My first acquaintance with Genl Thos J. Jackson was in 1851, when he entered the Virginia Military Institute as Professor of Natural Philosophy and Artillery Tactics, and I as a cadet. Major Jackson, as he was then called, did not impress the cadets as being a very handsome man, nor as strikingly military in his bearing. The Corps was in camp at the time, and his first duty was to instruct us in Artillery drill. His long, drawling commands were in striking contrast with the sharp, quick ones of Major Gilham, Commandant, who had charge of us in infantry drill. In our ignorance of the importance of this difference in giving commands in artillery and infantry, Major Jackson's
[Page 2 ]
amused us not a little; and several cadets soon learned to mimic him to perfection. Some time afterwards, I remember one, as solemn as an owl in appearance, but brim full of fun, thus mimicking him while acting as gunner. The battery, though convulsed with laughter, never drilled better, and Jackson, divining the cause of merriment, put himself in front of the offending cadet, with his arms folded, and kept his eyes fixed on him for about fifteen minutes before giving the command to change posts. The cadet was equal to the occasion and showed great presence of mind; during the trying ordeal, he gave his commands in perfect Jacksonian style without faltering, and so escaped a serious and well deserved report.
[Page 3 ]
Notwithstanding this first unfavorable opinion, Jackson soon impressed the cadets, as being a man of great bravery, conscientious and fearless in the discharge of every duty, strictly honest and just in his intentions - though at times treating some of the cadets with injustice, and also as being wonderfully eccentric or peculiar. He once harshly ordered a member of my class from the section room, because he persisted in saying "he did not understand," after he (the Major) had several times repeated the explanation of a subject at the blackboard. When the cadet reached the door, he turned and said, Major what have I done to justify such treatment? Jackson's only reply was "leave the section room." The whole class thought he had been treated with great
[Page 4 ]
injustice, yet none of them were willing to attribute intentional injustice to "Old Jack" as he was familiarly called.
When questioning the cadets, he had a peculiar way of grasping his lead pencil, with his thumb on the end towards the cadets, and when a mistake was made, he would say "rather the reverse" and slip his thumb back on the pencil. We believed that this was from a desire to do justice, that he used his pencil. We believed that this was from a desire to do justice, that he used his pencil, as the Indian his stick, to notch down the mistakes, that he might know how much to "skin" us when he marked us. It was then our general opinion that Jackson had not the art of teaching, he understood his course thoroughly, and could ask every question in order in "Boucharlat's
[Page 5 ]
Mechanics," "Bartlett's Mechanics and Optics," and "Yummere's Astronomy" without once referring to the text. He never required to used a book in his Section room except to assign lessons, and yet he could not impart his knowledge - he had no powers of explanation and displayed no originality.
When he did attempt anything like an "original question" it always amused his class. He once asked "why a telegram could not be sent from Lexington to Staunton," & after various scientific reasons had been assigned, he called upon one, now a Baptist Minister, who answered "that he did not know, unless it was because there was no wire between the two places," to which Jackson replied: "Yes Sir, that is right." Once, after questioning
[Page 6 ]
me on the different kinds of equilibrium, he asked, "if, when walking abroad in nature, I had not observed very tall and leaning trees standing, notwithstanding the line of direction through the centre of gravity fell beyond the polygon of contact and wished to know why they did not fall;" and when I told him it was due to the opposite force exerted by the dirt on the roots, he gave me three tenths "extra" because I had answered his question correctly. Whenever he asked simple questions of this kind - questions outside of the text - and they were answered correctly, he felt it his duty to reward them with "extras," that is a few tenths added to the regular marks.
[Page 7 ]
Jackson was remarkably stiff and officially polite in his "section room." He always mistered the cadets, and saluted them when they had completed their demonstrations at the blackboard, or he had finished questioning them. He was grave, dignified, and rarely smiled.
