James Jackson’s Civil War: The Story of a Confederate Colonel Accused of Cowardice at Gettysburg – Part I

Wearily, the suffering, young veteran sat up in bed; then, slowly, he rose to his feet.  Colonel James Washington Jackson was only 33 years old but the war had wrecked him, left him broken. A few years earlier he was youthful, exuberant, and full of life. Now it was a struggle for him just to stand. Since the outset of war in 1861, the fervent secessionist had battled illness and injury while faithfully and bravely fighting for his cause. Throughout his two years in uniform he had been plagued by disease and battered by bullets. It had been nearly two years since he had left the army, immediately after the great battle at Gettysburg, but now duty had again summoned him to uniform. The enemy was approaching and the sickly young colonel was determined to confront them.[1]

It was mid-April 1865 and America’s civil war was at last drawing to a close. There were still a few small Confederate armies in the field but most everywhere else throughout the Confederacy resistance had entirely collapsed. Richmond had fallen and President Jefferson Davis was on the run. A few days after the fall of Richmond—at a crossroads village known as Appomattox Court House—General Robert E. Lee surrendered his famed Army of Northern Virginia, or at least what was left of it. People throughout the North rejoiced at news of the triumph, yet their joy was vanquished completely just a few days later when news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination fell like a thunderclap across the land.

Things may have been far quieter and more subdued in faraway Greenville, Georgia, but, even so, some trouble did remain. Sherman’s army had left long ago, leaving a smoldering landscape in its wake, but still, small bands of soldiers wearing blue galloped across the countryside, raiding homes and confiscating horses, cattle, or whatever else they might find of value. And one day in mid-April 1865—as the rest of the nation reacted to the news of Lee’s surrender and of Lincoln’s murder—one such raiding party galloped up to the plantation home owned by Colonel James W. Jackson’s father. For the past two years, Colonel Jackson had resided there, along with his young wife, Jennie, their two young children—six-year-old Tellulah and two-year-old Clyde—along with Jackson’s elderly, blind mother and his aging father who was already out that morning, attempting to hide the family’s livestock from the marauding band of blue-clad soldiers.[2]

Upstairs, Colonel Jackson slowly dressed in his faded, dust-covered gray uniform with its gilded gold braiding upon its sleeves and the fading stars upon its collar. Likely this was the same uniform he had worn while serving in Lee’s army as commander of the 47th Alabama Infantry and as he put it on that April day in 1865 to once more confront the enemy, one must wonder if his mind raced back to painful memories of far distant fields, such as those at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, or Gettysburg, where the regiment had suffered such heavy losses. There would have been little time for reflection just then, however, for the enemy was approaching fast, galloping toward his home and family.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jackson Blog Colonel James W. Jackson 47th AL paint

James Jackson, Colonel of the 47th Alabama Infantry Image courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama

James Washington Jackson was born in September 1831 in Meriweather County, Georgia, and was raised in Greenville, the county seat. As a young man he attended the Greenville Military Academy then set off for New York to study medicine. He graduated from the University Medical College (today the New York University School of Medicine) in 1851. Following graduation, twenty-year-old James Jackson returned to Greenville and established a practice. In 1856, he struck out on his own and settled in Lafayette, Alabama, where he again established a medical practice. The Census of 1860 reveals that he was married by 1860 and that he and his wife, Jennie, had a one-year-old baby girl named Tallulah. A second child—a son named Clyde—would arrive three years later, in 1863.[3]

Young Dr. Jackson was working hard to grow his practice and establish a comfortable life for his family when, in November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. An ardent supporter of states’ rights, Jackson cried out for secession and no doubt applauded when, on December 20, South Carolina became the first state to do so. Mississippi was next, seceding on January 9, 1861, followed the next day by Florida and then by Jackson’s native Alabama on January 11. A young and aspiring leader in the community, Jackson helped to raise the Lafayette Guards, a militia company that would become Company A of the 7th Alabama Infantry upon the outbreak of war.

