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Professor at the Virginia Military Institute—Appointed Colonel in the Virginia Line by John Esten Cooke


The Life of Stonewall Jackson: From Official Papers, Contemporary Narratives, and Personal Acquaintance 
by
John Esten Cooke

Chapter II.
Professor at the Virginia Military Institute—Appointed Colonel in the Virginia Line.

JACKSON remained at the Military Institute in discharge of his duties until the spring of 1861. Then the time for the full display of the great faculties of his soul came. Peace might have left forever hidden the profound and splendid genius of the man, but the bloody flower of war was about to burst into bloom, and the quiet, "eccentric" professor was to shape and mould the great events of a mighty period in the history of the world. Cromwell might have remained a brewer Jackson an unknown professor; but for both of these iron souls Providence had decreed and shaped their work.

The year 1861 opened, big with portents. The air seemed to be filled with that mysterious electricity which preludes revolution and battle. Great events were on the march, and the minds of men were aroused and excited; all hearts beat fast with the ardor of the time. In January the "Star of the West" was fired upon in Charleston harbor, and Mississippi followed South Carolina, seceding from the Union. Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana followed in the same month, and military movements began at many points. Early in February Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederate States ; and on the 4th of March Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President of the United States. State after State seceded; a permanent Constitution of the Confederate States was adopted March 11, and on April 13th Fort Sumter surrendered to General Beauregard. From that moment the issue was clearly joined, and all intelligent minds perceived that it meant civil war. The Confederate States accepted it marshalled their forces organized for the general defence and entered upon the great struggle with grave and serious hearts, but profound reliance on that God of Hosts who gives not the battle to the strong or the race to the swift, but upholds the righteous cause against all assailants, working its deliverance.

Up to the 17th April the galaxy of the Confederate States wanted one of its brightest luminaries. The Southern cross was yet without the central light which was to complete its glories. Virginia, the soul of revolution in the past the proud, defiant, chivalric sovereignty which had been hitherto the first to throw down the gauntlet of resistance to oppression Virginia, the mother of warriors and statesmen, remained inactive, lagging in the rear. Some day the causes of this phenomenon will be investigated, the actors in that drama delineated, and "every one shall have his own." Certain it is that the beautiful Virgin of the Virginia Shield hesitated long to lift the spear in defence of her chastity, and it was not until a brutal and insolent foe came in direct contact with her pure person that she woke to the danger, and raised her arm.

The Ordinance of Secession was passed on the 17th April, and the Virginia Convention took immediate steps to operate against the enemy in the Valley. It was a matter of primary importance to drive the Federal forces from Harper's Ferry, and secure the stores there, and this was promptly undertaken. We had only a few volunteer troops to move with against the U. S. regulars; but Virginia had a well-grounded confidence in the courage of her population, and the event of the movement was looked to with confidence.

With this month of April, 1861, again appears upon the scene the young soldier who had so greatly distinguished himself in Mexico, and since that time had been so quietly pursuing the beaten path of his duties at the Virginia Military Institute. Jackson was now thirty-seven years of age. He was scarcely known beyond the walls of the Institute in which he continued to perform his official duties with military regularity, and if the outer world heard of him at all, it was only through jests or witticisms directed against his peculiarities of character and demeanor by some of the students who, with the love of fun proverbial in their class, had much to say of the eccentricities and odd ways of "Old Tom Jackson." The universal tendency to caricature the peculiarities of a man of original genius is well known to make fun of those very great traits which separate such men from the common-place mass of human beings and Jackson received more than a fair share of this undesirable attention on the part of his students. He was a martinet in the performance of his duties administered things in his department "on a war footing," and no doubt caused the volatile young men whom he taught, to regard him as a most unreasonable and exacting stickler for useless military etiquette and ceremony. But he was conscientious in this extreme attention to little things, and he was clearly right. The Institute was a military school its chief value consisted in the habits of military obedience which it impressed upon the ductile characters of the youth of the Commonwealth and Jackson no doubt regarded any relaxation of the rules of the establishment as tending directly to strike at the intentions of its founders, and destroy its usefulness. We have heard that he once continued to wear a thick woollen uniform late into the summer, and when asked by one of the professors why he did so, replied that he had seen an order prescribing that dress, but none had been exhibited to him directing it to be changed. This was the source of some amusement to the young gentlemen who had no idea of military "orders" and the implicit obedience which a good soldier considers it his bounden duty to pay to them. But was not Jackson right? Let the thousands who, in this bitter and arduous struggle, have been taught by hard experience the necessity of strict, unquestioning compliance with all orders, to the very letter, reply to the question.

Jackson thus remained a soldier as before as strict in the performance of duty, and as exacting in regard to others, as if he was still in the field. It is certain, too, that his religious convictions had become strengthened and established as the controlling influence of his life. He had long since become a devout member of the Presbyterian Church, and was a most devoted and exemplary Christian looking to God, and "lifting up hands of prayer" for guidance in all things from the supreme ruler of the universe. We shall have occasion, subsequently, to speak more particularly of this humble and devoted piety of the profound submission of this great man's heart to the will of his Maker. Never has that unwavering trust deserted him, in the gloomiest scenes of the war; and in his last moments he said calmly that he had no repinings or regrets for the loss of his arm; it was God's will, and whether his life was spared or not, he submitted himself with humility and entire confidence to the mercy of his Redeemer.

Such was the man to whom the authorities of Virginia looked when war threatened her frontier and a stout-hearted leader was required to drive back the enemy. Gov. Letcher will live forever in history as the official who conferred the first military commission in the Southern army on Jackson. He appointed him Colonel, the Virginia Convention unanimously approved the appointment, and Jackson speedily proceeded to Harper's Ferry, and took command of the small "Army of Observation" there on the 3d of May, 1861. Upon the approach of this force, Lieut. Jones, commanding the Federal forces, attempted the destruction of the armory and government works, and evacuated the place, which was immediately occupied by the Virginia troops.

John Esten Cooke, The Life of Stonewall Jackson: From Official Papers, Contemporary Narratives, and Personal Acquaintance (New York: Charles B. Richardson, 1864), 17-21.

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