The Stonewall Brigade
The Stonewall Brigade was the most famous unit in a famous army, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. They existed from their formation in 1861 until Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864 when the unit was decommissioned
The brigade was formed by Thomas Jonathan Jackson on April 27, 1861 at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Jackson was appointed the brigade commander by Robert E. Lee who was Jefferson Davis’ military adviser. Colonel Jackson, a West Point graduate, was a professor of mathematics and artillery at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.
The original brigade was composed of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia Infantry regiments and the Rockbridge Artillery Battery of Rockbridge County in the Valley. Originally, it was part of the Virginia Provisional Army. On May 15 it was assigned to the Army of the Shenandoah and on July 20th the Valley district. Officially the brigade was the 1st Virginia Brigade.
Jackson was a rigorous teacher, drillmaster and disciplinarian. Jackson was great believer that discipline was essential for victory on the battlefield. He drilled his troops relentlessly until they could maneuver effortlessly.
Jackson led his troops on the famous Great Train Raid on May 23, 1861. Although some historians don’t believed that it ever took place, the story was that Jackson’s brigade “captured” between 14 and 19 train engines, disassembled them and moved them from Martinsburg to Strasburg, Virginia in horse-drawn wagons.
Jackson was promoted to Brigadier General on June 17th. They received their baptism of fire at First Manassas on July 21st where Jackson received his famous nickname of “Stonewall” and his brigade became known forever more as the Stonewall Brigade. Jackson’s famous defensive stand turned the tide of the battle and helped win a vital victory for the new Confederacy.
Jackson was promoted to Major General on October 7, 1861 and given command of the Valley District with headquarters at Winchester. Brig. Gen. Richard Brooke Garnett was promoted to brigade commander. Garnett would command the Stonewall Brigade until he was relieved of duty on April 1, 1862 by Jackson after the First Battle of Kernstown. Garnett’s court martial was never completed. He was transferred to command one of George Pickett’s brigades and was killed on July 3, 1863 during Pickett’s Charge.
This was a pattern for the officers who commanded the Stonewall Brigade. Of the 8 men who commanded this two all but two were eventually killed in action during the war. Only the last two were to survive combat.
The Stonewall Brigade spent the first half of 1862 in the Shenandoah Valley. In March the Valley District was incorporated in General Joseph Johnston’s Army of Northern Virginia. They were the left wing of that army and operated in the Valley. During that time they fought at the First Battle of Kernstown (March 23rd), McDowell (May 8th), Front Royal (May 23rd), First Winchester (May 25th), Cross Keys (June 8th) and Port Republic (June 9th). Their only defeat was at Kernstown. After Kernstown Brig. Gen. Charles Winder was given brigade command. The Federal forces withdrew from the Valley and Jackson’s command moved to support Lee on the Peninsula.
The Stonewall Brigade were in the Seven Days campaign from June 25th until July 1st. They fought at Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville), Gaines’s Mill, Garnett’s & Golding’s Farm, Savage’s Station, White Oak Swamp and Malvern Hill. After McClellan retreated back down the Peninsula and the threat to Richmond was over, Lee moved his army to Northern Virginia. It was during the Seven Days campaign that the Stonewall Brigade acquired its second nickname as “Jackson’s Foot Cavalry”, particularly one march of 57 miles in 51 hours.
The Stonewall Brigade fought in a hard fight at Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862 where among others, General Winder was killed. Colonel William Baylor was named acting brigade commander but his term was short-lived. He was killed three weeks later on August 30th at Second Manassas while carrying the flag of the 33rd Virginia.
Colonel Andrew J. Grigsby was promoted to temporary command of the brigade and led it through the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam. However, he was never given permanent command. He resigned on November 14, 1862 after being passed over in favor of Elisha F. Paxton, a member of Jackson’s staff. Paxton was promoted from major to brigadier general upon his assumption of brigade command.
Paxton led the brigade during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. The brigade was in William B. Taliaferro‘s Division but was lightly engaged. During all of 1862 the brigade suffered over 1,200 total casualties.
The Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863 was to see heavy losses for both the brigade and the Confederacy. They were part of Isaac Trimble’s Division and were in Jackson’s audacious flanking attack that helped to defeat the Federal army. In the ensuing attack the brigade had 600 of its own either killed or wounded out of its 2,000-man complement. Included in the dead was their brigade commander General Elisha Paxton leading his troops. He was shot through the heart. Several hours later, his mentor Stonewall Jackson was mistakenly shot by his own men. He died a week later. The commander of the 13th Virginia, Colonel James A. Walker, was promoted to brigadier general to replace Paxton.
During the Gettysburg Campaign, the brigade was part of Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division. At the Second Battle of Winchester, the brigade launched a spirited counterattack at Stephenson’s Depot that captured six Union regiments. The brigade arrived late in the afternoon of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863. They participated in two hard days of futile assaults against Union entrenchments on Culp’s Hill. One of their numbers, Pvt. Wesley Culp, died within sight of his family’s home.
The brigade fought throughout the Overland Campaign. At the Wilderness they fought along the Orange Turnpike. At Spotsylvania they were at the Bloody Angle of the Mule Shoe Salient. Here the brigade lost all but 200 men with the rest either killed, wounded or captured. Their commander General Walker was badly wounded. This battle marked the official end of the Stonewall Brigade. The brigade was disbanded and its men were consolidated into one regiment.
This small regiment fought throughout the rest of the war in the Valley, the siege of Petersburg and the final Appomattox campaign. Of the 6,000 men that had served in the brigade throughout the war, only 219 men remained, none above the rank of captain.
Today, the Stonewall Brigade still lives on in the 116th Brigade Combat Team of the 29th Infantry Division. Their colors carry battle streamers for the Stonewall Brigade’s actions in the Civil War.
(Writer’s note: part of this modern unit has an armory near my home. I pass it several times a week.)