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Jackson's Skill, Nerve and Generalship

Though early in his career friends saw Thomas J. Jackson exhibiting much energy and industry, none viewed him as possessing anything resembling military genius. His biographer John Esten Cooke wrote of Jackson that “To fight to the death was his unfaltering resolve, and his own invincible resolution was infused into his troops; they became inspired by his ardor, and were more than a match for two or three times their number fighting without this stimulus.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Jackson’s Skill, Nerve and Generalship

“ . . . Jackson set out in person for Winchester [in late May 1862], travelling by a special train on the Winchester and Potomac Railroad. A gentleman who was with his relates a scene that ensued during the brief journey. At one of the wayside stations, a courier was seen galloping down from the direction of Winchester, and Jackson clutched at the dispatch which he brought. “What news?” he asked.

As [the courier] spoke his lips were firmly compressed, his face grew rigid, and his eyes fixed themselves apparently on some distant object. Then this preoccupation suddenly disappeared; he read the [dispatch] which he held in his hand, tore it to pieces . . . and leaning forward, rested his forehead on his hands, and immediately fell asleep. He soon roused himself and, turning to the gentleman who furnishes these particulars, said:

“I am going to send you to Richmond for re-enforcements. I have just received a dispatch informing me of the advance of the enemy upon Front Royal, which is captured, and Fremont [with 25,000 men] is now advancing toward Wardensville. Thus, you see, I am nearly surrounded by a very large force.

“What is your own [plan], General?”

“To meet this attack I only have 15,000 effective men.”

“What will you do if they cut you off, General?” Jackson hesitated for a moment, and the coolly replied: “I will fall back upon Maryland for re-enforcements.”

Jackson was in earnest. If his retreat was cut off, he intended to advance into Maryland, and doubtless make his way straight to Baltimore and Washington, depending on the Southern sentiment in that portion of the State to bring him re-enforcements. The design was characteristic of his military genius, and its bold air of invasion probably surrounded it with more charms to the leader, who never lost sight of that policy.

That the [Northern] Government was apprehensive of some such movement is certain. The wildest rumors were prevalent in that country. It was said that Jackson had defeated all his opponents, had crossed the Potomac with an enormous army, and was then advancing on Washington. Terror reigned in the North.

We have seen that the “great force” at Jackson’s command was 15,000 men, and that a much larger force was about to close in on his rear. His position was critical in the extreme. Unless he moved with the greatest speed, and reached Strasburg before the junction of [Northern commanders] Fremont and Shields [4,000 men], his retreat would be cut off, and General McDowell, then at Front Royal [with 20,000 men], would achieve his design of “bagging Jackson.”   To defeat the designs of the enemy, and extricate his forces, was the object upon which he now concentrated all his skill, nerve and generalship.

On the speed of the “foot cavalry” depended the safety of the army; and if the larger portion marched, as they seem to have done, from the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry to Strasburg, nearly fifty miles, between the afternoon of the 30th and the night of the 31st of May, it is one of the swiftest marches on record. Jackson arrived in time, just in time . . . [and then] determined to attack Fremont, and hold him in check. Jackson was now comparatively safe. He had realized the prayer which his great namesake of the “Hermitage” uttered for a friend – he had “triumphed over all his enemies.”

[Jackson] had flanked them at Front Royal, pursued them from Middletown, beaten them at Winchester, chased them to the Potomac, filled Washington with alarm; and now, when their forces were closing in upon his rear to intercept him, he had passed between them with his prisoners and stores, struck them heavily as he retired, and was moving toward the upper Valley.

He had captured 2300 prisoners, 100 cattle, 34,900 pounds of bacon, flour, salt, sugar, coffee, hard bread, and cheese, $125,185 worth of quartermasters stores, $25,000 worth of sutler stores, immense medical stores, 9354 small-arms, two pieces of artillery, many cavalry horses . . . These results had been achieved with the loss of 68 killed, 329 wounded, and 3 missing – a total loss of 400. In ending his report, Jackson proudly reported that the battle of Winchester was, “on our part, a battle without a straggler.”

(Life of Stonewall Jackson, John Esten Cooke, D. Appleton and Company, 1876, pp. 158-161)

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