Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Stonewall Jackson / A Modern Soldier

  Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson is one of those historical figures that much has been written about so I doubt that I can add that much except to say that he was one of the very few soldiers on either side in the Civil War that could be classified as ahead of his time. On the Confederate side the only other name that comes to mind is Nathan Bedford Forrest. On the Union side it was primarily Grant and Sherman. Most Civil War generals believed in the Napoleonic "decisive battle concept". In other words if you can win one decisive battle the chances are good that you can win the war. For example, an Austerlitz or Waterloo. Lee was not only looking for a battle that would force the Union to sue for peace but a victory like Saratoga in the American Revolution that convinced the French to come in on the side of the Americans. Many people mistakenly believed that the war would be short. This is why early on there were ninety day volunteers. This caused a lot of problems when these men expected to go home after three months and the war was far from over. Sherman was thought to be insane because he predicted a long war that would take several hundred thousands of men to win. Grant felt that the Confederacy was on the verge of collapse after Fort Donelson. The savagery of Shiloh convinced him that the war would be long and bloody. It would take many Shiloh's to defeat the South. 

  Grant and Sherman were modern thinking generals because they realized that attrition of the Southern Army and the defeat of the Southern people as a whole was the answer to winning the war. This would later play into Grant's final strategy for winning the war and Sherman's March to the Sea. Stonewall Jackson believed in annihilating his enemy. Not annihilation in the sense of killing to the last man but annihilating an army's effectiveness. This is exactly what he was trying to do at Chancellorsville. Not only to defeat the Army of the Potomac but to totally put it out of action. This is why Jackson was fatally wounded by his own men. Joseph Hooker had stolen a march on Lee and was coming up in his rear. Jackson confronted Hooker near the Wilderness and Hooker lost his nerve. Lee and Jackson were outnumbered at least two to one but Jackson boldly suggested taking half of the army and march across the Union front in order to strike Hookers exposed right flank. Lee as the superior officer agreed to his plan. Jackson executed this plan late on the afternoon of May 2, 1863 with only about an hour of daylight. He quickly rolled up the Union line. After the sun had set he was scouting the Union lines trying to find a way to push them into the river when he was shot three times by his own men. He was shot twice in his left arm and once in his right hand. His arm was amputated that night but he died of pneumonia eight days later on May 10.

  Jackson and Forrest were the South's best generals in my opinion. Jackson had tied up three Union Armies  in the Valley Campaign of 1862. They were not able to reinforce McClellan on his Peninsula Campaign because Lincoln wanted them between Jackson's army and Washington DC. The following quote explains Jackson's military philosophy. "Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never give up the pursuit as long as your men have the strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed by half their number. The other rule is, never fight against heavy odds, if by any possible maneuvering you can hurl your own force on only a part, and that the weakest part, of your enemy and crush it". Forrest was not as literate as Jackson, and he had little formal education, but in his raw Southern dialect he in essence said the same thing. "I want to do it rite", "I want to fite" and "I got there first with the most". "Get the skeer in em. Keep the skeer in em". Forrest's victory at Brices Crossroads and most of his battles were classic examples of the Forrest and Jackson philosophy. Jackson also believed in defense in depth. "My men have sometimes failed to take a position, but to defend one,never"! He proved this concept at Antietam, Fredricksburg, and Second Bull Run. He would rapidly march his "foot cavalry" to a good defensive position and allow the enemy to destroy themselves in fruitless attacks against his position. His vision was as an independent commander taking an army of about 40,000 men into the North, living off the land, keeping ahead of slower Union armies. Stopping to fight in good defensive positions, and then moving on. He wanted the North to feel the impact of war in the same way that the South was feeling it. In addition a Southern army running wild on northern soil would mean less Union  armies in the South. The Southern high command would never agree to Jackson's strategy and it was never implemented. I have often wondered what a Confederate army led by Stonewall Jackson and supported by Forrest's cavalry would have looked like. It would have, in my opinion, been virtually invincible.

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