A cadet, however, once brought a broad smile to his face by his doggerel answer to one of his "original questions." When asked "how he would load a wagon with iron and feathers," the wag replied:
I'd put the iron at the bottom and the feathers on top unless it was a windy day," "Then I'd put the iron on top to keep the wind from blowing the feathers all away."
On another occasion while on the subject of projectiles, the cadet examined, told him that he found the subject very interesting, and
[Page 8 ]
wished to know if a gun could not be constructed to shoot round a corner. Jackson replied "he would take his question under consideration and give him an answer the next day. Next morning, he "called on" the Cadet, who rose and stood at attention at some distance from the rest of the class, as we were all required to do when questioned. Jackson then gravely informed him that he had had his question under consideration and had come to the conclusion that a gun could not be made to shoot round a corner. The cadet bowed on receiving this information; Jackson replied with a salute and told him that would do - did not ask him a question - and the cadet returned to his seat with a "sickly grin" and to the great amusement of the
[Page 9 ]
At another time, when Jackson was questioning one of the brightest cadets ever graduated at the Institute, the Cadet commenced laughing, and Jackson at once asked him in a very authoritative tone what he was laughing at, "At the mutability of human events" was the reply. To which Jackson seriously rejoined, "No doubt it is a very pleasant subject to laugh about, but I'd rather you shouldn't do it in my section room." The regular questioning was resumed and soon there was another laugh; again Jackson wished to know what he was laughing at. "At the mutability of human events, Major," replied the Cadet; followed by the explanation that Major Gilham, the Commandant, who had thoroughly drilled the Corps for a trip to Richmond, had been taken sick on the eve of their
[Page 10 ]
leaving; that now Major Colston would take command of them in Virginia's Capital and get all the credit of their being such a well drilled body of young soldiers." Jackson without a smile replied, as he had done before - "No doubt it is a very pleasant subject to laugh about but I'd rather you shouldn't do it in my section room."
Some of the cadets, when they had not prepared their lessons, would use written "data" at the blackboard; but I never heard of Jackson attempting to catch but one. On that occasion, as he approached the guilty party, his heavy, creaking boots betrayed him; the cadet slipped the paper up his sleeve, pretended to be unconscious of what was going on behind him, and put on an
[Page 11 ]
appearance of trying to evolve the demonstration from his brain instead of copying it from the secreted paper. When Jackson reached him, he asked sharply; "what is that your hand, Sir?" The Cadet turned suddenly with a surprised look, opened his hand and said "a piece of chalk," at the same time displaying it. "Yes, a piece of chalk" responded Jackson, and there was a general laugh at "Old Jack," as he returned foiled to his rostrum. He always tried to make the cadets exact in their answers to his questions. To one of his "original questions" - how to weigh a pound of sugar," the cadet replied that he would put the sugar in one scale-pan and the weight in the other, again came that stereotyped phrase;
[Page 12 ]
"Rather the reverse," and he was informed that he ought to put the pound weight first in one pan and then the sugar in the other.
That Jackson was not considered a good teacher, is demonstrated by the fact that an effort was being made to remove him from his Chair about the time of the out break of hostilities between the North and South. I have this from an alumnus, a friend of mine, who told me last summer that he was one of the prime movers in the contemplated removal; and I think what I have already related of this most remarkable man will show, that notwithstanding his thorough knowledge of his course, his established reputation for great bravery, his love of justice, his conscientious discharge of duty, and
[Page 13 ]
his exemplary Christian life, he did not know how to manage boys, and the Cadets were ever ready to play pranks on him.