As its captain, Jackson led his company to Pensacola, Florida, where the 7th Alabama Infantry was formally organized and first assigned. The regiment spent the summer training at Pensacola, its soldiers quickly becoming adept in the ways of a soldier. Yet it was there also where the grim realities of life in a Civil War camp set in. Sickness was widespread and disease spread quickly through the ranks. Captain Jackson’s company was stationed at Fort Barrancas where disease took an especially heavy toll. In a July 10 letter to his wife Jennie, the young captain wrote that “[t]here is a great deal of sickness in the camp & a good portion of [the sick] die. I have sixteen [soldiers in the company] down sick at this time. Some with the measles & others [with] Typhoid Fever. . . .I think that if we stay throughout the summer that at least one half [of the men] will die.”[4] Unfortunately, Captain Jackson would soon find out firsthand just how debilitating disease could be. He fell victim to some illness—what, exactly, the records do not reveal—and in October the former doctor tendered his resignation. In poor health, he traveled back home to his wife and daughter in Lafayette to recover. By the spring of 1862, however, the now thirty-year-old Dr. Jackson believed he was once again well enough to return to the army.[5]

That spring, the call for volunteers had once more been sounded and throughout Alabama companies were again being organized. And just as he did the previous spring, James W. Jackson went to work seeking out volunteers. It was not long before he raised yet another company, one that would be assigned to the newly-formed 47th Alabama Infantry. Seeking higher rank, Jackson sought a leadership position within the new regiment, and once the 47th was fully raised, its men took a vote and elected Jackson as their lieutenant-colonel, or the regiment’s second in command. James M. Oliver, and attorney from Tallapoosa County, was elected colonel. Jackson must have been satisfied with the results and with his promotion but there was some grumbling in the ranks. Some of the men of the 47th believed Jackson was simply too sick and too broken down physically for such a high command.[6]

Jackson may have still been quite unwell but in June 1862 he again bade farewell to Jennie and young Tallulah and set off for war. The 47th traveled to Virginia where, outside Richmond, it was assigned to Taliaferro’s Brigade, in Stonewall Jackson’s wing of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. A few days after he and his men arrived, Lt. Col. Jackson took the time to write to his family. He was “happy” to tell them that the climate in Virginia was improving his health considerably and expressed his hope that he “will again become sound.” And although he and his men did not actively participate in any of the fighting that defined the bloody Seven Days’ Battles outside of Richmond, Jackson did write about hearing the sounds of battle at least, with “the heavy peals of artillery & the lesser but more constant roll of musketry.” He reveled in the army’s triumph and boasted about McClellan’s mighty army having been driven back and expressed his hope that the Confederate army would soon try “the game of invasion ourselves.”[7] Sure enough, Robert E. Lee did, indeed, turn his attention north and toward another Union army that had been organized and placed under the command of General John Pope. Seeking to destroy Pope before his force could link with up McClellan’s, Lee ordered Stonewall Jackson’s men north and it would not be long before Lt. Col. Jackson and the rookie soldiers of the 47th Alabama found themselves in the middle of their first fight.

It was at a place called Cedar Mountain where they experienced the shock and carnage of battle for the first time. Just prior to the battle, Colonel Oliver had taken ill and command of the regiment suddenly devolved upon young Jackson. Although new to command and new to battle, Jackson and the men of the 47th put up a commendable effort. They were ultimately driven back, however, and routed from the field but not before losing 12 men killed and 76 wounded. James Jackson was swept up in the retreat. Still suffering from poor health, the young lieutenant colonel was on the verge of collapse yet, the very next day, Jackson found himself formally elevated to regimental command upon the resignation of Colonel Oliver. Now officially as its commander, Jackson would lead the 47th Alabama again at 2nd Manassas where it was also heavily engaged. It was there, at 2nd Manassas, where brigade commander William Taliaferro fell seriously wounded and his place was soon taken by Colonel Edward T.H. Warren of the 10th Virginia Infantry.[8]

After his smashing victory over Pope at 2nd Manassas, Lee continued driving north, and as James Jackson wished, pursued the “game of invasion” by leading his Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River and into Maryland. In the days ahead, the 47th Alabama crisscrossed the lush agricultural countryside, marched up and over South Mountain, re-crossed the Potomac River near Williamsport, and helped force the evacuation of a small Union garrison at Martinsburg, Virginia, before continuing south toward Harpers Ferry. Left behind at Martinsburg was the 10th Virginia along with its commander, Colonel Warren. With Taliaferro’s wounding and Warren’s detachment, the brigade would now be led by its next senior commander, who happened to be Colonel James W. Jackson of the 47th Alabama. It had been less than a month since he first assumed regimental command but such was the high rate of attrition among the other regimental commanders that Jackson nonetheless found himself in brigade command. In the days ahead, Jackson would lead Taliaferro’s highly-thinned brigade during the siege of Harpers Ferry and especially into the hell that was Antietam.

