Friday, April 17, 2015

The Bee behind Jackson's nickname

(photo from Anderson Independent-Mail)
     "Look at Jackson; standing like a stone wall."
     Those words—or something like themwere shouted in the heat of battle July 21, 1861, thirty miles west of Washington, D.C., near a village called Manassas and a creek called Bull Run. It was the first land battle of the Civil War and the last hours of life for Confederate Gen. Barnard Bee.
     Over 40 years ago, I used to ride my green Schwinn 10-speed past Bee's grave in picturesque Pendleton, but until I studied Stoneman's Raid, I never realized he coined the most famous nickname of the Civil War.
     Gen. Bee was a native of Charleston and grew up in Pendleton. He graduated from West Point one year ahead of George Stoneman and a devout Virginian named Thomas Jackson. When the Civil War broke out, Bee and Jackson were among many Union officers who made the fateful decision to fight for their southern homeland and join the Confederacy. Their units wound up fighting side-by-side in the First Battle of Manassas. 
     The Confederates eventually routed the Union at Manassas, but the early hours of the fight were difficult. At one point, to encourage his troops, Bee pointed to Jackson as an example of rock-solid steadfastness.
     Exactly what Bee said or meant is open to interpretation. Bee never had an opportunity to talk about it, because he was mortally wounded at Manassas and died the following day.
     Jackson's widow devoted her life to glorifying the man she called Thomas. She quoted Bee this way: "Look at Jackson; there he stands like a stone wall. I rally behind the Virginians!"
     Confederate Gen. Pierre Beauregard made it more about the troops than the commander. "Look at Jackson’s brigade! It stands there like a stone wall!"
     Rev. R.L. Dabney was Jackson's chief-of-staff and wrote an autobiography of the general that preserved this newspaper account: “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians."
     On the other hand, a few suggest that "like a stone wall" may have been derisive, suggesting that Jackson was merely holding his ground while Bee and others charged forward into the deadly fray. If you want to know more, I recommend this 2011 story by Ray Chandler in my first newspaper, The Anderson Independent-Mail.

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