On one occasion at artillery drill, when I was in charge of a section, one of the cannoneers asked permission of me to speak to Major Jackson, when we were at rest. I, of course, granted it. The Cadet approached Jackson very pleasantly and politely, and after discanting on the beauties of the drill, told him that in reading up on the subject, he had found that on long marches or at long drills the cannoneers might be allowed to ride on the limbers and caissons, and as they had been drilling an unusually long time that day, he had come as a committee of one from his piece to ask that the cannoneers be allowed
[Page 14 ]
to ride. The absurdity and impudence of this request will be seen when I state that there were no artillery horses at the Institute, and at drill the pieces and caissons were drawn by the cadets of the Third and Fourth Classes. The next day at parade a report was published against him for leaving his piece unnecessarily. It was also a very common thing as Artillery drill for mischievous cadets to pull out the linch-pins, and in the subsequent evolutions at a "rot," the cadet horses would run away, the wheels would come off and go bounding & rolling over the parade ground.
Jackson seemed not to know how to stop it. One afternoon the superintendant passed by and seeing the disorder, suggested to Jackson "to hold the officers responsible
[Page 15 ]
and report them for allowing disorder."
As soon as the drill was over and Jackson had returned home, he addressed a note to the Superintendant requesting him "to put his severe reprimand in writing," For some time afterwards his feelings toward that officer were not of the most friendly character; and when he went on his European tour, Jackson was the only officer of the Institute who failed to call, to bid him goodbye and wish him a pleasant trip.
The Cadets would sometimes [halloo] after Jackson and other professors and occasionally throw missiles after them. On such occasions, he seemed to keep his eyes direct to the front and would act as though perfectly unconscious of it all. I never heard of his attempting to find out the guilty parties, or
[Page 16 ]
even complaining of their rudeness. He made but few reports against cadets, but when he did make them, they were made to "stick."
The regulations required written excuses for all reports, and cadets were not allowed to approach the reporting officers in person about these reports except with the permission of the Superintendant. When any of them approached Jackson, he would invariably ask if they had permission and then allow them to do all the talking. A bright cadet and good talker gave me his experience in trying to get Jackson to remove a report. He said Jackson looked him steadily in the face and said not a word except, whenever he paused, to ask him if he had anything more to say, until he finally had to
[Page 17 ]
stop, when Jackson told him, that he had no remarks to make and dismissed him with a salute; the matter was settled, he was not going to argue it - the report was there to "stick." Although Jackson had the reputation of being very eccentric, I never saw anything of it myself; but the cadets told several stories on him, one of which was that he imagined one of his sides to be smaller than the other, and to correct his malformation, he used to exercise the smaller side frequently and vigorously to develope it and make it catch up with the other.
After an absence of three years from the V.M.I., when I returned to that Institute as Assistant Professor, Jackson was still there and still had the reputation of
[Page 18 ]
being eccentric. It was currently reported in town, as well as in the Corps, and generally believed, that he had requested his landlady not to season with pepper any of the dishes intended for him, and gave as his reason, that whenever he got any pepper on his tongue, it always took away the use of his right leg.
The day before his marriage to his first wife, he invited the Quarter Master of the Institute to take a buggy drive with him to the Rock Bridge Alum Springs; the invitation was accepted but not a word was said by Jackson about the contemplated marriage.
That afternoon the Quarter Master missed Jackson at the Springs, and on enquiry found that he had ordered his horse and
[Page 19 ]
buggy and returned to Lexington leaving him to get back as best he could. The next day, the Quarter Master still at the Springs, Jackson was married and took the stage to Staunton. It is reported that the bride lost her veil on the way and on reaching there she requested her husband to go out and buy her another, a yard of green barege; Jackson hastened to comply and soon returned bringing his wife a yard of green baize. I cannot vouch for the latter part of the above, but I can for the Springs' episode, as the Quartermaster himself laughingly told me of it soon after it occurred.
Not withstanding Jackson was such a devout Presbyterian he found it hard, at times, to keep
[Page 20 ]
awake in Church. Often I have seen him sitting bolt upright in the outer end of his pew, fast asleep, evidently taking on faith what the Ministers had to say, long before they reached the "sixteenthlies" in their learned discourses.
Jackson was very fond of the ladies and sought their society; he was always exceedingly polite and deferential to them. On several occasions I have heard them speak with pleasure of his delicate and gentlemanly attention to them at the "Springs" and elsewhere.
