To most war historians, generals, and world leaders who came after him, Stonewall Jackson is viewed as one of the greatest generals to have ever lived. A brilliant strategist, courageous beyond belief, disciplined and humble, Jackson was a special kind of leader.
The ironic thing about his legacy is it took a horrific Civil War, which pitted relatives against each other, for his own country, colleagues and even some friends to realize his greatness. Until the war, he was overlooked…
Before the American Civil War, Jackson was viewed as a mediocre educator frequently made fun of by his students for his eccentricities. His life trajectory was a rollercoaster and, in a nutshell, went like this:
Jackson was born into modest means for the time, and at a very young age, he lived through consecutive family tragedies which saw his mother, father, and sister die of disease…
Jackson went to live with his uncle, learned the value of hard work, and in his teens limped into West Point. He didn’t stand out at the acclaimed military academy by any stretch but performed well during the Mexican-American War. After that war, Jackson became a professor, and according to many of his students and other faculty members, he was an oddball.
Jackson was somewhat forgotten by the military elite during his tenure as a professor. He experienced further personal tragedy when his wife gave birth to his stillborn son, only to pass away in the terrible ordeal. Following the tragic loss of his wife and son, Jackson became depressed and toiled as a professor for years. Eventually, the Civil War kicked off, and Jackson reluctantly entered, despite initially not wanting to pick a side. This was when his legendary journey began…
“As a fighter and a leader, he was all that can ever be given to a man to be…”Brigadier General Edward Porter Alexander in reference to Stonewall Jackson
I recently read S.C. Gwynne’s, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, and it was an exceptional biography of his life. If you’re a Civil War buff, it’s a must-read.
To maximize your potential, you need a bigger cause than what’s presently in front of you: Being a general during the Civil War was the grandest challenge in the life of Stonewall Jackson. However, his purpose, his modus operandi, was to serve God, in battle and in everyday life.
Jackson displayed one-of-a-kind bravery, discipline, strength, and planning. He was relentless in battle and no other general, neither Confederate or Union, could match his level of energy and tenacity. He credited these traits to serving God.
Believing in fate is insanely powerful: Believing in fate helped Stonewall fully immerse himself in the moment. Whether waging a bloody battle against a formidable enemy, playing with children, leading Sunday school, or managing his own ailing health, Jackson committed to making the most of the moment.
Jackson’s life path was set in his mind, and he was there to make the most of the time he had been granted. This mindset led him to accomplish seemingly impossible missions.
When asked how he fights with fearlessness, Jackson replied, “Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”
Your actions are the only thing you’ll be remembered for: Great words and moving speeches can be helpful for a moment, maybe even a few days, but actions create culture and devotion.
Stonewall’s men revered him because of how he led, how he fought, and his unwavering commitment to the cause. Oftentimes in battle, it was Jackson, the general, leading the charge…
His subordinates spoke about how he was resolute in battle, and cool as a cucumber while enemy bullets literally flew by his head. Seeing this, his soldiers would follow him to the ends of the earth because they knew anything he asked them to do, he had already done.
One of the most significant advantages Jackson had during the Civil War over his opponents was the ability to march his regiment seemingly impossible distances overnight. Many other Confederate regiments experienced massive desertion, illness, and exhaustion on marches because they were poorly equipped, often marching without even boots. Despite that, Stonewall’s troops were determined and could march 2 or 3 times as far as their counterparts.
This was possible for one reason: Jackson’s troops revered him because he did the most demanding work of them all and took enormous personal risks. They didn’t want to let him down.
Winning big requires deep knowledge of the competition and their weaknesses: Prior to battle, Jackson would send spies (oftentimes he’d do the spying himself) to figure out which enemy generals were in the area and their exact locations. He did this to develop a game plan (even though he was often outnumbered) on how to deal with each leader’s nuances of battle based on their past track records, supply levels, troop count, etc. Most of the time, these enemy regiments had no intention of fighting Stonewall and his troops, but that mattered little to him. He relied on the element of surprise.
Jackson analyzed the competition obsessively. And he was ruthless when he smelt weakness.
Heaven forbid the enemy retreated… he would never let that happen without them suffering further casualties.
“The only true rule for cavalry is to follow the enemy as long as he retreats.”Stonewall Jackson
Contrary to most Union generals, who were highly risk-averse and focused on their career-trajectory in politics after the war, Jackson focused only on the battle at hand, understanding it would require extensive planning, guts and many deaths to win… the hell with future accolades or opportunities. “Never take counsel of your fears,” Jackson told his troops. Translation: live for this moment if you want to be great.
After the Civil War, former congressman Alexander Boteler said of Jackson: “We remember how unselfishly he devoted himself to the cause he espoused; how successfully he defended it; how calmly he encountered dangers; how resolutely he overcame difficulties; how consistently he maintained his Christian character; and how singularly free he was from the ordinary frailties of humanity.”
In the end, it was Jackson’s own man who accidentally killed him during a battle…
As legend explains it, Jackson’s final words were, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”