The Childhood Influences of Stonewall Jackson
Written by David T. Crum |
Monday, May 22, 2023
Eventually becoming a Presbyterian as an adult, Jackson held firmly to the Providential view of God, noting that nothing occurred in life without God’s blessing, guidance, and will. We can argue that Providence further shaped Jackson into the man he became. The Lord molded Stonewall Jackson from his early childhood years. Of course, the man experienced great sadness and heartache; however, perseverance, determination, morality, and discipline made him the general he was. His boyhood years set the stage for the legend himself.
Anyone familiar with Stonewall Jackson knows that the man experienced significant sorrow in his boyhood. Orphaned at age seven, Jackson lost his father and mother within a few short years. His older brother, Warren, whom he spent a significant amount of time with, died at the age of 20. Jackson, too young to remember his father, had several instrumental figures in his life who helped rear him into the man he became.
The memories of his mother, Julia, lay imprinted in his mind throughout his adult life. She was a kind, Christian woman who loved her children dearly. Jackson’s second wife, Anna, wrote of her impact on the young boy, “Such a mother could not but leave a deep impression upon the heart of such a son. To the latest hour of his life, he cherished her memory.”[i] Years after the death of Jackson’s father (Jonathan), Julia re-married a man named Blake B. Woodson. Unable to provide for the remaining Jackson children, the siblings separated, being sent to extended family. The separation devastated young Jackson and his mother:
Julia Woodson sobbed uncontrollably as she hugged her small son and tried to tell him goodbye. The child fought back tears while being placed on a horse. As the party of riders started away, the hysterical mother ran to her son and held him once more. Julia Woodson never recovered from that farewell. As for Jackson, his second wife observed many years later: That parting he never forgot; nor could he speak of it in future years but with the utmost tenderness.[ii]
A short time later, Julia gave birth to another boy (Wirt Woodson) and never recovered from a difficult childbirth. She died in December 1831. Though Jackson was a young boy, his memories of his mother never left his soul. On her deathbed, she prayed earnestly for the salvation of her children, knowing her time had ended.
Jackson’s older brother Warren played a vital role in his life, serving as another Christian example. Though the brothers spent several years apart in separate families, they united a number of times, even taking a nearly year-long journey together from Virginia to Ohio. Warren, by all accounts, was a mature young man who followed in his mother’s footsteps and relied on prayer in every aspect of life. As an adult, Jackson spoke fondly of Warren’s legacy, underscoring his Christian influence.
However, Jackson noted Uncle Cummins served as his life’s most significant role model. As a young adult, he wrote to his sister Laura, “Uncle had recently received a letter from our cousins in California and they say that Uncle Cummins is undoubtedly dead. This is news which goes to my heart, uncle was a father to me.”[iii]
Cummins, the half-brother of Jonathan (Jackson’s father), raised Jackson. He remained single his entire life, living on hundreds of acres. Here, Jackson roamed the land, learned how to ride horses, cut down lumber, and became the resilient and brave man the reader knows him as. Cummins, a laid-back uncle, let Jackson discover many of life’s questions independently. He did, however, instill discipline, bravery, and courage in the young boy. Anna later remarked that Cummins treated Jackson as if he were his own son. It was Cummins who shared the opportunity to attend West Point and urged his nephew to apply for the opening. The man was not perfect, and is said to have chased wealth to a disastrous level. Nevertheless, Cummins saw a gift in Jackson. The traits of resiliency, honor, and bravery grew exponentially in his young teenage years.
Before attending West Point, Jackson was a deputy constable, collecting debt. He gained this position around the age of 16 or 17, which was unusual. However, the local town’s officials knew of his reputation, honor, and strong moral character. The vocation was difficult; Jackson often collected judgments upon locals and even extended family. He disliked this position and longed for a change, which came with his invitation to study at West Point.
Outside of the family’s influence on Jackson, the Lord guided the boy into a man. Julia’s nurturing and prayers inarguably planted a seed of faith in the boy’s heart. By his latter teenage years, Jackson walked into town to attend church on his own. He sat alone in a pew at the back of the church. He borrowed Christian books from a friend’s library and contemplated morality. Biographer James I. Robertson Jr. supported Christianity’s influence in Jackson’s life, “At an impressionable period of Jackson’s life, religion entered his soul. He took it seriously. Sometime before 1841, he began praying nightly.”[iv]
Eventually becoming a Presbyterian as an adult, Jackson held firmly to the Providential view of God, noting that nothing occurred in life without God’s blessing, guidance, and will. We can argue that Providence further shaped Jackson into the man he became.
The Lord molded Stonewall Jackson from his early childhood years. Of course, the man experienced great sadness and heartache; however, perseverance, determination, morality, and discipline made him the general he was. His boyhood years set the stage for the legend himself.
David Crum holds a Ph.D. in Historical Theology. He serves as an Assistant Professor of History and Dissertation Chair. His research interests include the history of warfare and Christianity. He and his family attend Trinity Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Bedell, New Brunswick.
[i] Mary Anna Jackson, Life and Letters of General Thomas J. Jackson, (1892; reprint, New York: Harper & Brothers, 2019), 21.
[ii] James I. Robertson, Jr., Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend, (New York: Macmillan, 1997), 9.
[iii] Thomas J. Jackson, “Letter. Stonewall Jackson to his sister Laura. July 7, 1850”, https://digitalcollections.vmi.edu/digital/collection/p15821coll4/id/121/rec/22 (accessed December 15, 2022).
[iv] Robertson, Jr., Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend, 19.