(Sketch continued . . . )
This son Thomas was his parent's third child--a son named Warren had been born three years earlier, in January. A little over two years later, in March 1826, the oldest child, Elizabeth was laid low by typhoid fever. Her mother was well advanced in her fourth pregnancy, and could not care for the child, so Jonathon sat day and night at his daughter's bedside. On March 26, both father and daughter died of typhoid fever, and on the following day, Julia gave birth to Laura Jackson. She was now 28 years of age, widowed, largely ignored by a family which had come to think better of her marriage, with two infants and a newly born daughter. Always welcome at her parent's Parkersburg home, she seems never to have asked for financial assistance, and to have been given little more than small gifts which helped to scrape along, adding the occassional embarrassed cash gift from the Jackson in-laws. Another attorney in the area, Blake Woodson, began to court her at some point in the late 1820's, and married her in November, 1830. He was less of a scholar than Jonathon Jackson had been, having no talent for civil suits, and as little or less oratory power, which excluded him as well from making a good living as an advocate. He is reported to have become abusive of his wife and step-children, blaming them for his failures. He is said to have encouraged the children to "seek homes elsewhere." Julia's family had already noted that she showed signs of "consumption," and it is likely that she had contracted tuberculosis (common in the age of the horse, as horses and stables are vectors for the disease). In 1831, the Commonwealth Assembly created the new county of Fayette, and Woodson moved his family there, thinking to make a living as the first, or one of the first attorneys there. The family was more isolated than ever before, and Woodson's charm and smooth talking, only skin-deep and not a natural trait as it had been for Jonathon Jackson, failed to secure more than a bare livelihood. Warren Jackson, at age 10, went to Parkersburg to live with his maternal uncle Alfred Neale. Julia wanted to keep the younger children, but Woodson had become more abusive, and she was dying of her consumption. A relative, probably Cummins Jackson, came from Jackson's Mill to get the children. Thomas ran off into the woods, and only came home well after sundown, driven in by his hunger. The next day was a horrible scene of emotional turmoil as he finally agreed to mount a horse brought for the purpose, and his mother ran after him to embrace him repeatedly. Laura's reaction to the event is not recorded, to my knowledge. Julia's influence on her son was considerable, and despite his subsequent military reputation, he was a quiet and kindly man (where duty did not require otherwise) with the soft brown hair of his mother, and lively blue eyes of his father, and an unfailing love for and understanding with any child he met.
For whatever emotional scars were caused by the parting, and the death in 1831 of their mother, the two children were well loved and cared for at Jackson's Mill, by their step-grandmother and two of her daughters. As the daughters had families of their own, the children received much love and care, but little schooling. They were nominally in the care of the Uncle, Cummins Jackson. Their grandfather Neale levied horrible charges against him, saying his daughter had spoken of him in only "contempteble [sic
] terms" and that he sought to make "dredges [i.e., drudges] of them." But his efforts failed, and Thomas Jackson was to spend eleven years at Jackson's Mill, and they seem to have been relatively care-free. Having begun to learn their letters from their mother, Thomas and Laura were given an on-again, off-again education at the Mill. Cummins Jackson seems to have been as careless of his good credit as his brother had been, and by the time Thomas was half way through his career at the United States Military Academy, Cummins Jackson had decided the climate of Arkansas would be more salubrious than that of Lewis County, Virginia. He had discovered a thin vein of silver near the mill, and was accused of counterfeiting half-dollars by stamping them on lead slugs, which were then coated with silver. Of Laura Jackson, little remains that is reliable, as she bacame a staunch West Virginia Unionist, and the most scurrilous stories were circulated about her, usually with accusations of wanton sexual practice included. She married, and for whatever the rest of Virginia said of her (doubtlessly exacerbated by the fame of her brother in the opposing cause), she was well-respected in her community.
Thomas Jackson had realized in adolescence that he suffered from a lack of formal education. He applied himself with vigor to the task of the autodidact, and advanced to such a point that he was tutoring other children in their homes in the winter time. This was a common practice of families who could afford the fee to the county, with winter being a time when little labor was expected of the child, and older, literate children were available for the task. At the age of 17, Thomas Jackson signed a voucher for payment of $5.64 in fees to him for such classes with the name "Thomas J. Jackson." There is no evidence that he had ever used the name before, or had ever before been so named. Given the large number of Jacksons in the county, it is likely that the initial was used to distinguish him from other Thomas Jacksons. At the USMA, he used the name to distinguish himself from Thomas K. Jackson of South Carolina, who matriculated in the same class. Therefore, he ever after signed his name thus on military documents, and never signed his name thus on private correspondence. Many biographers have leapt to the conclusion the his full, formal name was Thomas Jonathon Jackson, but there is absolutely no evidence to support the contention.
