adopted by his Uncle Cummins, and he lived here on this farm until the remainder of his boyhood was passed.

Zzzhis Nephew.

Cummins Jackson was intemperate, fond of gambling, betting and horse-racing, but still a man of honesty and integrity. He was warmly attached to his nephew, and took care that the boy should not become addicted to his own vices. The uncle, who always owned a number of blooded horses, and had on his farm a four-mile racecourse, early taught his nephew to ride, and at fifteen the boy was [159] inferior to none as a fast and daring rider; indeed, he was never thrown from his horse, and seldom failed to win a race. Young Jackson became one of my scholars at the age of fourteen. In school he was a plain, untiring, matter-of-fact boy, who learned slowly, but never gave up an undertaking when once begun, and never forgot anything when once he had learned it. He was especially fond of mathematics. On the playground he was somewhat retiring, but took a lively interest in the pastimes of his play-fellows. Even as a boy he was known for his courage and resolute will, and, though rather slow to decide, when excited would make up his mind to a thing quickly and then do it, no matter what the odds arrayed against him. I recall an incident which illustrates this trait of his character. One morning on the way to school a big bully, much older than Jackson, behaved very badly toward some of the schoolgirls. Jackson, who was present, told the offender he must apologize or he would thrash him. The bully, feeling himself an overmatch for his antagonist, declined to do so, whereupon Jackson pluckily attacked him, and a long and bloody fight followed. Jackson in the end came off victorious and forced the bully, much against his will, to apologize for his behavior.

The military instinct in Jackson asserted itself early. While yet but a boy he became a close student of history and the laws of war, and used to delight, on long winter evenings, to discuss with me the qualities of the world's marshal heroes and the treaties made between warring nations. Familiar with ancient history, the lives of the great commanders pleased him most. Looking back now on those days I can easily see what nourished the spirit which inspired the dashing, rapid marches and wonderful success of Jackson's campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah. He had, too, a conviction of what his after life was to be, for often he would close one of his long talks of which I speak with the remark, “I have but one talent, and will never be anything but Tom Jackson unless the United States engage in war.” Early in 1842 the cadetship at West Point for this congressional district suddenly became vacant through the failure of the appointee to report for examination, and Jackson announced to me his resolve to seek the place. Knowing that he had no influential friends to urge his appointment, and that even if he secured it, he was poorly prepared to pass the preliminary examination, I at first discouraged him in his purpose, but finally seeing that his mind was fully made up, did all I could to advance his interests.


Zzzthe cadetship.

It was on a summer's afternoon that he came to bid me good-by before setting out on horseback for Washington to see the Secretary of War and ask him in person for the appointment. A tall, awkward boy of eighteen, dressed in a suit of plain homespun which did not fit him, and added to the awkwardness of his homely figure, and with manners hesitating and retiring, the chances were against his making a favorable impression upon a stranger, but in his earnestness of purpose he seemed unconscious of all this, and with the hearty good wishes of a little group of friends, among them his gruff old Uncle Cummins, he started out upon his ride of 300 miles. On arriving at the capital he at once presented himself to the Secretary of War, and made known his case. Judge Spencer was then at the head of the War Department, always a stern and distant man. The execution of his son for mutiny by the order of Commodore McKenzie a short time before had made him still more stern and uncompromising, and he was in far from a giving humor. He urged that the vacancy should be given to the son of some soldier or sailor who had lost his life in his country's service, and there were, he urged, a score of applicants for the place. Young Jackson, however, could neither be bluffed nor driven from his purpose. In the end he overcame the objections of the secretary and gained his point. Judge Spencer, in giving him his appointment-papers, said:

“Sir, you have a good name, that of Andrew Jackson. Go to West Point, and the first man who insults you knock him down and have it charged to my account.”

By the skin of his teeth, as he afterward expressed it to me, Jackson passed the entrance examination at West Point. His awkward appearance and country manners made him an inviting subject for the ridicule of his companions, and they lost no time in introducing him into the mysteries of cadet life. Indeed, so unbearable became their conduct that Jackson at last turned on one of his tormentors and gave him a sound thrashing. This saved him from further annoyance, but would have brought him to a trial that would have ended in his dismissal had he not pleaded the order of Secretary Spencer to thrash the first man that insulted him. During his student life at West Point, Jackson and I corresponded regularly, and his letters used to tell me in the modest way, through life characteristic of the man, how he was faring. He was one of the hardest students ever at West Point, and during the first two years studied [161] sixteen hours out of the twenty-four. He made it a practice during study hours to sit with his back to the door, with his book before him, and to speak to no one who entered the room. But despite these extraordinary efforts his early training had left him far behind his fellow-students. At the end of the second year it was thought he would not be able to get through, and one of the professors, who had taken a warm interest in him, advised him to resign, and thus save himself from the humiliation of a failure in the end. Jackson's pride was touched at this, and he replied that he would not resign, but would go through or die, and he did. About the middle of the third year, to use his own words, the scales fell from his eyes, and he comprehended in an instant things which had puzzled him for weeks a year before. After that he had no trouble; took high rank in all his classes, and graduated with distinguished honors at the end of the fourth year.

Zzzactive service.

‘Upon leaving West Point he entered the regular army, and soon saw active service in the Mexican war. His gallantry won him promotion, and at the end of the war he was placed in command of the garrison at Fort Hamilton, and afterward at Tampa Bay. At these places he spent two years, but his health failing, he resigned his commission and came back to his old home here. After remaining here for some time he tired of inaction, and wanted something to do. A new professorship had been created in the Military Institute of Virginia, at Lexington, and through the efforts of influential friends Jackson was appointed to the place. He remained there a successful teacher of young men until the opening of the war called him to a broader field of action.’

