previous next

Stonewall Jackson.

A lecture delivered in Baltimore, in November, 1872, by Rev. Dr. R. L. Dabney.

[Anything from the able pen of Dr. Dabney concerning Stonewall Jackson would be read with interest. His position as Chief of Staff, his intimate personal relations with the great chieftain, and his study of his character and his campaigns when acting as his chosen biographer, peculiarly fit Dr. Dabney to tell the story of Jackson's life, or to delineate his character. We are confident, therefore, that our readers will thank us for giving them the following paper, even though there may be dissent from some of the views presented. We print it just as it was orignally delivered, only regretting that we are compelled by the press upon our pages to divide it into two parts.]

I am expected to speak to-night of Stonewall Jackson. The subject sounds remote, antiquated, in these last days. How seldom does that name, once on every tongue, mix itself now-a-days, with the current speech of men? Is it not already a fossil name, almost? I must ask you, in order to inspect it again, to lift off sundry superincumbent strata of your recent living memories and interests, to dig down to it. Great is the contrast wrought by the nine calendar years which have intervened since the glory of conquering Jackson, and the sequel ‘Jackson is dead,’ were blown by fame's trumpet from Chancellorsville over all lands, and thrilled the proecordia in every Southern bosom. Then, the benumbing shock which the words struck into our hearts, taught us how great and heroic this man had made himself, how essential to our cause, how foremost in all our hopes. And when his great Superior said [with a magnanimity which matches Jackson's heroism], ‘Tell him he has lost his left arm; but I have lost my right arm;’ all men felt, ‘Yea! Lee has lost his right arm; the cause has lost its right arm.’ And the thickening disasters which that loss soon entailed, taught them, educated them, for a time, to appreciate Jackson's as the transcendant fame of all our war. It sounded in every true heart; it echoed in us from the thunder of the final downfall. But now, who recalls it to his speech? [126]

Why this? Was that fame an empty simulacrum, worthy only to be a nine-day's wonder, or was his devotion a blunder? Or are our people changed, so as to be no longer able to appreciate that devotion? We hope not, for it were a sad thing for them, betokening moral death, decay and putrescence, that they should become incapable of a heart homage to this name. We hope not.

But it is already antiquated; for the world moves fast in these times. Many things have happened in these times, to stir, to fatigue, to wring our hearts; great wrongs to be endured passively until endurance obtused the sensibility, multiplied tragical wails of friends sinking in the abyss of poverty and obscure despair; a social revolution; a veritable cataclysmus, which has swept away our old, fair, happy world, with its pleasant homes fragrant with ancestral virtues and graces, and has left us a new world, as yet chiefly a world of quicksand and slime; with no olive tree, alas, as yet growing. Yes; we have lived long in these nine evil years; to us they are a century of experiences. We are old, very old, superannuated perhaps, those of us who remember Jackson, and the days when he fought for freedom. Will you not then bear with our garrulity a little, should we even babble of our hero? For it is a pleasant thing to recall those old days of wearing the grey, with a Jackson to lead us to assured victory, when we were men as yet; with rights and freedom of our own, slipping then indeed from our too inept hands, yet enough our own still to fight for; when we had hope, and endeavour and high emprise, inspired by our leader's example; and hardship and danger for the cause, endured cheerily, as a sport; when we had a country, loved all the more proudly that she was insulted and bleeding. The memory of those days is bright; but it is attended by a contrast most black and grim. Over against that splendid past, there glooms the shadow of the Mammon Molock, named by mockery, “reconstruction,” with its most noisome scalawag odour reeking of the pit. The joy of this reminiscence must be then a mixed joy, and the duty assigned me, while sacred and not unpleasing—never shall it be unpleasing to us to celebrate the fame of Jackson; for him the shadow touches not—yet a duty difficult and sad.

