Brisk entry in Palgrave’s Great Generals series spotlights the battle prowess of Dixie’s warrior-saint.
With the possible exception of Patton, America has never produced a fighting general as outrageously eccentric or gloriously successful as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (1824–63). Orphaned young and only spottily educated, he graduated in the top third of his class at West Point, where fellow cadets remarked upon his rustic and taciturn manner, his queer health notions, bizarre dietary practices, iron discipline, punctilious observance of rules and powers of trance-like concentration. After serving with distinction as an artillery officer in the Mexican War, Jackson endured years in a variety of obscure army posts, then resigned his commission to teach at Virginia Military Institute. There he married, became a devout Presbyterian and subjected a generation of students to awkward, dull lectures and constant, repetitious drills. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he sided with Virginia and delivered a badly needed series of Southern victories, beginning at Bull Run—where his steadfastness under fire earned him his nickname—through his death by friendly fire at Chancellorsville in 1863. Davis (Lightning Strike: The Secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor, 2005, etc.) demonstrates how war transformed this silent, humble, shabbily dressed, deeply religious man into a killing machine. Notwithstanding his penchants for secrecy, constant quarrelling with fellow officers and driving himself to the point of useless exhaustion, Jackson became a symbol for the glorious cause second only to Lee. Davis ably distills his battle tactics. Beginning with a comprehensive knowledge of the terrain and well-placed artillery, the general sought to mystify, mislead and surprise, hurling his usually smaller forces against the weaker part of his foe, never letting up until they crushed the enemy. Speed, endurance and boldness characterized the rigorously trained troops who helped carry Jackson into legend.
A handy introduction to the military genius whose philosophy of war was “draw your swords and throw away the scabbard!”