This week marks the birthdays of two famous Confederate generals: Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Lee’s birthday was yesterday, January 19, and Jackson’s birthday is tomorrow, January 21.
Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807. He was a son of the famous Revolutionary War hero, “Light Horse Harry” Lee. Robert E. Lee’s upbringing was atypical of Virginia gentry. Although his first home was at Stratford Hall (a beautiful plantation in Virginia that is now a tourist attraction), Lee’s family moved to Alexandria when he was four because his father was thrown into debtor’s prison. Robert E. Lee was accepted into West Point Military Academy in 1825, where he excelled and graduated at the top of his class with no demerits. He served as a military engineer, and married Mary Custis, the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, at Arlington House.
After fighting in the Mexican War, Lee continued with the United States military until Virginia seceded in April, 1861. He then decided to stay true to his state, so he resigned his commission. He served under Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who eventually gave Lee total control of the Confederate Army. During the first two years of the war, Lee and Jackson fought side-by-side in several battles.
Following his surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, Lee served as the President of Washington and Lee University in Lexington. His tenure was short-lived, however. He died on October 12, 1870, and is buried on campus. Lee was a true patriot, hero, and gentleman. He was deeply religious, and was greatly admired and respected by his men, as well as his students and the citizens of Lexington.
Thomas J. Jackson, born on January 21, 1824, was also a deeply religious man. He was sometimes ridiculed for his peculiar, eccentric behavior. Jackson was extremely shy, but after a harsh upbringing, he learned to read, and managed to graduate from West Point in 1846. He fought in the Mexican War, where he met Robert E. Lee. In 1851, Jackson became a professor at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia, where his teaching methods received criticism. His first wife died in childbirth, but he remarried a few years later.
When the Civil War broke out, Jackson was assigned to Harpers Ferry, where he commanded the “Stonewall Brigade.” His strategic military genius helped win battles at First and Second Manassas, the Peninsula and Valley Campaigns, and the Battle of Fredericksburg. During the Battle of Chancellorsville in May, 1863, Jackson was mistaken for the enemy by his own men and wounded. His arm was amputated, and it was thought he would recover. But after eight days, he succumbed to pneumonia. He died on May 10, 1863, and is buried in Lexington Cemetery (his left arm is buried at Ellwood Manor).
Lee and Jackson were two of the most prolific generals of the Civil War. Their religious conviction and military genius will always be admired and revered. Both men, along with Jefferson Davis, are featured in the carving on Stone Mountain, Georgia.