Stonewall Jackson’s Way

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“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

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  1. On songs:
    There’s a very good modern bluegrass tune by David Davis about Chancellorsville. I can’t find a lyrics link, but there’s this (click sample for a start) :

    If you ever get to visit; I have found the Fredericksburg/Wilderness battlefields to be the most fulfilling of the various sites. I had a friend (now deceased) who was a USMC officer, and while stationed in VA, they visited as part of their studies. An attempt to learn to fight like Jackson/Lee apparently.
    (He eventually owned a farm nearby, where he was buried last August).

  2. “L’audace! L’audace! Toujours l’audace.”

    My (largely unread) “take” on Jackson is that he could wield his entire corps to achieve maximum effect while other corps CO’s seemed to send in their divisions/regiments by dribs and drabs.

    And, I seem to remember Jackson’s corps was known to route march so far and so fast that they were called, “foot cavalry.”

    Both Lee and Jackson seemed (when they succeeded) to attack where they had numbers superiority in the sector, even when they were heavily outnumbered elsewhere.

    I recently visited Shiloh National Military Park. It was like Gettysburg, not as large, and I couldn’t tie in the various sections of the field as well as at Gettysburg. It’s basically flat and sectors separated by forests. I had toured Gettysburg with the children. The Irish Brigade memorial was of interest to me. Next time, I’ll spend more time and go after “reading up.” Antietam and Fredericksburg also are on the list . . . if ever I pack it in.

  3. “And, I seem to remember Jackson’s corps was known to route march so far and so fast that they were called, “foot cavalry.”

    “All old Jackson gave us was a musket, a hundred rounds and a gum blanket, and he druv us so like hell”

    One of Jackson’s men picked up by the Sixth WI

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