When he was a bachelor and occupied a room in barracks, he lingered with some of the Lexington fair ones until a late hour one Christmas and got into a ludicrous scrape on his return. He and the two Assistant Professors being all
[Page 21 ]
absent from quarters, some of the cadets determined to have a little Christmas fun. One of their pranks was to throw blankets over the heads of the sentinels, rush them off post, tear away the steps to the stoops, and barricade the openings. On their return, Jackson and one of the Asst Professors determined to make the best of the situation; but the other Assistant lost his temper, and on reaching the stoop leading to their rooms, seized the mattrass which had been put over that opening and threw it into the muddy yard - it had been raining - notwithstanding he was warned it was probably his own. It proved to be his own, and he was afterwards most ludicrously caricatured by one of the cadets. They did not disturb
[Page 22 ]
Jackson's room; and the next day, he made known his appreciation of their kindness, but with no allusion whatever to the great difficulty he had found in climbing up a steep, wet, slippery plank, to reach his room, instead of going to it in his usual dignified manner.
At the opening of hostilities between the States, as soon as it was learned that Jackson had taken the field, I, in common with the other "old cadets" who had been under him, remarked that if any one wanted to have his full share of fighting, he had only to join Jackson's command. Our opinion was that he would prove a hard fighter and do or die in the execution of orders; but we never dreamed he would display any strategical ability, judging from his want of originality
[Page 23 ]
as a professor, nor did we expect him to create such enthusiasm as he did, and become the idol of his army, as we had thought him cold and austere at the Institute and disposed to keep us at a distance. I often heard cadets make the remark: "He does not seem to realize that we are the sons of gentlemen, and is disposed to treat us as officers do the common soldiers in the regular army."
Jackson's military record in the late war is too well known for me to throw much light upon it, and there are many, still living, more competent to write about him in that connection, but many of us "old cadets" who knew him at the Institute, changed our opinions of him very materially when we entered the army as men,
[Page 24 ]
especially those who were so fortunate as to be in his command and brought in contact with him; when we soon concluded that he did not reach his conclusions hastily, but after mature deliberation and prayerful consideration; and that when once definitely reached, he was like a meteor in executing them.
I was under him from the seven days fight around Richmond to his fall at Chancellorsville; but did not see much of him till Genl Branch was killed at Sharpsburg and I, as Coll, was placed in command of his Brigade.
In the Valley, soon afterwards, my brigade was ordered to hold itself in readiness with three day's rations for detached service, and I was directed by Genl A.P. Hill to report, in person, to Genl Thomas J. Jackson
[Page 25 ]
for special orders. I accordingly reported to my old professor, expecting to be received in the stiff, formal manner of old which I so well remembered, be given orders, and instantly dismissed with the old familiar military salute.
But I was agreeably surprised; on entering the General's tent, he at once rose with a simile on his face, took my hand in both of his in the warmest manner, expressing his pleasure at seeing me, and asking why I had not been to see him before, at the same time handing me a camp stool and pressing me to a seat beside him. His kind words, the tones of his voice, his familiarly calling me Lane - whereas it had always been Mr. Lane at the Institute put me completely at my ease. I felt I was in the presence of a warm hearted friend, and then, (I think it was, for
[Page 26 ]
the first time, I began to feel that magnetism, which, with his record as a successful fighter in the Valley, had so endeared him to his troops. After a long and pleasant conversation, he gave me my orders, to advance to North Mountain Depot, near Hedgesville, and tear up the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, putting myself in communication with Genl Hampton who would cover my operations, as the cavalry outposts then did not extend beyond that point.