I remember well, that naught except a circumstance is deemed by you to have endowed this hand with any fitness to refresh the characters of that fame; the circumstance of a brief association with his person during the most glorious part of his career. You would fain hear from me what manner of man he appeared to one who was next to him, the ordinary mouthpiece of his will, the sharer of his bivouac [127] and his morsel, who got the nearest glimpses through the portals of that reserve, which no man might enter, who watched closely, and he may even venture to affirm, intelligently, the outworkings of the secret power within. This so reasonable desire of yours I propose to satisfy, not by presuming to name and catalogue his attributes, analytically, by my judgment, or conceit, as may be—for this would be to regard you as pupils, rather than patrons—nor yet, by studying the cumulation of superlative, laudatory epithets,—for this would imply that I deemed you not only pupils, but gullible—but by painting before you some select, significant action of Jackson's own, wherein you may judge for yourselves as freely as other spectators, what manner of man this was. And I exhort you to expect in this description no grace, save the homely one of clear truth: homely it may be and most ungarnished, yet truly what my eyes saw and my ears heard. For is not this the quality most worthy of him who would portray Jackson? And should the narrative have, with its other unskilfulness, that of a certain egotism, I pray you bear in mind, that the necessity of this emerges in a manner from my task. For what is my qualification therefor? save that it was my fortune, along with many worthier men in the ranks to behold (not my merit to do) some of these wonders whereof you would fain hear; and when you ask for the testimony of the eye-witness, the humble Ego must needs speak in the egotistical first person.

And first, that I should ever have been invited to be next his person at all, was characteristic of Jackson. He, who was an alumnus of the military academy at West Point, and nothing but a professional military man all his life, was least bound in professional trammels. This trait he signified, in part, by his selection of successive chiefs for his staff, none of whom had even snuffed the classical air of West Point or Lexington, my intended predecessor and actual successor (J. A. Armstrong and C. J. Faulkner), and the next successor (A. S. Pendleton), but chiefly by the selection of me, a man of peace, and soldier of the Prince of Peace, innocent, even in youth, of any tincture of military knowledge. Herein was indeed a strange thing; that I, the parson, tied to him by no blood tie, or interest, and by acquaintanceship only slightest and most transient; that I, at home nursing myself into partial convalescence from tedious fever, contracted in the performance of my spiritual functions among the soldiers of the previous campaign; that I, conscious only of unfitness, in body and mind, for any direct help to the cause, save a most sore apprehension of its need of all righteous help, and true [128] love to it; that such an one as I should, in the spring of 1862, be invited by him to that post. Verily, had not all known ‘this is a man that doth not jest,’ it should have seemed to me a jest. But the wisest men speaking most in God's fear, replied to me: ‘See that thou be not rash to shut this door, if it be that God hath opened unto thee.’ And I feared to shut it, until he, by whom the call was uttered, should know how unfit I was to enter in. Further than this, in very truth, my mind went not.

But if you would hear on what wise Jackson was wont to speak, these are the ipsissima verba:

near Mt. Jackson, April 8th, 1862.
My dear Doctor.

The extra session of our Legislature will prevent Mr. Jas. D. Armstrong, of the Virginia Senate, from joining me as my A. A. General. If the position would be acceptable to you, please take the accompanying recommendation to Richmond, get the appointment, and join me at once, provided you can make your arrangements to remain with me during the remainder of the war. Your rank will be that of Major. Your duties will require early rising and industry. Please let me hear from you at once.

Very truly your friend,

Now, is not the fashion of these words a very revelation to him who will consider of the fashion of the man? He has time to tell that which is essential, but no word more. He makes it known, that his war means work, and is no dilettantism, or amateur soldiering. Nor is it the warfare of gallant barbarians, wherein much castramental laziness or even license can redeem itself by some burst of daring and animal phrensy; but ‘early rising and industry.’ ‘Now, wilt thou, or wilt thou not?’ And, if yes, then let thy act follow thy assent without dallying. But yet, only on one condition must this ‘yes’ be said to such as him, to remain unchanged ‘during the remainder of the war.’ He who would aspire to work and fight as Jackson's next assistant, must be one who would not look back after he had just put his hand to the plough; but one, who like his master, came to stay with his work until it was ended, except, perchance, God should first end him.