When dawn broke on that fateful September 17, 1862, Colonel James W. Jackson’s brigade was positioned just to the west of the Hagerstown Turnpike and a few hundred yards north of the humble meetinghouse of the local Baptist Brethren congregation, whom outsiders referred to as Dunkers. To their immediate rear and rising to their left were the trees of the West Woods. Starke’s Louisiana troops stood directly to their left while several hundred yards to their front were the soldiers of the famed Stonewall Brigade, commanded that day by Colonel Andrew Jackson Grigsby. In all, Colonel J.W. Jackson went into battle that day with four heavily depleted regiments—the 23rd & 37 Virginia and the 47th & 48th Alabama—whose total, combined strength did not exceed 500 men.

The heavy sounds of artillery pierced the eerie early morning silence. Soon a cacophony of noise erupted across the fog-draped battlefield: the sharp crack of musketry mingling with the pitiful cries of the wounded and piercing rebel yell.  Thousands of soldiers in blue advanced through the fog like dark silhouettes, bearing down upon the thinly-held Confederate lines. In front of Jackson’s position, the soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade struggled mightily against the great strength of the hard-fighting Iron Brigade, which was advancing down both sides of the Hagerstown Pike. After a short, sharp contest, Grigsby’s line crumbled and the men broke to the rear in the face of greater numbers. In that second line, however, General William Starke was determined to drive the Yankees back. Once the retreating Virginians had cleared his front, Starke ordered a counter-attack. With a yell, his Louisianans charged out of the woodlot. They were soon followed by Colonel Jackson’s men. Amid a heavy fire, the soldiers of both units turned to their right, toward the post-and-rail fence lining the Hagerstown Pike.  Early in the counter-charge, Starke had been gunned down, shot several times and mortally wounded. This left young Colonel Jackson in overall command of this rather forlorn assault. Writing to his wife just a few days after the slaughter, Jackson recorded that his men advanced “under a heavy shower of grape shot, bombshells, and musket balls,” while Captain R.J. Jennings of the 23rd Virginia wrote that the Federals “just mowed us down.”[9]

Confederate Dead Along Hagerstown Pike at Antietam Gardner Image LOC

Confederate Dead Along the Hagerstown Pike at Antietam. (LOC)

As soon as Jackson’s men reached the fence lining the western side of the Turnpike “they all fell down & began firing.”  Only a few yards away—indeed, from behind the fence that lined the eastern side of the Hagerstown Pike—stood Wisconsin soldiers of the Iron Brigade, distinctive in their black hats. As his casualties rapidly mounted, Jackson made every effort to get his men to charge over the fence but, as he wrote, “the fire was so destructive that they would not rise.”  In the midst of this tempest of shot and shell, Jackson found himself in a dire situation. “I found I was the only man standing for a Quarter of a mile,” he wrote, “all the [soldiers of the] Brigade being in a recumbent position & although they loaded and fired; yet they did not do the exicution they would have done if they had charged up to the barrells of the enemy.”  Taking fire from the front, from their flank, and even from the rear, Starke’s Louisianans and Jackson’s Alabamans and Virginians fell back. Just moments before the retreat commenced, however, a bullet tore into Colonel Jackson’s right arm, with “the ball penetrating to the bone.”  Jackson “hobbled off the field” and attempted to rally as many of his men as possible but the wound would force him to relinquish command. Of the 500 or so men Jackson led into the fight that morning, 173 became casualties, a 35% loss. Casualties in Jackson’s 47th Alabama were so high that the following morning, only 17 soldiers answered the roll call. [10]

