Stonewall Jackson’s Way

“And Thou knowest O Lord, when Thou didst decide that the Confederacy should not succeed, Thou hadst first to remove thy servant, Stonewall Jackson.”

Father D. Hubert, Chaplain, Hay’s Louisiana Brigade, upon the dedication of the statue of Stonewall Jackson on May 10, 1881 in New Orleans

Something for the weekend.  After the 150th anniversary of Chancellorsville only Stonewall Jackson’s Way, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford, seems appropriate.  The song is a fitting evocation of the man, who, if he had not been mortally wounded at Chancellorsville, might well have with Lee brought about a war ending victory for the Confederacy at Gettysburg.  I fully agree with Father Hubert that the death of General Jackson was probably a necessary factor in the defeat of the Confederacy.  As a military team he and Lee were able to accomplish military miracles and with his death the Confederacy could still rely upon the endless courage of their ragged warriors and the brilliance of Lee, but the age of military miracles in the Civil War ended with the passing of Jackson.

The song was taken from a poem found on the body of a dead Confederate sergeant after the First Battle of Winchester, May 25, 1862:

We see him now, — the old slouched hat

Cocked o’er his eye askew;

The shrewd, dry smile, the speech so pat,

So calm, so blunt, so true.

The “Blue-Light Elder” knows ’em well;

Says he, “That’s Banks, — he’s fond of shell;

Lord save his soul! we’ll give him hell,

That’s “Stonewall Jackson’s way.”

Silence! ground arms! kneel all! caps off!

Old “Blue Light’s” going to pray.

Strangle the fool that dares to scoff!

Attention! it’s his way.

Appealing from his native sod,

“Hear us, hear us Almighty God,

Lay bare Thine arm; stretch forth Thy rod!

” That’s “Stonewall Jackson’s way.”

He’s in the saddle now.

Fall in! Steady! the whole brigade!

Hill’s at the ford cut off; we’ll win

His way out, ball and blade!

What matter if our shoes are worn?

What matter if our feet are torn?

“Quick-step! we’re with him before morn!”

That’s “Stonewall Jackson’s way.”

The sun’s bright lances rout the mists

Of morning, and, by George!

Here’s Longstreet struggling in the lists,

Hemmed in an ugly gorge.

Pope and his Yankees, whipped before,

“Bayonets and grape!” hear

Stonewall roar;

“Charge, Stuart! Pay off Ashby’s score!”

In “Stonewall Jackson’s way.”

Ah! Maiden, wait and watch and yearn

For news of Stonewall’s band!

Ah! Widow, read, with eyes that burn,

That ring upon thy hand.

 Ah! Wife, sew on, pray on, hope on;

Thy life shall not be all forlorn;

The foe had better ne’er been born

That gets in “Stonewall’s way.”

Here is the song sung by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man crusade to bring the music of the Civil War to modern audiences:

Then the staff–then little Sorrel–and the plain   Presbyterian figure in the flat cap,

Throwing his left hand out in the awkward gesture

That caught the bullet out of the air at Bull Run,

Awkward, rugged and dour, the belated Ironside

With the curious, brilliant streak of the cavalier

That made him quote Mercutio in staff instructions,

Love lancet windows, the color of passion-flowers,

Mexican sun and all fierce, tautlooking fine creatures;

Stonewall Jackson, wrapped in his beard and his silence,

Cromwell-eyed and ready with Cromwell’s short

Bleak remedy for doubters and fools and enemies,

Hard on his followers, harder on his foes,   An iron sabre vowed to an iron Lord,

And yet the only man of those men who pass   With a strange, secretive grain of harsh poetry

Hidden so deep in the stony sides of his heart

That it shines by flashes only and then is gone.

It glitters in his last words.

                                He is deeply ambitious,

The skilled man, utterly sure of his own skill

And taking no nonsense about it from the unskilled,

But God is the giver of victory and defeat,

And Lee, on earth, vicegerent under the Lord.   Sometimes he differs about the mortal plans

But once the order is given, it is obeyed.

We know what he thought about God. One would like to know

What he thought of the two together, if he so mingled them.

He said two things about Lee it is well to recall.

When he first beheld the man that he served so well,

“I have never seen such a fine-looking human creature.”

Then, afterwards, at the height of his own fame,

The skilled man talking of skill, and something more.

“General Lee is a phenomenon,   He is the only man I would follow blindfold.”

Think of those two remarks and the man who made them

When you picture Lee as the rigid image in marble.

No man ever knew his own skill better than Jackson

Or was more ready to shatter an empty fame.

He passes now in his dusty uniform.

The Bible jostles a book of Napoleon’s Maxims

And a magic lemon deep in his saddlebags.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body




  1. I have to say that I disagree with the implicit notion that the Confederacy might not have fallen if Jackson had lived. The Confederacy was doomed from the moment Lincoln discovered Grant – not a military genius, but a terrier that bit and kept biting no matter how hard you hit back. At that point, the Confederates no longer could reckon on military incompetence or, worse, hesitation at the moment of success such as ruined Hooker at Chancellorsville (as you just described). Indeed, at that point, military genius might have worked against the cause. Take Erwin Rommel: a man who had worked the same kind of miracles as Jackson, continuously inferior in men and means and working in the alien environment of the desert (for which no German commander had been trained, and all the British had been), and gaining the affection and admiration not only of his Germans, but, for a time, even of the Italians (until the Germans, under the pressure of defeat, reverted to type and stole the Italians’ transports at gunpoint, leaving them helpless in the hands of the Allies). The thing is that, just because such a man could always see every opportunity, he knew when there was no hope. As the second battle of France raged, he confided in an intimate friend that he had never before had to send men to their deaths in the certainty that their deaths would have been in vain. It was not only because of his moral disgust at Hitler and Nazism that he joined the July 20 conspiracy, but also because he knew the war was lost. And he was not the only one. As the war went on, many of the best commanders lost heart and hope and either managed to be dismissed or resigned. By the end of the war, the only commanders of any distinction Hitler had were Guderian, who had been recalled after July 20, and Model, who was a fanatical Nazi. The rest of the best were gone.