Thus then went I, to show Jackson why I might not enter into this door of service, and yet seem no recreant (in staying out) to my [129] country's needs. I found him at a place, gateway of the mountains that befriended him, named of the vicinage Conrad's Store; the Shenandoah flood before him, and beyond, multitudinous enemies thronging—held at bay, checkmated, gnashing vainly upon him; while he, in the midst of din and marching battalions, going to the watch-post, and splashing squadrons, splashing through mire most villainous, and of snow-wracks and sleet of the ungenial spring, ‘Winter lingering in the lap of spring,’—stood calm, patient, modest, yet serious, as though abashed at the meanest man's reverence for him; but at sternest peril unabashed. After most thoughtful, yea, feminine care of food and fire for me, he took me apart saying, ‘I am glad that you have come.’ But I told him that I was come, I feared, uselessly, only to reveal my unfitness, and retire; already half-broken by camp-disease, and enervated by student's toil. ‘But Providence,’ replied he, ‘will preserve your health, if he designs to use you.’ I was unused to arms, and ignorant of all military art. ‘You can learn,’ said he. ‘When would you have me assume my office?’ ‘Rest to-day, and study the “Articles of war,” and begin to-morrow.’ ‘But I have neither outfit, nor arms, nor horse, for immediate service.’ ‘My quartermaster shall lend them, until you procure your own.’ ‘But I have a graver disqualification, which candor requires me to disclose to you, first of mortals: I am not sanguine of success; our leaders and legislators do not seem to me to comprehend the crisis, nor our people to respond to it; and, in truth, the impulse which I feel to fly out of my sacred calling, to my country's succour, is chiefly the conviction that her need is so desperate. The effect on me is the reverse of that which the old saw ascribes to the rats when they believe the ship is sinking.’ ‘But,’ saith he, laughing; ‘If the rats will only run this way, the ship will not sink.’ Thus was I overruled.

You will remember that theory of his character, which most men were pleased to adopt, when he was first entrusted with command: ‘This man,’ said they, ‘is true, and brave, and religious; but narrow and mechanical. He is the man to lead a fighting battalion, under the direction of a head that can think; but strategy, prudence, science, are not in him. His very reserve and reluctance to confer result from his own consciousness, that he has no faculty of speech nor power of thought, to debate with other men.’ Had I been capable of so misjudging his silence and modesty, as to adopt this theory, his career must ere this have blown it all into thin air; the first Manassas and Kernstown, and the retreat before Banks had already done [130] that, for all save fools. All who served under him had already learned that there was in him abundant thought and counsel, deep and sagacious. He asked questions of all; sought counsel of none; gave no account to any man of his matters. Once only, did council of war ever sit for him, to help him to ‘make up his mind.’ And it was then, by their inferior sagacity, made up so little to his liking, that he asked such aid no more. Power of speech there was in him also, as I witnessed; such truly eloquent speech, as uttered quickly the very heart of his thought, and could fire the heart of the listener. But he deemed that the controversy he waged was no longer parliamentary; that the only logic seemly for us at that stage, was the ultima ratio Regum. To such respondent as the times then appointed unto him, the cannon peal, and the charging yell of the ‘men in grey,’ were the reply, which to him seemed eloquent: all else was emptier than silence

But instead of leading you to a brief review of his whole career, which would perforce be trite, because hurried, I would describe to you some one of the exploits of his genius, which best illustrates it. One of these I suppose to be Port Republic. Let me, then, present it to you.