Jackson soon after sent one of his staff up to see how I was doing the work, His report, I presume, was favorable; for when I was ordered back and reported to him, he received me in the same cordial, warm hearted manner, complimented me upon the thoroughness of my work, told me that he had recommended me for promotion to take charge of Branch's brigade, and
[Page 27 ]
further stated that, as I was the only officer recommended for the vacancy through military channels, he thought I would get it, notwithstanding there were two aspirants for the place who were trying to bring political influence to bear in Richmond in their behalf.
When I rose to go, he took my hand in both of his, looked me steadily in the eye, and in words and tones of friendly warmth which I can never forget, again expressed his confidence in my promotion, and bade me a good-bye with a "God bless you Lane."
From that time forth I felt the very warmest attachment to him and never failed to pay him my respects whenever I was near him; and he invariably received me with the most friendly interested and talked to me as a father would to a son - I was then just twenty nine years of age.
[Page 28 ]
I reported back to Genl Hill below Martinsburg near Kearnesyville, and as we were about to commence tearing up the Railroad in that direction, a courier rode up with orders from Genl Jackson "that Lane's brigade be sent to the rear to select a new camp and rest as it had done its share of the work;" He was attentive to details and always looked after the comfort of his men as far as lay in his power, notwithstanding the many long, rapid and weary marches which caused his infantry to style themselves Jackson's "Foot Cavalry."
In his rapid march around Pope's rear, his infantry, though they had noting to eat but green corn, out marched and broke down the artillery horses, and so enthused were both officers and men that I never heard a word of complaint. The same thing
[Page 29 ]
occurred again in Maryland when he was marching on Frederick City.
His presence on the battle field as well as on the march created always the greatest enthusiasm. Genl Lee himself was never cheered more wildy, I noticed often on the march, that instead of encouraging such demonstrations, he always seemed to shrink from them, as he would simply raise his cap in recognition of the shout, and immediately spur his old "Sorrel" to get by as soon as possible.
My last social chat with him was on Hamilton's Heights near Fredericksburg. I then remarked to him, "that being ordered out of our comfortable quarters at Moss Neck to meet the enemy at that time was quite unexpected and a great surprise to me." He asked me
[Page 30 ]
Why so? And, when I told him it was because he had Mrs. Jackson with him and I thought him too gallant a soldier to allow his wife to be at the front in the hour of danger, he replied with a smile: "Lane, you must not trust always to appearances."
The last time I saw and spoke to Genl Jackson was at Chancellorsville on the evening of the 2nd of May; and one of his last verbal orders (if not his last) to a Genl Officer, was given to me on that occasion.
I had been ordered by Genl A.P. Hill (at dark) to deploy one regiment as skirmishers across the plank road, to form line of battle in rear with the rest of the brigade, and to push vigorously forward - in other words to make a night attack and capture the enemy's batteries, if possible;
[Page 31 ]
but soon after the order was given, our artillery opened and the enemy replied with a murderous fire. I at once ordered my men to lie down, as it was impossible to manouvre them in the dark, in such scrubby woods, under such a deadly fire. Coll W.H. Palmer of Hill's staff gallantly crossed the road to know why I did not move my command. I requested him to tell Genl Hill that if he wished me to do so successfully, he must order his artillery to cease firing, as it was drawing the enemy's fire. The order was given, and as I expected, the enemy also ceased firing. I now formed my brigade as I had been ordered; the 7th and 37th on the right of the road; the 18th and 28th on the left, the right of the 18th resting on the road, while the 33rd was thrown forward as skirmishers. I cautioned all my
[Page 32 ]
regimental commanders to watch closely the front, as we were then occupying the front line with the enemy close to us and we were about to make a night attack.
After forming my line, I rode back to ask Genl Hill if we must advance or wait for further orders; and on the plank road, I met General Jackson; he recognized me and at once called out "Lane who are you looking for?" I told him, and to save further delay, as I did not know where to find Hill, I asked for orders.
