Stonewall Jackson's Way
DESCRIPTION: The prayers and fighting methods of "Stonewall" Jackson and his troops (the "Stonewall" Brigade) are described. Each exploit is described as "Stonewall Jackson's Way." The poem concludes, "The foe had better ne'er been born That gets in Jackson's way."
AUTHOR: John Williamson Palmer (1825-1906)
EARLIEST DATE: 1904 (Wharton)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar battle
1824-1863 - Life of Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson
July 21, 1861 - First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas. In a confusing fight, with his brigade falling to pieces, General Bernard Bee sees Jackson's brigade holding steady. He describes the brigade as a "Stone wall," coining the nickname by which Jackson has been identified ever since (though Jackson always maintained that the name was the brigage's, not his)
May/June, 1862 - Jackson's "Valley Campaign." Jackson, with strength never exceeding two divisions, battles the equivalent of three (weak and scattered) Union corps to a standstill by rapid movement and concentration. One of three federal commanders in the area (the Union army had no overall commander) was the inept Nathaniel P. Banks, whose troops suffered severely at Jackson's hands (and would suffer again at Cedar Mountain in August)
Aug 29-30, 1862 - Second Battle of Bull Run/Manasses. Lee and Jackson defeat Pope
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Silber-CivWarFull, pp. 79-81, "Stonewall Jackson's Way" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hill-CivWar, pp. 83-84, "Stonewall Jackson's Way" (1 text)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #C170, p. 195, "Stonewall Jackson's Way" (2 references)
NOTES [389 words]: I have always heard this as a poem, but the Digital Tradition has a tune, and Wharton's War Songs and Poems of the Southern Confederacy also prints a melody; I suppose it might be traditional. I don't know of any field collections, though.
That this piece was composed by an educated man cannot be doubted (note the use of Latin in one stanza); there is no reason to question Palmer's authorship. Wharton however (War Songs, p. 47) reports a rumor that "[t]hese verses were found written on a small piece of paper, all stained with blood, in the bosom of a dead soldier of the old Stonewall Brigade, after one of Jackson's battles in the Shenandoah Valley."
It turns out that this was a bit of deliberate fakery. According to E. Lawrence Abel, Singing the New Nation: How Music Shaped the Confederacy, 1861-1865, Stackpole, 2000, p. 109, "The reason for the anonymity and the falsification was to keep its author, John W. Palmer, from being arrested as a Southern sympathizer." He was a citizen of Baltimore who worked as a war correspondent for various Northern newspapers, and apparently first used the phrase "Stonewall Jackson's Way" in his reporting, then upgraded it to a poem.
Palmer, describing the way he produced the piece, said he built it around an Oregon lumbering tune (Abel, p. 110), although he did not identify the tune.
The origin of the nickname "Stonewall" is explained in the historical references. The poem also calls Jackson "Old Blue Eyes" -- allegedly given because of the way his eyes glowed in battle.
The description of the Second Battle of Bull Run in the penultimate stanza is completely backward. Lee had separated his army into wings under Longstreet and Jackson. Union General John Pope caught up with Jackson, and tried very hard on August 29 to dislodge him. He almost succeeded. But then Longstreet came up on Pope's flank and completely demolished the Union army.
The "Ashby" referred to in the same stanza is Turner Ashby, who had commanded Jackson's cavalry in the Valley campaign and was killed June 6, 1862.
The descriptions of Jackson's prayer are more reasonable; Jackson was a presbyterian lay preacher (though his students at the VMI described him as very dull), and he attributed all his success to God. Frankly, he was a very obnoxious person -- but, obviously, a great tactician. - RBW
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