January 21, 2012: 188th Birthday of Stonewall Jackson (January 21, 1824-May 10, 1863)

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson died of “friendly fire”, mistakenly shot by his own men after leading a brilliant Confederate victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia.  He was probably the most celebrated and mythologized Confederate General of all, precisely because he died young.  My grandfather Al attended VMI for two years before deciding against a military career and entering Harvard College, but reported that almost of the curriculum consisted of Jackson’s instructional materials or courses developed on military strategy, philosophy, laws of war, tactics, and military science (weapons technology and use) during the 1850s, were still in use in 1915-17 (14 years after the future General George C. Marshall graduated there in 1901).  Jackson had also participated in the Mexican War, having led the artillery attack on Chapultepec Castle and the final occupation of Mexico City itself, having been promoted 3 times during the course of that one brief war.  It seemed that in everything he touched, whether as a military instructor, professor of philosophy, deeply religious teacher (who, ironically enough, distinguished himself by leading and promoting the pre-war education of African slaves and freedmen in Virginia), and finally as Confederate General and role model, Thomas J. Jackson distinguished himself to an unparalleled degree.  To paraphrase the Mathematician and Pianist/Comic Singer Tom Lehrer, it’s people like this who make you realize just how little you’ve accomplished in life.  For example, when Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was my age, he had been dead for 13 years.

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