To comprehend the battles of Port Republic, you must recall the events which ushered them in; the defeat of Milroy at McDowell in the early May of 1862, that of Banks at Winchester; the concentration of Generals Fremont and Shields towards Strasbourg to entrap Jackson at that place; his narrow escape, and retreat up the great Valley to Harrisonburg. He brought with him, perhaps, a force of twelve thousand men, footsore from forced marches, and decimated by their own victories. No more succours could come to Jackson from the east; the coil of the snake around Lee and the Capital was becoming too close for him to assist others; and all that the government expected of Jackson was, to retreat indefinitely, fortunate if he could at once escape complete destruction, and detain the pursuers from a concentration against Richmond. Such was the outlook of affairs upon the 8th of June. On the 11th of June, both the pursuers were in full retreat, broken and shattered, fleeing to shelter themselves near the banks of the Potomac, while Jackson was standing intact, his hands full of trophies, and ready to turn to the help of Lee in his distant death-grapple with McClellan. Such was the achievement. Let us see how his genius wrought it out.

The skill of the strategist is in availing himself of the natural features of the country, which may be helpful to him. In this case these [131] features were mainly the Blue Ridge mountains, dividing the great Valley from Piedmont, Virginia; the Shenandoah river, a noble stream at all times, and then everywhere unfordable because of its swollen state; and the Great Valley Turnpike, a paved road extending parallel to the mountain and river, from the Potomac to Staunton. From a point east of Strasburg to another point east of Harrisonburg extends the Masanuttin mountain, a ridge of fifty miles length, parallel to the Blue Ridge, and dividing the Great Valley into two valleys. Down the eastern of these, usually called the Page county valley, the main river passes, down the other passes the great road. Up this road, west of the Masanuttin mountain was Jackson now retreating, in his deliberate, stubborn fashion, while Fremont's 18,000 pursued him. Up another road parallel, but on the eastern side both of that mountain and of the main river, marched Shields, with his 8,000 picked troops. Neither had any pontoon train, for Banks had burned his in his impotent flight in May. Why did not Shields, upon coming over from the Piedmont to Front Royal, for the purpose of intercepting Jackson in the lower valley, at once cross the Shenandoah and place himself in effectual concert with his partner, Fremont? He had possession of a bridge at Front Royal. They were endeavoring to practice a little lesson in the art of war, which they fancied they had learned from the great teacher, Jackson, which they desired to improve, because it was learned, as they sorely felt, at the cost of grevious stripes, and indignities worse than those of the dunceblock. But their teacher would show them again, that they were not yet instructed enough to descend from that ‘bad eminence.’ Let me explain this first lesson.

The Blue-Ridge, parallel to the great Valley road, is penetrated only at certain ‘gaps,’ by roads practicable for armies. On the east of it lay the teeming Piedmont land, untouched by ravage as yet, and looking towards the capital and the main army of the Confederacy. This mountain, if Jackson chose to resort to it, was both his fastness and his ‘base of operations’; for the openings of its gaps offered him natural strongholds, unassailable by an enemy, with free communication at his rear for drawing supplies or for retreating. When Banks first pursued him up the Valley, he had turned aside at Harrisonburg to the eastward, and seated himself behind the river at Conrad's Store in the mouth of Swift Run Gap. And then Banks began to get his first glimpse of his lesson in strategy. He found that his coveted way (up the great Valley road) was now parallel to [132] his enemy's base. Even into his brain did the inconvenience of such line of advance now insinuate itself, and he paused at Harrisonburg. Paused awkwardly, with the road open to his coveted prize, Staunton, the strategical key of the commonwealth, with not a man in gray there to affiright his doughty pickets: the quarry trembling for the expected swoop of the vulture. Forward, General Banks. Carpe diem; the road is open. But Banks would not forward—could not! There was a poised eagle upon the vulture's flank, with talons and beak ready to tear out the vitals beneath his left wing. Shall Banks face to the left and drag the eagle from his aerie, and then advance? Let him try that. Then, there is the water-flood in front to be crossed, only by one long, narrow bridge, which would be manifestly a bridge of Lodi, but not with obtuse, kraut-consuming Austrians behind it. And there is the mountain, opening its dread jaws, right and left, to devour the assailant. No, Banks cannot even try that! What then shall he try? Alas, poor man, he knows not what, he must consider, sitting meanwhile upon that most pleasant village of Harrisonburg, amidst its green meadows. Is not the village now his veritable dunce-stool for the time, where he shall sit, reluctant, uneasy, ‘swelling and snubbing,’ until it appear whether he can learn his horn-book or not? And it was while he was there sitting, the horn-book not mastered, that Jackson like the tornado, made his first astounding gyration, his first thunder clap at McDowell, away on the western mountain, his second echoing to it from Front Royal on the far east, his crowning, rending crash at Winchester. And Masters Banks and Shields find themselves with incomprehensible smoke and dust, clean outside the school-room, yea, the play-ground, they scarcely know how, (they ‘stood not on the order of their going,’) with eyes very widely glaring, yet with but little light of speculation in them.