    • Ever since the Civil War Fabio the battle has raged as to whether the Confederacy was doomed from the start. I am firmly in the camp that not only could the Confederacy have won the war it in fact almost did. In 1864 Grant drove Lee back to Richmond and Petersburg and put him under siege. Nonetheless he incurred such casualties in doing so that Lincoln was convinced in August that he would be defeated for re-election. But for Sherman taking Atlanta and Sheridan’s victories in the Shenandoah in October, I think Lincoln likely would have lost. War weariness was skyrocketing in the North throughout 1864 and only the prospect of swift victory saved Lincoln at the polls. The destruction of the Army of the Potomac in 1863 at Gettysburg might well have caused the New York draft riots to spread to other cities with the occupation by Lee of some major Northern cities in the East.

      The issue of the inevitability of Confederate defeat tends to be a major dividing line among Civil War historians. The case for inevitable defeat was best stated by Shelby Foote:

      “I think that the North fought that war with one hand behind its back. At the same time the war was going on, the Homestead act was being passed, all these marvelous inventions were going on… If there had been more Southern victories, and a lot more, the North simply would have brought that other hand out from behind its back. I don’t think the South ever had a chance to win that War. ”

      Gary W. Gallagher and many other historians emphasize the many times during the war when contingencies could have altered the outcome of the War: the Trent Affair, Grant being removed from command after Shiloh, Jackson living, etc.

      A debate with a very long pedigree in American historiography!

      • The assumption that McClellan would have won the 1864 elections without the fall of Atlanta is itself debatable. Even neglecting the fact that McClellan himself stood on a war platform – even though his support was largely Copperhead – and could not have pulled out of the fighting without breaking his central electoral plank, there is the fact that the North simply had too much invested in the war. In the famous Italian election of April 18, 1948, the still-remembered victorious slogan was: “In the solitude of the electoral booth, God can see you, but Stalin can’t.” I can certainly see a variant; “In the solitude of the electoral booth, your war dead can see you, but Jeff Davis can’t.”

        Besides, what kind of peace was at all possible? The Emancipation Proclamation was one and a half years old; the Federal troops were full of escaped (emancipated) slaves, How could the South have signed any agreement that left those and,hundreds of thousands of others their freedom, tolerated an armed force full of freed slaves on their borders, or insisted – as they were bound to – on the return of further escapees after peace was made? How could the North agree, not only to this, but to a border across the Missisippi, or tolerate the inevitable alliance to follow between the Confederacy, France and the French puppet government in Mexico? There would at best have been a truce of a few months before both parties realized that no compromise could be reached.

      • “The assumption that McClellan would have won the 1864 elections without the fall of Atlanta is itself debatable.”

        Oh, this whole area, being one of alternate history, is subject to debate. However, in the actual election there were quite a few states that fell to Lincoln by fairly slender margins. The Republicans had been drubbed at the polls in 1862 and the outcome of 1864 clearly rested on whether the War was going good or ill, which Lincoln clearly understood.

        “Even neglecting the fact that McClellan himself stood on a war platform”

        McClellan repudiated the peace platform when it was obvious that Atlanta was about to fall, which it did some three days later. Without the War going well I doubt if Little Mac would have repudiated the peace platform.

        “I can certainly see a variant; “In the solitude of the electoral booth, your war dead can see you, but Jeff Davis can’t.”
        One of the most effective pro-Lincoln pieces in 1864 was the cartoon of Thomas Nast “Compromise With the South” which appeared in September 1864 and conjured up the nightmare that would result if the Union lost the War.

        “Besides, what kind of peace was at all possible?”

        I could imagine a peace party Democrat President deciding that the Country simply preferred ending the War even with Confederate independence to continuing on with the War. A mass evacuation of the South would follow, with slaves probably left to their own devices. The Confederacy never had to defeat the Union, merely wear it out. By 1864 most Northerners were heartily sick of the War and the huge casualty lists. They were willing to continue fighting the War so long as it looked like the Union would win relatively soon. Lincoln’s re-election occurred because by November it was obvious that the Union was winning and the War could not go on much longer.

  2. The argument above still gets its alloted wind and verbage at family reunions, men’s meetings across that band of states in the middle, I know.
    I as a youth was in 4-H and moving up to be a counselor attended some training at Jackson’s Mill in West Virginia. Was caught with a girl underneath the mill itself and this event was reported to my dad. I was grounded for the rest of the century and could not attend camps that summer. Shades of the ghost of that righteous man General Stonewall Jackson
    I think it was his uncle’s mill and that he lived there for much of his youth.
    As one of the chaplain’s in Lees army said when cheering troops were waiving their battle banners upon returning from Appomatox meeting with Grant and surrendering, “Furl your flags boys.”
    In Christ, Dennis McCutcheon

    • “Was caught with a girl underneath the mill itself”

      I’ve always been fascinated by the Civil War Dennis, although there was a time in my life when I found young ladies more fascinating!

      • We must be brother’s from different mothers… chuckle.

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