In 1841, the newly minted Congressman Samuel Hays had enthusiastically endorsed the idea that Jackson be appointed to the United States Military Academy. Hays, from Weston, knew the Jackson clan well, understood their considerable influence, and personally knew and liked Thomas Jackson. But Gibson Butcher of Weston had a "formal" education, and had worked as an attorney's clerk, and scored considerably higher on the examinations than Jackson. Jackson had been sweated pretty well by two attorneys and a clergyman for the examinations, but the many years of no formal education told. However, arriving at West Point on the Hudson river on June 3, 1842, Gibson Butcher departed without ceremony, and without bothering to inform anyone on June 4. His absence was eventually noted, and Congressman Hays was invited to submit another name, preferrably that of someone who had taken and passed the examination. Congressman Hays was now free to follow his personal inclination, and two weeks later, Thomas Jackson arrived in New York. Legends about him walking (some even claiming he did so with bare feet!) the more than 250 miles ought to be given the consideration they merit. Jackon started at the bottom of his class, and seems at first to have despaired of making any progress. He applied himself, however, with the energy and ambition that residents of western Virginia had long attributed to his clan, and by his graduation, had hauled himself to about the middle of his class. He had a brief and inexplicable period of a lapse of attention to duty in his third year, but otherwise was well known as a particular adherent to the letter of military duty and its punctilious observation. He had excelled at drill with the field artillery, despite dismal performance in mathmatics, and was delighted to be accepted into that branch of the service. Little ceremony was wasted on the class of 1846, and he was soon shipped to Mexico, an officer of Company K, First United States Artillery. When Winfield Scott finally escaped the machinations of President Polk, and began assembling his army for the invasion by sea of Mexico, Jackon's section of artillery was among the professional forces transferred from Zachary Taylor's command to that of Scott. The Navy landed Scott's small, and very professional, army at Vera Cruz on March 9, 1847. Scott's chief engineer, Robert Lee, helped his brother Smith Lee (an officer of the United States Navy) to set up ship's guns for the bombardmentn of Vera Cruz, and Jackson's company took their assigned stations as the brothers laid out the seige batteries. Jackson received favorable notice for his behavior under fire, walking from gun to gun to supervise the gun laying (aiming) before each salvo. An observer noted that: "Old Jack . . . was as calm in the midst of a hurricane of bullets as though he were on dress parade at West Point." He felt that he would receive promotion, but he was ever attentive to the detail of military protocol and duty. Writing to Laura, he stated that he himself should receive no praise, as that was owing the officers in command, and admonished that his correspondence ought never be shown to newspaper editors. At the same time, he began a relentless correspondence with the Quartermaster General to be reimbursed for his expenditures from his private monies when acting as Quartermaster for his company on the voyage from New York to Mexico, which he eventually received--duty flows in both directions in the chain of command.
It is not to the point here to recall the details of Scott's campaign from Vera Cruz to the city of Mexico. It was followed with a good deal of interest, and unstinting praise by military men in Europe as well as the United States. In May, Jackson had received his promotion to First Lieutenant, but only a brevet (active in wartime, but not in effect in peacetime), and was transferred from Company K (light artillery) to Company G (heavy artillery). He was left behind with this unit at Jalapa, to his mortification. In June, however, the battery was ordered to join Scott's army again. They were attacked by guerillas en route
, but they were easily driven off, and Jackson wrote to Laura of the souvenirs he had acquired, including "a beautiful sabre." Scott now moved with a reduced force of just over 10,000 men directly on the city of Mexico. In August, Captain Lee exhausted himself to find a path through the ancient lava fields of the Pedregal
, and lead units through the nightmarish terraine, while supervising the efforts of Gideon Pillow's troops to hack a road through the rock. Scott had formed batteries of "flying artillery" (light guns, usually six pound smooth bore cannon and twelve pound howitzers) to accompany the brigades of the army, and one of them was given to "Prince John" Magruder, of Virginia. Magruder needed a second in command, but no volunteers were forthcoming, as it was generally understood that Magruder was a severe disciplinarian whose desire for advancement took no account of the safety of his men. After sixteen years in the Army, he was still a captain and a battery commander, despite his reputation for fearless gallantry in action. Jackson, however, saw an opportunity, and probably could not understand anyone's objection to degrees of discipline, as his own conception was that one obeyed, and one did not question.
At Contreras, Magruder advanced his guns to rake the enemy who had bombarded the troops whom Lee was supervising in cutting a road through the lava beds. Jackson had been posted at a "corner," and stood to his orders even as enemy shot and shell were cutting down his men. Lt. Johnstone advanced his guns to the support of some howitzers, and the shelling moved away from Jackson's section, which may well have saved his life--he certainly would never have abandoned his position short of death. Johnstone was cut down, however, and Magruder began anxiously to look for Jackson, fearing he had been injured, or had failed to advance. He did not immediately find him, because Jackson had advanced beyond the howitzers, and to the right, in order to pour a converging fire into the Mexicans. Magruder's original assessment of Jackons was unflattering: he was an FFV (first families of Virginia) from the Tidewater, and Jackson was a mountainman with "no family." He commented that all that Jackson had to recommend him was "a stupid bravery." But Contreras altered his view considerably. Magruder, never know for praising subordinates when his own career might benefit, nevertheless wrote: " . . . conspicuous throught the whole day . . . I cannot too highly commend him to the Major Genl's. (Scott's) favorable consideration. " Magruder, and Callendar commanding the howitzers, had dueled for hours with more than twenty Mexican guns, all of an equal or much larger caliber. The action had allowed Pillow's and Twigg's troops to pass the enemy position at San Antonio ranch, however, and General Twigg also mentioned Jackson's "coolness and determination." On the following day, Scott's forces were thereby enabled to attack the Mexicans in front and rear--they held out a scant twenty minutes. Thomas Jackson had "arrived" in his military career.
(An 1851 portrait, taken shortly before his retirement from the United States Army.)