James W. Jackson described Antietam as “the hardest fight I was ever in & it seems allmost miracelous that I escaped.” He further reflected that combat “is a terrable thing and it takes nerves of iron to stand the battles we are having in this country.”[11] As he had twice proven, Jackson certainly possessed those “nerves of iron” to stand up to battle, but his body was simply failing him and his poor health would only continue to worsen after the wound he received to his right arm at Antietam. Afterwards, the ailing Colonel took a leave of absence and made the long journey back home to his wife and daughter in Lafayette, Alabama. He would remain there for the next several months but with the return of spring in 1863, Jackson longed to return again to service and to his regiment. Believing himself sufficiently recuperated, the indomitable Jackson, for the third time in the past two years, once again left his home and family behind and headed off to war. Upon his departure this time, however, Jennie Jackson, along with young Tallulah, bade farewell to their home in Lafayette and made their way to Greenville, Georgia, where, for the time being at least, they would reside with James’s parents. Most likely Jennie made this move because by this time she was pregnant with the couple’s second child.

When Colonel Jackson arrived back in the camps of the 47th Alabama he discovered that much had changed. The regiment had been transferred from Stonewall Jackson’s command to General James Longstreet’s First Corps, and placed specifically in Evander Law’s all-Alabama brigade, of General John Bell Hood’s Division. Following a partially successful campaign near Suffolk, Virginia, Longstreet and his men returned to Lee’s Army in early May though not in time to participate in the Battle of Chancellorsville, a battle that many today consider Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory. For Lee, however, this brilliant victory had cost him 13,000 of his best soldiers—nearly 20% of his army—including his chief lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson who had been gunned down and mortally wounded. Worse, the army had little to show for its success. It had not achieved any long-lasting gains—not a single foot of ground—while the Union army was simply forced back to its former positions. Longstreet later wrote that victories such as Chancellorsville were “fruitless” and were “consuming” the army.[12] Thus, in the aftermath of Chancellorsville and even as the remains of Stonewall Jackson were being lowered in the ground, Robert E. Lee set out to achieve more. With the clock ticking ever louder against the Confederacy, Lee planned to once more take his army north and seek out a smashing victory on Union soil.

The result, of course, was the Gettysburg Campaign.

Lee’s army began marching away from its campsites near Fredericksburg, Virginia, in early June 1863. At first, the men headed west toward Culpeper but then they turned to the right, and marched north, down the Shenandoah Valley, toward the Potomac River and the Mason-Dixon Line beyond. Colonel James Jackson led the 47th Alabama as it marched north with Longstreet’s columns. On June 24, the head of Longstreet’s corps reached the Potomac. Covering more than 100 miles on foot in just three weeks, the march north was a grueling one, especially in the early summer heat and along the dust-covered roadways. Hundreds of men in butternut and gray—as well as hundreds of others in blue—fell out, collapsing from exhaustion or from heat stroke. The march north must have also been a particularly exhausting one for Colonel James Jackson. Despite his strong desire to remain in the army—fighting for his cause and for his country—he simply was not physically capable. Though he possessed an unconquerable and determined spirit, the young, sickly officer finally recognized his physical condition and on June 23, 1863, he submitted his resignation.[13]  Unfortunately for him, however, his resignation would not be approved and accepted until the second week of July and after the armies had come to blows at Gettysburg.

Colonel James Jackson and the soldiers of the 47th arrived near Gettysburg sometime around noon on July 2. There were few soldiers, in either army, who were more thoroughly exhausted upon their arrival at Gettysburg than these Alabama soldiers. On July 1, when the advance elements of both armies collided west and north of Gettysburg, the 47th, along with the rest of Evander Law’s brigade, was nearly thirty miles away, on the western side of South Mountain, though they could still hear the muffled sounds of battle emanating from the other side of the mountain. They bedded down that Wednesday night at a small hamlet known as New Guilford with instructions to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Their orders arrived early the next morning and by 4:00 a.m., they were on their way. Marching east from New Guilford, Law’s men marched up and over South Mountain and covered more than twenty miles even before arriving at Gettysburg.[14] Their legs were sore and aching, their canteens had long since been emptied, and all the Alabamians looked forward to was just a little break—a quick breather—but it was simply not to be, for when they arrived and rejoined the other brigades of Hood’s Division just to the west of Gettysburg, General Longstreet set all his men in motion, moving them south in order to carry out Lee’s planned assault for the day.

Lee’s plan for that Thursday, July 2, called for Longstreet to launch the major attack upon the Union left flank while at the same time Richard Ewell was to commence a demonstration against the Union right, to be converted into a general assault should the opportunity present itself. It is well known that Longstreet did not like the plan. Indeed, he did not much like the prospect of attacking at all at Gettysburg. Several times he tried to talk Lee out of it, seeking instead to persuade the army commander to shift the army further to the south and east in effort to draw the Union army out of its strong defensive position and force Meade into attacking them. Yet Lee insisted and Longstreet ultimately complied. So, despite his protestations, when Law’s exhausted and parched Alabamians arrived sometime just before noon, Longstreet began shifting his men south, to their designated jumping-off point: a point just to the west of a large peach orchard—a point that Lee believed would be opposite the Union left flank. What Longstreet discovered, however, upon his arrival there, was that the Union army was simply not holding the position Lee had thought.

Instead of his men being opposite the Union flank, Longstreet’s leading division—under Lafayette McLaws—found itself directly across from a heavy line of blue-coated soldiers in and among the peach trees, just five hundred or so yards away. Worse, the Union battle lines also extended north along the Emmitsburg Road and further to the south and east, stretching off toward the Round Tops. It was immediately apparent that Lee’s entire plan of attack was based on poor intelligence and a poor understanding of the Union position. Longstreet was now forced to change his plan of attack. It was originally intended for McLaws to kick off the assault but now it would be left to John Bell Hood. As directed, Hood, the hard-fighting Kentuckian, led his men further to the south and lined them up to the right of McLaws’s Division.  Going into position on the far right of Hood’s first line—and thus on the extreme right flank of the entire Confederate army—were the thirsty and fatigued soldiers of Law’s Alabama brigade. To their front, rising up roughly one mile to the east were two hilltops, which history would soon label as Big and Little Round Top. Closer still, and just in front of Little Round Top, was a bizarre, jumbled collection of tremendous rocks and boulders known as Devil’s Den. Atop these rocks and all along the ridgeline that stretched to the far left-front of Law’s men were soldiers in blue backed up by artillery.

It was nearing 4:00 p.m., and though the fighting that second day at Gettysburg had yet to begin, Law’s Alabama soldiers had already been awake and on their feet for well over twelve hours that day and already they had marched nearly 25 miles. Sweaty, overheated, and breathing deep, Law’s men formed with the 4th Alabama on the left of the brigade line, followed to their right by Colonel Jackson and 47thAlabama and then the 15th, 44th, and 48th Alabama Infantries. The ground to their immediate front was rolling, uneven, and broken up by a series of fences while in the distance loomed those rocky hilltops. It would be difficult ground to advance across and few, if any, of the soldiers relished the prospect of attacking the Union troops in such a strong, naturally defensive position.   Hood repeatedly urged against it while General Law formally protested the orders to attack. Like Longstreet had done earlier, Hood and Law now argued to shift even further to the south and work their way around the Union left and behind the Round Tops instead of attacking them head on. But there would be no relenting on Lee’s part; only a few hours of daylight remained, tempers had already flared. . .there would be no talking Lee out of it. The orders would stand and the attack would go forward as directed.

Longstreet’s grand assault kicked off sometime just after 4:00 p.m. when Evander Law’s Alabama soldiers stepped forward from the trees lining the southern extension of Warfield Ridge and across that rolling, broken ground. To their left the Texans and Arkansans of Jerome Robertson’s brigade swept forward, while to their rear, two brigades of Georgia soldiers—under Generals Henry Benning and George “Tige” Anderson—prepared to move out in support. Immediately all these men came under heavy artillery fire from the Union guns posted atop Devil’s Den and from those posted further to the north in and around the Peach Orchard. The terrain further disrupted formations. General Hood, the divisional commander who objected to the attack, was soon seen being carried from the field, having suffered a severe wound that would leave his left arm paralyzed for the rest of his life. Command and control of his division began to fall apart even as his four brigades pressed onward. At one point during the advance, Evander Law halted the two regiments on the far right of his line—the 44th and 48th Alabama—and directed them to move in a northerly fashion, behind the other regiments of his brigade, and toward the Union guns that had been raining shot and shell upon them from Devil’s Den. These two regiments soon became entangled with the regiments of Robertson’s Brigade in their own struggle against the Union soldiers atop the boulder-strewn ground.

Little_Round_Top_Edwin_Forbes

The Confederate assault on Little Round Top, as painted by Edwin Forbes. (LOC)

When these two regiments redirected their advance to the north, it left the 47th and 15th Alabama now constituting the far right of Law’s line. They, too, had suffered fire from the artillery fire but they pressed on ahead, driving toward the tree-covered western slopes of Big Round Top. They were especially pestered in their advance by the green-clad soldiers of the 2nd United States Sharpshooters who were well-positioned behind the numerous stone walls and fences that crisscrossed the ground. The Sharpshooters fell back slowly—steadily—in the face of the oncoming Alabamians, who pursued them every step of the way. . .and all the way up the steep western slope of Big Round Top. In their exhausted, worn-out condition, the 650 or so soldiers of the 15th and 47th Alabama nevertheless climbed and crawled and panted their way to the very summit. But again there would be no rest for these weary men; orders soon arrived for the 15th and 47th to sweep down the northern side of the mountain then attack up Little Round Top, where, just minutes earlier, Union soldiers from Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade had arrived and taken up position. So, down the hillside the Alabama men went, all the while they could hear the steady sounds of combat raging to their left and to their front as the fighting at Devil’s Den reached a fever pitch and as the soldiers of the 4th Alabama and 4th and 5th Texas attacked the right of Vincent’s line on Little Round Top. Then—suddenly—a crash of musketry broke out directly to their front as the soldiers of the 83rd Pennsylvania and 20th Maine rudely welcomed these Alabamians to the brawl. Several times the Alabama soldiers surged up the southern slope of Little Round Top but all to no avail. The contest would rage until just after 6:00 p.m. when, alone and unsupported, the soldiers of the 15th and 47th Alabama fell back, being hurried along the way by the bayonet-wielding, charging soldiers of the 20th Maine Infantry.  It had been an especially rough, trying day for these Alabama soldiers and their losses were heavy.

Several days after the bloodshed and while the army was in the midst of its retreat from Gettysburg, Colonel James W. Jackson penned a lengthy and insightful letter to his wife Jennie describing the battle action and recording his thoughts about Lee’s decision to attack on July 2:

Camp Near Hagerstown

My Dear Wife

Providence had been kind enough to take me once more through the dangers of a battlefield. I am now with the army at Hagerstown seven miles from the Potomac. We have had one of the bloodiest battles of war without a favorable result for us. We met the enemy near Gadesburg [Gettysburg] Pennsylvania. [H]e had intrenched himself on a mountain ridge & extended his line about seven miles. General Lee, contrary to the opinion of every one, attacked him in his strong position. I will give you an idea of the part of the field I fought on & you can get an idea of the whole for our part was a sample of the whole. It was about three o’clock in the evening of the second of July that we approached the mountain. I saw at once that the position was a very strong one & concluded the enemy would have to leave his position before he could get a fight out of us. But contrary to my expectations & the advice of his Generals, as I am told, Gen. Lee ordered us to advance. The distance we had to charge was at least a mile & a half without a shrub to protect us in our advance. I drew the men in line & ordered them to advance. It would have done you good to see the brave fellows answer the order with a shout & clash of bayonets. The charge begun; my Regiment had the line at the distance of fifty to a hundred yards. The enemy seeing the determination of my men began to throw grape canister & shell into us thick as you ever saw hail stones. But it would all do no good; the men would advance. The Regiments continued to advance, though not all at the same rate. For before half the distance was cleared my Regiment was in advance of the line. . .at least a hundred & fifty yards. My men being very much fatigued we halted for a moment behind a stone fence [which was] the only covering from the place we had started to the foot of the mountain. I gave them only a moment to rest & gave the order to advance. Then the slaughter commenced in earnest[;] we were in good range of their sharp shooters; but we could get no crack at them; from the fact that they were entrenched behind stone fences. We got in about a hundred yards of the first line when the men gave a shout & charged it at double-quick. The Yanks waited until we come in forty or fifty paces & gave way and fled. We pursued & they fled, making a stand behind any rock on the mountain which were as thick as they could be. We followed them to the very top which was the distance of one mile to the foot. By the time we reached the top we had but half our men. When the [Union] army arrived on the [Little Round] top, they made a stand; we reformed our line to charge them. We approached in a five paces of it & found it almost perpendicular with a breast work of rock at the top that reached to the shoulders of the enemy behind it. We were ordered to take it & our gallant boys walked up to the very top, but as fast as they did so they were sacrificed. Our men had marched that day a distance of thirty miles & were completely exhausted before they began this charge & they fainted on the field by hundreds. We made four efforts to take the top but failed. We then fell back about three hundred yards & then up a breast work of rock. . . .We lost a great many in killed & wounded. . . .”[15]

Toward the end of the letter, Colonel Jackson also informed his wife, bluntly and quite succinctly, that he had resigned and that he would “come home as soon as I can get off.”[16] It will be recalled that Jackson had tendered his resignation almost two weeks earlier—on June 23—though it was not until after the Battle of Gettysburg before it was accepted. As we shall see next week, for Colonel Jackson and especially for his legacy, this was to be most unfortunate.

John Hoptak, Park Ranger

[1] Gary Laine and Morris Penny, Law’s Alabama Brigade in the War Between the Union and Confederacy. [Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: White Mane Publishing, 1996]: 131-132.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Biographical Information found in 47th Alabama Regimental Unit File in the Collections at the Antietam National Battlefield Library; 1860 U.S. Census, Chambers County, Alabama, population schedule for LaFayette, Alabama, p. 2, Dwelling 7, Family 7.

[4] Letter, James W. Jackson to Jennie Jackson, July 10, 1861, from Pensacola, Courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

[5] Robert K. Krick, Lee’s Colonels [Morningside Bookshop, 1992]: 189.

[6] Laine and Penny, Law’s Alabama Brigade, 28-29.

[7] Letter, James W. Jackson to Jennie Jackson and Family, July 6, 1862, from Near Richmond, Courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

[8] Penny and Laine, Law’s Alabama Brigade, 32.

[9] Letter, James W. Jackson to Jennie Jackson, September 21, 1862, from “On the Potomac River,” in the 47th Alabama Regimental Unit File in the Collections of the Antietam National Battlefield Library; R.J. Jennings to Ezra Carman, 12/15/1897, in Carman Files, Antietam Battlefield Library.

[10] James W. Jackson to wife, 9/21/1862; Laine and Penny, 32-40.

[11] James W. Jackson to wife, 9/21/1862.

[12] James Longstreet quoted in Stephen Sears, Gettysburg [New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2003]: 6.

[13] Morris M. Penny and J. Gary Laine, Struggle for the Round Tops: Law’s Alabama Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg. [Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: White Mane Publishing, 2007]: 164.

[14] Gary P. Bruner, “Up and Over Big Round Top: The Forgotten 47th Alabama,” Gettysburg Magazine, No. 22 (January 2000): 9-10.

[15] Letter, James W. Jackson to Jennie Jackson, July 7, 1863, from “Near Hagerstown,” Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

[16] Ibid.

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One Response to James Jackson’s Civil War: The Story of a Confederate Colonel Accused of Cowardice at Gettysburg – Part I

  1. Sanford Martin says:

    One other fact of note regarding Col. Jackson. When the 7th Ala Inf was formed in May, Jackson was one of two candidates for Colonel, the other being Capt (later Brig Gen) Sterling A. M. Wood of Company K (Florence Guards). Wood won by a vote of 559 to 249. Company A was one of the three 7th Ala companies (in a mixed battalion of Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida companies under Patton Anderson) that fought the night battle of Santa Rosa Island on October 9, 1861 against the 6th New York (Zouave) Regiment losing one mortally wounded and one captured. I assume Jackson, either from illness or resignation, did not participate.

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