This was lesson number first. And now say my masters to each other, ‘This lesson which cost us so dear, learned by buffetings so rude, yea, even kicks, with the bitter chorus of inextinguishable laughter of rivals, shall we not profit by it? Shall we not use it in our turn? Yea, we will not be always dunces: we will let people see that we can say, at least, that lesson again. The lion will retreat surlily, after he brake the toils at Strasburg, up the great Valley road, growling defiance, huge ribs of the prey between his jaws. Fremont shall closely pursue his rear with 18,000, and Shields shall advance abreast, between him and the mountain, with 8,000, to head [133] him off from his rock-fastness. We shall circumvent him in the open field; we shall confound him on the right hand and the left; the one shall amuse him in front, when he stands at bay, and the other shall smite him by guile under the ribs; and we shall take his spoils.’ And, therefore, it was that Shields crossed not the river below, at Strasburg, but remained apart from his mate.

They forgot that it is the prerogative of genius, to have no need to repeat itself; its resources are ever new; it can invent, can create upon occasion. It is dull dunce-hood, which only knows how to repeat the lesson that has been well beaten into it. The Southern Lion, then, marches surlily up the great Valley, turning at bay here and there, when the whelps dog his heels too insolently, with a glare and a growl instructive to them to observe a wholesome interval; while Ashby, ubiquitous, peers everywhere over the Masanuttin, upon the advance of Shields—burns bridge after bridge, Mount Jackson bridge, White House bridge, Columbia bridge, entailing continued insulation upon him. The mighty hunt reaches Harrisonburg. Will it turn again eastward to the mountain? Shields shall see, he reaches Conrad's store. There is the old lair, the munition of rocks, but no Jackson seeking to crouch in it; only the bridge leading to it, (and which alone could lead him out of it) just in flames. Evidently Jackson will teach some other lesson this time, and Shields and Fremont must learn it, at what cost they may. He will turn eastward again, and resort to the river and the mountains, whose floods and forests he will make fight for him, even as ‘the stars in their courses fought against Sisera,’ but under conditions wholly novel.

Now that you may comprehend Jackson, I must endeavor to make you see this region of Port Republic, as nearly as may be. Behold then the side road from Harrisonburg to that village, passing over sundry miles of those high hills, common to calcareous regions, [lofty as the highest viewed from the northernmost end of your Druid Hill Park,] mostly parallel to each other, and at right angles to the road, clad also frequently with woodlands upon their summits, the vales between filled with farms. Close at the foot of the last of these ridges flows the shining river, here running almost due east, as does the great mountain parallel to it, three miles away. Look thitherward, and between you and that green rampart you see, first the water, then smooth meadows far below you, spreading wider to the left, away to Lewiston, until their breadth expands almost to a mile; while underneath you stretches the long bridge, and nestles the white [134] village amidst the level fields. Beyond the forest begins, thick,. tangled and bosky, pierced by more narrow, serpentine, but easy roadways, than your eye would suspect, and spreads away, rising into hills as it recedes towards the true mountain foot. Just below the village comes a sparkling tributary, South river, deemed scarcely worthy of a bridge, and mingles its waters at the angle of the little green with its elder sister; while the one broad thoroughfare leads up the village and away to the southwest to Staunton, and the other, fording the lesser stream to the left, plunges into the forest to seek Brown's Gap. Look now, far away to the east, where river and mountain begin to lose themselves in the summer haze. You perceive that the tangled wilderness, after embaying one more modest farm below Lewiston, closes in upon the bank of the stream, ending for many miles, champaign and tillage, and allowing but one narrow highway to Conrad's Store, fifteen miles away. Such is your landscape from your elevated outlook northwest of the river: and this is the chess-board upon which the master hand is to move knights and castles, not his own merely, but also his adversary's.