“I first met Stonewall Jackson when he was a professor and I a student at Lexington, and afterward when he was a commander and I an officer in the army of Virginia. He was one of the grandest men it has been my good fortune to claim as a friend.” The speaker was Colonel George H. Moffatt, formerly of Buckhannon, this State. It was while passing an afternoon with him not long ago that I persuaded him to give me his recollections of General Jackson, which fittingly supplemented those of Mr. Arnold.

“During the years I spent at college in Lexington,” continued Colonel Moffatt,

I made my home with the wife of Dr. Estelle. She was a warm-hearted southern woman, and a close friend of Jackson's, then a professor of mathematics at the Military Institute. [162] He often called at our house, and it was there that I came to know him in the autumn of 1859. I shall never forget the first time I met him. As a boy I had heard of his struggles as a cadet at West Point and his services with General Scott in Mexico. In imagination I had created an ideal which made my first meeting with him a keen disappointment. Instead of the handsome polished gentleman I had pictured, I found him awkward in appearance, severely plain in dress, and stiff and constrained in bearing, but when he began to talk my disappointment passed away. His voice was soft, musical and singularly expressive, while in conversation his eyes of gray would light up in a way that showed that through the man's nature ran a vein of sentiment tender as that of a woman's. Listening to his terse, well rounded sentences, always instructive and full of meaning, boy that I was, I felt that he possessed power, which, in stirring times, would make him a leader among his fellows. When in later years I saw his appearance on a battle-field give renewed courage to veterans who had faced death in a dozen forms, I knew that my conviction was not a mistaken one.

General Jackson was a profoundly devout man, and labored constantly to bring himself and those to whom he held the relation of teacher to the highest idea of manhood. He was superintendent of a Sunday-school in Lexington, made up of colored children. My chum was a teacher in the school, and once during his absence I took charge of his class. It was a Sunday in summer, and the room was filled with children, ranging from six to fifteen years of age. Scattered among them were several white ladies and gentlemen, who acted as teachers. Just as the clock was striking three the superintendent called the school to order with prayer, earnest and full of feeling. The manner in which he handled the lesson of the day, touching upon all the points that would interest his youthful hearers, was admirable; his way of stating old truths, charming in its freshness and simplicity. Some of the aristocratic people of Lexington looked with disfavor upon this undertaking of Jackson's, but his heart was in the work, and then, as ever, he did what he believed to be his duty. The success of the school was always dear to him. Even after the war had broken out, and he had left Lexington, his letters constantly expressed the desire that it should be kept up as of old.

Zzzpolitical speech.

I heard Jackson make the only political speech of his life. It [163] was at Lexington during the campaign resulting in the election of Lincoln. Though the voters of Rockbridge county, in which Lexington is situated, were overwhelmingly for Douglas, Breckinridge had a numbar of warm supporters, and the latter called a mass meeting in the court-house. Frank Paxton, who afterwards fell at Chancellorsville at the head of his brigade, was one of the speakers, but the interest lagged until Jackson, who sat in the rear of the room, arose to speak. From the first he was listened to with the strictest attention, and his speech of a quarter of an hour made a deeper impression than all the others. He spoke briefly and to the point, touching upon the dangers which threatened the country, and the need for every citizen to take a decided stand for the right, as he saw it. The scene comes back to me now. The dimly-lighted room, the upturned faces of the listeners, and the earnest words and awkward gestures of the speaker. When he had finished he turned abruptly, and marched out with the quick, firm step that was part of the man; but a revelation had come to those who remained, and they knew that the reserved and quiet professor had clear and well-defined views on the needs of the hour, and the courage to express and stand by his convictions.

Though, as I have said, Jackson was reserved and austere in his bearing, he was one of the most popular men in Lexington; modest and always unwilling to make a show of his powers. Everyone, sooner or later, came to regard him as a remarkable man, and even if they did not claim him as a friend, they respected him sincerely, and were prompt to show that they did. In the class-room he was impartial and strict, but not severe. A dull student always received his kindest encouragement, and a lazy one was just as sure of reprimand. There are scores of men who owe the education they possess to the thorough grounding received during the years spent under Professor Jackson.

When, in April, 1861, news reached Lexington that the Ordinance of Secession had been passed, the sleepy old town seemed suddenly changed to a military camp, and on every side were seen the preparations for war. It was decided that the eldest cadets at the military institute should be sent to the various recruiting stations to drill the volunteers, and so one day in May, with Jackson at their head, they marched away. The time for their departure was a still, sunny Sunday morning, and all the people of the town gathered to see them off.

The cadets, numbering 200, were drawn up in front of the fortress-like [164] building, waiting for Jackson's appearance. After a time he came riding out through the gateway on the homely sorrel, which afterwards became almost as famous as its master. He had barely reached the head of the column, and, wheeling, stood facing the crowd, when, taking off his hat, he said in a low voice: “Let us pray;” and then an aged minister of the town, Dr. White, raised his voice in prayer. When he had finished, Jackson faced his men, and in quick, sharp tones gave the order: “Forward, march! ” and obeying his command, with Jackson at their head, they marched away. On reaching the top of the hill overlooking the town, they halted; their leader, turning, waved his hat to the people below; another movement, and they were gone.

Zzzlaid to rest.

‘Never again did the people of Lexington see Jackson until he was brought back and laid to rest in the old cemetery. In the days that followed I saw Jackson often; for the last time, just after the second battle of Manassas, early in September, 1862. I was then serving in the Eleventh Virginia Cavalry, of Stuart's Division, my command being encamped in Prince William county, Va. I was sick at the time, but having been refused a furlough by General Stuart, I preferred remaining in camp to going to the hospital. At last a friend of mine appealed to General Jackson, who readily granted me leave of absence, and I went to my home in West Virginia. My next tidings of Jackson were that he was dead.’

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