In an earnest tone and with a pushing jesture in the direction of the enemy, he replied; "Push right ahead Lane," and then rode forward
This was the last time I ever saw my old V.M.I Professor and commanding Lieut. Genl alive. I then rode to the right to put it in motion, and found that Lieut Coll Smith of the Federal Army
[Page 33 ]
had come in between my two lines with a white handkerchief tied to a stick to learn, as he stated, whether we were friends or foes. This officer seemed surprised at my not allowing him to return after he had gratified his curiosity. I was further delayed by a report that there was talking heard on our right. Lieutenant Emack was detailed with a small force to reconnoitre and soon returned with the 128th Penn regiment which had surrendered, on being informed that they were cut off and their Coll captured. Just then, some of the skirmishers fired at a horseman who rode up from the direction of the enemy and called for "General Williams."
This unknown person escaped, but the firing at him caused the whole skirmish line to open, to which the enemy responded with a furious fire, their batteries
[Page 34 ]
opening heavily. This was the fusilade that drove in Genls Jackson & Hill with their staffs - they having gone to the front reconnoitreing unknown to me or the officers of my brigade. A short heavy infantry fire then followed in the direction of the road where the 18th was stationed, soon after which, General Pender rode up and advised me not to advance, as both General Jackson and Genl Hill were wounded, and it was thought by my men.
On going back to the road, Major, afterwards Coll John D. Barry, commanding the 18th North Carolina Infantry, whose right rested on the road, informed me, that he knew nothing of Generals Jackson & Hill having gone to the front, that he could not distinguish friend from foe in the dark, and through the scrubby underwood, that soon after
[Page 35 ]
the skirmish line opened and the firing began, he heard the clattering of approaching horsemen and the cry of cavalry, and knowing that he was in the front line & only the enemy in his front, he not only ordered his men to fire, but made them keep it up, so convinced was he that they were enemies, & that the cry of friends was only a ruse.
Genl A.P. Hill being wounded, the night attack was not made as at first contemplated, During the night my brigade repulsed two desperate assaults by Sickle's command; and next morning, made a front attack and carried the enemy's breastworks; but could not hold them, on account of the murderous fire of shell, grape, and cannister from Chancellorsville Hill, between four and five hundred yards
[Page 36 ]
distant, under cover of which a fresh body of infantry was thrown against us, and we were forced to fall back with the loss of about one third of my command. That afternoon, we supported Colquitt's Brigade on the left of the line which was then nearly out of ammunition.
The woods were on fire, the heat excessive, the smoke arising from burning timber, blankets; oilcloths & e suffocating and offensive. The dead and dying could be seen on all sides enveloped in flames. The ground on which we formed was so hot at first we could hardly stand on it; and there we remained under arms the whole of that Sunday night in the front line while heavy skirmishing was going on.
[Page 37 ]
There are periods in every man's life when all the concentrated sorrow and bitterness of years seemed gathered into one short day or night of agony. Though victory was assured, imagine my feelings as I lay all black with soot and smoke under an oak reckoning the fearful cost; and reflected, that in less than forty eight hours one third of my entire command had been swept away, one field officer, only, left fit for duty out of thirteen carried into action - the rest all killed or wounded - most of them being my warmest friends; my boy brother who had been on my staff lying dead on the field; and Stonewall Jackson, my old professor, whom as a boy I had not fully appreciated and whom, as my commanding officer, I dearly loved, lying mortally wounded and probably dying, shot by my own gallant command, those
[Page 38 ]
brave North Carolina Veterans whom I had so often heard wildly cheering him as he appeared on many a battle field.
The wound proved fatal, and one week afterwards Jackson was dead; but his memory still lived in the hearts of his soldiers; and on many a subsequent hard fought field I have heard them exclaim: "Oh! For another Jackson."
James H. Lane
--Transcriptions made by Terri Stout-Stevens, Pfafftown, NC, in 1998. Edited by Marty Olliff, Assistant Archivist, Auburn University, who takes all responsibility for any errors.
Return to the Lane Papers Inventory
Go to the AU Archives and
Manuscripts Department Homepage