In 1852 a cadet challenged Professor Thomas Jonathan Jackson to a duel. A brilliant student, the cadet had been expelled from the Virginia Military Institute due to charges brought against him by Professor Jackson alleging classroom disobedience. Enraged the cadet challenged him to a duel and threatened that if Jackson would not fight him in a duel he would seek him out and kill him. Jackson was not going to fight a duel with a cadet and considered taking out a restraining order. However, the former cadet, James Alexander Walker, eventually calmed down and went on with his life. He studied law at the University of Virginia and began practicing law. He married and he and his wife would eventually have six children. Then the war came.
Enlisting in the Confederate army as a captain, he quickly was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and then Colonel of the 13th Virginia. The 13th Virginia served in the Valley Campaign under now General Thomas Jonathan Jackson. Jackson admired the courage and discipline of the cadet that had been dismissed from VMI due to his charges, which Walker regarded Jackson as a military genius and the ideal commander. On his deathbed, Jackson recommended that Walker be promoted to general and given command of his old unit, the elite Stonewall Brigade.
Called Stonewall Jim by his troops, Walker led the brigade from Gettysburg to Spotsylvania where he was severely wounded. Late in the war he commanded a division in the Second Corps.
After the war he had an illustrious career at both the bar and in politics. He served in the Virginia legislature as a Democrat, eventually being elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. In 1893 he switched to the Republican party and served two terms in Congress, being defeated in a hotly contested election for a third term. At a deposition over the election results, he was shot and wounded. Nothing dismayed, he ran against his opponent again and lost again in 1900. He died in 1901.
No doubt, one of the more satisfying moments in his life was when he was awarded an honorary degree for his Civil War service in 1872.