Saturday, the 7th of June, Jackson led all his troops to those high hills northwest of the river, posting half of them three miles back, under Ewell, to confront Fremont, and the remainder upon the heights overlooking Port Republic, while he himself crossed the bridge and lodged in that village. That evening Fremont sat down before Ewell, and Shields, perceiving that he must seek Jackson still farther, pushed his army up the narrow forest road from Conrad's Store, and showed its head at Lewiston. Thus, Jackson's army and Fremont's were upon the one side of the river, Shields's and the village upon the other. To cross it there remained now but the one passage, which lay under the muzzles of Jackson's cannon, for all the bridges above and below had been burned.

Fremont and Shields would now, therefore, apply the old strategy, which red tape once deemed appropriate for the superior numbers. They would surround Jackson on sundry sides, with divided forces, from different directions, and thus crush him. The lessons of the old Napoleon had not been enough to teach them: this new Virginian Napoleon will, perhaps, illuminate their obtuseness, but with light too sulphurous for their delectation. This old plan, attempted against a wakeful and rapid adversary, capable of striking successive blows, only invites him “to divide and conquer.” This Jackson will now teach them in his own time, and it shall be lesson number second.. [135] They shall never strike together: nay, Shields shall never strike at all, but be stricken: thus hath the master of the game already decided.

Shall Jackson, then, hold Shields at arms' length, and strike the larger prey, Fremont, first? This the impassable river and the dominant position of his artillery overlooking the bridge, enabled him to do. He might have driven back Shields's co-operative advance in the meadows beneath, by a storm of shells, while he assailed his partner three miles away; and Shields might have beguiled the day, by looking helplessly over at the smoke surging up over the treetops, and listening to the thunder of the battle rolling back to Harrisonburg with Fremont's defeat; or, by reckoning when his own time would come, if that better pleased him. Shall Jackson, then, strike Fremont first? ‘Yes,’ said Ewell: ‘Strike the larger game first.’ But Jackson said, ‘No. The risk is less to deal first with the weaker. In a battle with Shields, should disaster perchance befall us, we shall be near our trains, and our way of retreat; and true courage, however much prudent audacity it may venture, never boasts itself invulnerable. But if an inauspicious attack were made on Fremont, the defeated Confederates would have behind them a deep river, to be crossed only by one narrow bridge, and a line of retreat threatened by Shields's unbroken force. Again, Shields defeated, had but one difficult and narrow line of retreat, between the flood and the mountain, and might be probably destroyed. Fremont, if defeated, had an open country and many roads by which to retire; and could not be far pursued, with Shields's force still unbroken threatening our rear.’ Thus argued Jackson, but only to himself, then; he was wont to give no account of his measures to others.

Shall Jackson, then, prepare to deal with his weaker adversary, by withdrawing all his army to the Southern side, burning the bridge behind him, and thus leaving Fremont an idle spectator of Shields's overthrow? Again, No; and for two reasons: First, this would permit Fremont to crown all those dominating heights on the north side, with his artillery, so that Shields, though still separated from his friends by the water, might enjoy the effectual shelter of their guns. And second, supposing Shields dealt with satisfactorily, then it might be desired to pay the same polite attentions to Fremont; and Jackson meant not to deprive himself too soon of the means of access to him. Shields, then, shall be first attended to, on the south side; but yet the bridge not destroyed, nor the heights beyond surrendered.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1862 AD (4)
May (4)
November, 1872 AD (2)
April 8th, 1862 AD (2)
June 11th (2)
June 8th (2)
June 7th (2)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: