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

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

It is extremely difficult to make sense of Colonel James Jackson’s performance at Gettysburg. The letter he wrote to his wife was quite descriptive of the battle action. It chronicled in much detail the 47th’s movements up and over Big Round Top and their repeated attempts to dislodge Vincent’s men on Little Round Top. Yet it is clear from other sources that Jackson was simply not with his regiment when it went into battle that day. It was, instead, commanded by Lt. Col. Michael Bulger.  Because of this, Jackson most likely based the contents of his letter home strictly on what he had heard from other members of the regiment in the aftermath of the fight.

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

As the 47th Alabama advanced that late Thursday afternoon at Gettysburg, Colonel James Jackson remained behind and he apparently stayed well to the rear. Perhaps his body had finally given up and failed him; perhaps he was among those many “hundreds” he claimed had fainted or collapsed from exhaustion after so trying a day. There can be no denying that his body had been wracked with illness and with pain ever since he had first donned the uniform in 1861 and especially after his wound at Antietam. It is possible, though, that Jackson intentionally remained in the rear that day. He had already tendered his resignation and he may have been simply looking forward to returning once more to his family, which that year grew to include a newborn son. Perhaps we will never know for certain. But to Major James Campbell of the 47th Alabama there was no question. Left in command of the regiment after the resignation of Jackson and the wounding of Lt. Col. Bulger on the slopes of Little Round Top, it was up to Campbell to write the Official Report of the 47th’s actions on July 2. He wrote it on August 7 and in it, he complained of Jackson’s performance and hinted about Jackson’s cowardice. According to Campbell, there was “some confusion” during the regiment’s advance “owing to the fact that in the charge the lieutenant-colonel [Bulger] expected the colonel [Jackson] to give all necessary commands, and the colonel remained so far behind that his presence on the field was but a trammel on the lieutenant-colonel.” At the end of the report, Campbell wrote that out of the 21 officers in the regiment, “All of these (the 21) acted well. The colonel and adjutant are not included in this number.”[1] It is possible, of course, that Major Campbell may have bore a personal grudge against Jackson for some, unknown reason, but still, and as Gary Bruner pointed out in an article documenting the actions of the 47th Alabama at Gettysburg, “the fact that Major Campbell’s report stood, uncorrected by any higher officer, accusing Colonel Jackson of not only mishandling his troops, but strongly implying cowardice as well, is extremely telling.”[2]

Colonel James W. Jackson paid a high price fighting in support of his cause but despite his physical sacrifice—his sickness and his injury—the deepest wound the young officer sustained in the war may have very well been this post-Gettysburg report, which attacked his character and his bravery. We may never know what happened, exactly, that Thursday afternoon, but since the history of Gettysburg so thoroughly dominates the historiography of the Civil War, Colonel James Jackson’s name, when it is discussed, is oftentimes linked to cowardice. Citing Major Campbell’s report as testimony, some historians claimed Jackson resigned in disgrace following Gettysburg, although he had originally submitted his resignation prior to the battle. Either way, Major James Campbell was unkind to Jackson and his words continue to haunt the colonel’s legacy. Captain Joseph Burton, however, who also served under the sickly young doctor in the 47th, was more charitable when years later he wrote that Jackson was “. . .a good officer and a brave man, but he was so thoroughly disqualified physically to be a soldier.”[3]

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

It had been almost two years since Gettysburg and since he had last worn his faded, dust-covered gray uniform. Ever since his resignation in mid-July 1863, Jackson had lived at his parents’ plantation home in Greenville, along with his wife Jennie and their two children—six-year-old Tallulah and two-year-old Clyde. He had spent most of those two years bedridden, having never been able to recover his ruined and wrecked health. But that day in April, 1865, duty summoned him once more to uniform. The war may have been over but Union raiding parties were still out there and now, one of them was galloping fast toward Jackson’s home and family.

Fully dressed, James Jackson ventured outside while his wife, mother, and two young children remained in hiding in the house. He painfully mounted his horse and rode out toward the spot where his father had just taken the family’s livestock. Along the way, however, Jackson came to a sudden halt when he spotted the blue-coated horsemen heading in his direction. They also caught sight of him and, suddenly, half the Union men galloped after him while the other half continued riding to the house. When that half arrived at the house, Jackson’s blind mother, amid much commotion and shedding tears, pleaded with the officer in command of the raiding party to take what they wanted but to spare her son’s life. As she begged, she told them that her son was so weak, so sick that he had essentially come home to die. Hearing the heartache in the elderly woman’s voice, the officer promised that her son, if captured, would not be hurt. The Union men soon galloped away, leaving James’s mother and wife no doubt weeping and the children fearful that they may never see their daddy again. Word soon arrived that Colonel Jackson had been ridden down and captured—and that he was most likely dead—but this proved to be a false report, for not long after, Colonel Jackson was seen limping up the plantation road and toward the house. He had, indeed, been captured but the Union officer, after confiscating Jackson’s horse, ordered him to be released. Now, he was returning home. …for the last time, as it turned out.[4]

grave of Jackson paint

The grave of Col. James W. Jackson, Greenville City Cemetery

Colonel James Jackson did, indeed, come home to die and following this brief but nerve-wracking encounter with the blue-coated Union horsemen in mid-April 1865, he retired once more to the bedroom. He never again rose but remained bedridden for the next two-and-a-half months. Finally, on July 1, 1865, Jackson called upon his father, Hinson, and begged that he look after his beloved Jennie and their two young children; he knew the end was near. Later that same day, Colonel James Jackson breathed his last. He was only 33 years old. Next day—July 2—James Jackson was buried in the Greenville City Cemetery. It was exactly two years from the date of that fateful day at Gettysburg when his 47th Alabama charged up the boulder-strewn slopes of Little Round Top; two years from the date when his reputation was ruined and his wartime record scarred with accusations of cowardice, whether fairly or not. And those accusations continue to haunt Colonel Jackson’s legacy to this day just as tragedy continued to haunt his family. Less than a week after the death of his son, Hinson Jackson collapsed and died suddenly, while dear little Tallulah Jackson died in 1866 at the age of seven.[5]

John Hoptak, Park Ranger

[1] Report of Major James Campbell, in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 27, Part II, page 395.

[2] Bruner, 21.

[3] Burton quoted in Ibid.; In Lee’s Colonels, Robert Krick suggests that Jackson resigned in disgrace [pg. 189], while Stewart Sifakis, in his work, Who’s Who In the Confederacy, recorded of Jackson that “not all of the officers in the Army of Northern Virginia were heroes.” In his article on the 47th Alabama, Gary Bruner also wrote that Jackson “resigned in disgrace immediately after Gettysburg.”

[4] Laine and Penny, 131-132.

[5] Ibid.; “Family Group Record” James Washington Jackson, in 47th Alabama Regimental Unit File, in the Collections of the Antietam National Battlefield Library.

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15 Responses to James Jackson’s Civil War: The Story of a Confederate Colonel Accused of Cowardice at Gettysburg – Part II

  1. George Connell says:

    Very interesting article. Thank you.

  2. Fantastic story, wonderful reasearch, beautifully told. Thank you. I am always amazed how much more their is to the Gettysburg story.

  3. Nehemiah Nowlen says:

    COL. Jackson is my g-great uncle and the adjutant of the 47th Alabama was my great grandfather William Henry Keller. Being a Keller family line member I know the character of the Jackson and Keller famimlies and COL Jackson was a true Southerner. He was ill, I suspect dysentery though not verified. I have slept many times in the room he was raised in and studied his entire family history. It appears that the bitterness with Major Campbell arose over a horse incident and Jackson’s money involved.but no one knows for sure. He was disgraced but I believe his heart was right.

    • Alan Gibson says:

      I don’t believe Jackson was a coward having done my own research into the 47th. My 6x Great-Grandfather was Colonel Bulger and Ive been writing my Thesis in part on the 47th. If you’re interested in the evidence I’ve come across supporting Jackson’s side, please send me you email address and I can point you in the right direction.

      • Nehemiah Nowlen says:

        Appreciate any information you may have

      • Alan Gibson says:

        Well if you’ve done any research into the argument between Colonel Oates of the 15th Alabama and Colonel Chamberlain of the 20th Maine over the events that occurred on Little Round Top after the war, you are aware that Colonel Oates corresponded with many of the officers that were present at Gettysburg in order to build his argument against Chamberlain after the war. In one particular correspondence between Colonel Bulger and Colonel Oates, Bulger mentions that Jackson struggled mightily to even get to his feet after the 47th arrived opposite Littel Round Top and then collapsed on the way up the hill. The way I see the chain of events that occurred from The morning of July 2nd in which the 47th left the Chambersburg area around 4am, marched continuously without stop, including no stops to refill canteens, the forced march of almost 30 miles in 90+ degree heat, his history of health issues in which he had temporarily left the unit only 9 months prior to Gettysburg in order to recover, and the lack of rest prior to stepping off almost 12 hours after they started earlier that morning, all of this was too much physically for a man who was already physically ill. Add to all this that Captain Burton of the 47th would later write that Jackson was a good officer, but physically unfit to serve speaks volumes in my opinion. Why would Burton even bother to mention Jackson’s service or his health if he had acted cowardly at Gettysburg? Major Campbell was not even in a position in which he could have seen Jackson falling out, and even though this cannot be verified, the story of a debt between Campbell and Jackson has passed down through our family as well, so there might very well be some truth to that story.

  4. Sanford Martin says:

    Note that Col Jackson’s headstone is in error. He was Captain of Co A of the 7th Ala Inf but he was Captain of Co I of the 47th. I have been working on a history of the 47th for some time and agree that Col Jackson got some undeserved criticism. Cedar Mtn, Second Manassas, and Sharpsburg were no no mild affairs for the 47th and Jackson was in the thick of them all. He could have resigned at any time but returned. I don’t think the totality of his actions indicate that Campbell’s implied accusation was accurate. I don’t understand the source of it, but the horse incident is definitely in the right time frame having occurred only a couple of weeks before his report (August 7), but Campbell was having his on problems by July 31 when the Brigade Examination Board declined to recommend his promotion to Lt Col although there is no evidence that Jackson had any input. He did feel that he was being unfairly blamed for bad discipline in the 47th when both Jackson and Bulger were present and in command.

    • Alan Gibson says:

      In addition, Colonel Bulger later wrote in a letter to Colonel Oates of the 15th, that Jackson had struggled to even get to his feet just before the 47th stepped off for LRT, and that he later collapsed. Lets not forget that this was a sick man who had as recently as the previous September had to go back to Alabama to recuperate, returned to the 47th, and on the 2nd of July they had been marching since 4am that morning through 90 degree heat, with no water after their canteens went dry. In my opinion, Campbell probably was not aware of Jackson’s deteriorated condition prior to the battle. Captain Burton of the 47th wrote more than 30 years later that Jackson was a “brave man, but thoroughly disqualified physically to be a soldier.” Don’t think Burton would have said that if he believed that Jackson had abandoned the regiment during one of the worst engagements the 47th participated in.

      • Nehemiah Nowlen says:

        My info shows that Jackson did go with the 47th approximately 500 yards before he collapsed. Keller broke ranks which was a “no-no”.

      • Alan Gibson says:

        It was primarily from Major Campbell’s report, and the wording of that report that gave the impression that Jackson had deliberately fallen behind the 47th on their assault of LRT. I don’t know if you have read his report, but he makes no mention of collapsing, he merely says Jckson fell behind the 47th as they marched and heavily implied that it was due to cowardice. Campbell is the only person of the 47th to say anything of this nature about Jackson, and there were several members of the 47th who would later write their rememberences of the war and in none of those other accounts is any mention of cowardice on the part of Jackson.

  5. Nehemiah Nowlen says:

    Thank you Sanford for your remarks of clarity on COL Jackson. One thing that puzzles many of us is the lack of the 47thy & 48th Alabama units at 2nd Bull Run battle. Hennessey notes this in his book on this battle. If you come across any battle info please advise.

    • Sanford Martin says:

      Mr. Nowlen – My sincere apologies for the tardy reply. I have been working on some research for a friend on their father’s service in WWII which has taken longer than expected (a casualty of too much information actually) and had only made a little progress getting some information together for you. I just spent 2-3 hours compiling an extensive reply which WordPress sent a message and said it was unable to post and dumped the whole thing. I had saved a portion of it so I will have to reconstruct but I wanted to send this as a test to make sure I can even get something posted first.

  6. Sanford Martin says:

    There were some pieces of information that Hennessey, whose map study is a fabulous resource, and Gaff did not have that I think add a little bit of understanding – Taylor’s 48th history sketch, the recapitulation records of the 47th and 48th in the state archives, two post-war accounts by 47th officers, A.G. Taliaferro’s post-war paper in Confederate Veteran, and an 1862 letter in the Montgomery Advertiser.
    Groveton/Brawner’s Farm (28th): In Gaff’s Brave Men’s Tears, he suggests that the 47th and 48th were left in support of Carpenter’s Battery which is how Mr. Hennessey shows it on Map 2. I don’t think they were there. None of the 47th’s or 48th’s records or history lays any claim to being present on the 28th. The 48th records and Sgt John Dykes Taylor’s history sketch show they were engaged the 29th and 30th and the 47th’s show they were only engaged on the 30th. And I don’t think that is just because they would have only been in line with the artillery and not in the battle line. At both Chantilly (Ox Hill) and Fredericksburg the 47th was in the same situation of being formed up but not engaged, yet the 47th records show that they claim both of these in their battle lists. I just don’t believe they would have been in sight of the fighting, and possibly be fired upon, and not claim this one if that was the case. At Gettysburg and Chickamauga, both multi-day engagements, their recapitulation records show the individual days as separate events with separate casualties. However, I think Mr. Gaff’s suggestion as to what they were doing is very good, but I think they have them on the wrong end of Jackson’s line. The OR (pages 651, 656) shows that Taliaferro moved his division with the wagons and artillery to Sudley Mill the night before. He then deployed the First, Second, and Fourth Brigades away from there which would have left Third Brigade the responsibility of guarding the train. Third Brigade was ordered to Brawner’s on the 28th. Hennessey notes on page 174 that it was late arriving; this is because they had to come from Sudley’s Ford. Crutchfield says he was ordered to take the WHOLE artillery force also. But he didn’t. He left five guns from Caskie’s and Cutshaw’s batteries to guard the ford (page 651, Maps 1 & 2). I think A.G Taliaferro made the same sort of decision with his brigade and left the 47th and 48th to support that battery and guard the wagons. W.B. Taliaferro would not necessarily have known this because he was wounded on the 28th and A.G. Taliaferro was wounded on the 30th and didn’t file a report, and therefore it didn’t make it into W.B Taliaferro’s report or his account in Battles and Leaders Volume 2. It is also hard to believe, as severe a contest as Brawner’s was, they would not at some point have moved up the Alabama regiments if they had been present. With the arrival of Fitz Lee’s cavalry the right flank of the battery was in no imminent danger.
    2nd Manassas (29th): The 48th’s record and Taylor’s sketch on this day show they were engaged with at least 6 killed and 9 wounded. The 47th still shows nothing. I would interpret this as the 48th had rejoined the brigade to bring up it’s strength due to the losses in the Virginia regiments the day before, and the 47th was left with the wagons and/or battery. Hennessey’s maps do not show the battery there on the 29th but Crutchfield’s report states that five-gun battery (Caskie/Cutshaw) repelled an attack at the ford on the 30th. I also have some notes that the wagons moved by a road behind Stony Ridge due to the presence of Union skirmishers west of Sudley Road in the morning. I have to recheck my sources and see if that was documented or my speculation as to where the 47th might be. Also Maps 3-7 do not show that Third Brigade was engaged, instead it is shown as being behind Shumaker’s battalion and remaining there, But the 48th had non-trivial casualties and A.G. Taliaferro left a post-war account in Confederate Veteran (Vol 29, page 128) that states “on the second day in a charge upon the enemy a Minie ball struck the eagle of my sword belt and, glancing off, alone saved my life; but my stomach was badly bruised,” So I think there is an error in the current history about Third Brigade’s role. I believe that the Third Brigade was in line and fighting with the rest of the division and took part in the charge described in Bradley Johnson’s report (OR Page 665-666).
    2nd Manassas (30th): Hennessey’s Map 11 shows Third Brigade outside of or just on the fringe of the fighting. It shows one, or at most two, regiments opposite its lines despite the fact that Bradley Johnson’s report (OR page 666) states “except the Third Brigade, which, under Colonel Taliaferro, was employed whipping a division by itself.” The “division” may be a little hyperbole in appreciation for their effort, but I would have to believe that Johnson knew that it was more than a regiment to make such a statement. Hennessey notes that regrettably little is known about Third Brigades activities (page 341) which is frustratingly true. Here’s what I do have for this day: There is a post-war account by Lt E.B. Langley of Co A, 47th where he says that he still has “a nice English sword with belt and steel scabbard and a Colt’s police pistol, with the name Captain I.H. Demarest, Co. “G,” N.Y. Volunteers” that he picked up on the battlefield. This would be Capt James H. Demarest of the 17th NY Regt who was killed in their charge (OR Page 478 but his name is transcribed incorrectly as Deinerest as confirmed by other records). Hennessey shows the 17th NY as at least three regiment fronts down from Third Brigade. While it is possible that Langley strayed that far down after the battle, it is also very possible that they were in Third Brigade’s front. The 47th and 48th recapitulation records show they were engaged this day with significant casualties. Taylor’s sketch of the 48th shows they had a total of 16 killed and 53 wounded at Manassas. With the casualties noted for the 29th that means that they had 10 killed and 44 wounded on the 30th. Note that the two regiments had a little over 400 men each at Cedar Run and were probably down to 200, 300 at the most, by this time. Even at 300 that is nearly a 20% casualty rate. The 47th must have rejoined the brigade during the night or morning. I’m fairly certain I have another account that talks about them repelling an attack on their line, but I have to locate it; it may be in Lindsey’s. There is an account left by Capt Henry C. Lindsey of Co D, 47th that describes some of the action including pursuing the Yankees up and down the hills and charging a battery which ended it. Unfortunately that’s all I scratched notes on and remember, and I’ve misplaced the copy. If I can’t locate it I will go back to Montgomery soon to the Alabama State Archives to retrieve another. Burton’s 47th sketch also states they charged and captured a battery. Taliaferro’s Confederate Veteran account states “on the third day while leading a charge upon a battery which was doing fearful execution in our ranks my hand was struck by a Minie ball and two fingers of my sword arm crushed and mutilated.” there is a Montgomery Advertiser letter from a grieving sister about her brother, “Lt William (Billy) A. Grimmitt (Co K, 47th) aged 28 years, 9 months, 5 days killed. Did not leave Loachapoka for Richmond until June 23 due to measles. He was unable to perform camp duty until Manassas due to continued bad health from measles. The physician [Burton, Ridgeway ? – OBTW Burton’s medical kit is on display at the Chimborazo Hospital Museum in Richmond if you haven’t been there] and friends tried to dissuade him from engaging since he was still weak. He refused to listen and fought all day Saturday [30th] and was severely wounded in leg about 6 PM by a shell. He lived until 8 AM Sunday.” Hennessey’s Maps 13-16 somewhat agree with this with the important exception that they consistently show the Third Brigade trailing behind Longstreet’s line which makes it appear that they were not engaged at all. I believe that Butterfield’s (Week’s) Union Brigade (which the 17th NY was a part of) was actually more overlapped with Third Brigade in their attacks than is shown. And I think that Third Brigade closely pursued the Union line much in the same way as Worsham describes (One of Jackson’s Foot Cavalry, pages 132-133) and charged and captured a Union battery.
    I have the Military Service Records from the National Archives for all 1000+ members of the 47th Alabama which I have slowly been placing in a database. I will manually check through those to tally the casualties and number present for the 30th, because I think their casualties were higher than I’ve seen reported (7 K, 25 W in Burton). When I get a chance to refresh my memory on my notes I will also post some information about Little Round Top. I tallied the casualties for each 47th company from the individual Military Service Records and the distribution provides some insights into the fight for LRT on the 2nd and the Farnsworth cavalry charge on the 3rd. I also have Lindsey’s account of the three detached companies he commanded that went around LRT on the 2nd as well as Lt Col Michael Bulger’s post-war account of the battle, wounding, and care at a Union hospital which I can extract and post if you do not have that.

  7. Alan Gibson says:

    In addition, Colonel Bulger later wrote in a letter to Colonel Oates of the 15th, that Jackson had struggled to even get to his feet just before the 47th stepped off for LRT, and that he later collapsed. Lets not forget that this was a sick man who had as recently as the previous September had to go back to Alabama to recuperate, returned to the 47th, and on the 2nd of July they had been marching since 4am that morning through 90 degree heat, with no water after their canteens went dry. In my opinion, Campbell probably was not aware of Jackson’s deteriorated condition prior to the battle. Captain Burton of the 47th wrote more than 30 years later that Jackson was a “brave man, but thoroughly disqualified physically to be a soldier.” Don’t think Burton would have said that if he believed that Jackson had abandoned the regiment during one of the worst engagements the 47th participated in.

  8. Nehemiah Nowlen says:

    I never have gotten a “sense” of cowardice in COL. Jackson from all the family and military history I have read on the Jackson-Keller families. I am of the KELLER line (W.H. Keller- 47th Alabama adjutant). Do any of you gentlemen have any verified information that Jackson & Keller were with the 47th at Suffolk. My info is sketchy at best. Thanks for any input.

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