“Stonewall” Jackson Resumes Command

February 4, 1862 – Virginia Governor John Letcher dispatched Congressman Alexander Boteler to Winchester to persuade Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to withdraw his resignation from the Confederate army.

Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The day after Jackson submitted his request to either return to the Virginia Military Institute or resign from the army, Boteler, representing a district in the Shenandoah Valley, stormed into the office of Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin with the letter in hand. When Boteler protested the order prompting Jackson’s letter, Benjamin sent him to President Jefferson Davis.

Boteler showed Jackson’s letter to Davis, who said, “I’ll not accept it, sir!” The congressman then met with Letcher, who had not yet received Jackson’s request to help him get his job back at V.M.I. Enraged, Letcher publicly berated Benjamin and his staff and demanded that the secretary not accept Jackson’s resignation. Benjamin agreed. Letcher then sent Boteler to Winchester.

Meanwhile, General Joseph E. Johnston, Jackson’s superior, received his message of January 31 and a second message from Jackson asking Johnston to countermand Benjamin’s order. Johnston, who did not want to lose such a valuable officer, waited a few days before finally forwarding both messages to the War Department. During that time, Johnston wrote a personal letter to Jackson pleading with him to reconsider.

Acknowledging that Jackson was right to resent such an order, Johnston explained that he too had experienced difficulties in dealing with the administration. Nevertheless, “The danger in which our very existence as an independent people lies requires sacrifices from us all who have been educated as soldiers.” He assured Jackson that he was writing “not merely from warm feelings of personal regard, but from the official opinion which makes me regard you as necessary to the service of the country in your present position.”

In forwarding Jackson’s messages to Benjamin, Johnston added a note to the resignation letter stating that he did not “know how the loss of this officer can be supplied.” Johnston also added a note to the second message: “Respectfully forwarded to the Secretary of War, whose orders I cannot countermand.”

Boteler arrived at Jackson’s headquarters on February 6. By that time, Jackson had received many letters from supporters urging him to remain army commander, but he was still determined to resign. Boteler pleaded with Jackson to reconsider; Jackson agreed only if he could be assured that politicians “sitting at a desk 300 miles away” would not interfere with him.

Unable to give such an assurance, the congressman instead told Jackson that he had an obligation as a Virginian to defend his home state. Jackson angrily countered that he and his family had made great sacrifices in this war, and he would always be ready to defend Virginia “even if it be as a private in the ranks.” Eventually Jackson calmed down and realized, “If the Valley is lost, Virginia is lost.” He agreed to withdraw his resignation.

Jackson wrote to Governor Letcher explaining his decision. Still disagreeing with Benjamin’s order, he added that “if the Secretary persists in the ruinous policy complained of, I feel that no officer can serve his country better than by making his strongest possible protest against it, which, in my opinion, is done by tendering his resignation, rather than be a willful instrument in prosecuting the war upon a ruinous principle.”

His statement notwithstanding, Jackson retained his army command, and Benjamin indirectly withdrew his earlier orders. This became a moot point a day later when Federal forces reclaimed Romney, the object of Jackson’s January campaign. Benjamin settled the feud between Jackson and Brigadier General William W. Loring by promoting Loring to major general and transferring him to a command in southwestern Virginia. The secretary received intense criticism for his role in this affair.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 58-59; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 122; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 224; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 103; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 740-41; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 447-48

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