The Story Of Antietam’s Dunker Church

A Place Of Peace Surrounded By War

Antietam Dunker Church with Yankee and Rebel dead killed on the morning of September 17, 1862. Photograph by Alexander Gardner.

Antietam Dunker Church with Yankee and Rebel dead killed on the morning of September 17, 1862. Photograph by Alexander Gardner.

The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862. This one-day battle left a terrible carnage on the beautiful and pastoral countryside of Sharpsburg, Maryland. In United States history, Antietam is the battle where the most casualties in one day of fighting occurred. At Antietam, there was more American dead than at Pearl Harbor, D-Day, or at 911. Over 3,600 were killed and over 19,000 were wounded, missing, or captured.

In the middle of the violent Antietam battlefield stood the whitewashed Dunker Church. The Dunker Church was a place meant for the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, where the good news message of love, forgiveness, peace, and salvation was faithfully believed and taught.

The Dunkers – German Baptist Brethren

Where Did The Name “Dunker” Come From, And What Does It Mean?

The congregation of the Dunker Church were members of the German Baptist Brethren which began in Germany in 1708. In Germany, they baptized adults in a local river, which was uncommon for the time. Usually, infants were baptized in a church by sprinkling water on them. During the German Baptist Brethren river baptism, the person would be completely submerged, or dunked, into the river water. In Germany, The German Baptist Brethren had the nickname of “Tunkers,” but when they began arriving in Maryland during the middle 1700s the nickname “Tunkers” became “Dunkers” because of their baptismal practice. The number of Dunkers in the Sharpsburg, Maryland area grew large enough so they could open their own church building in 1853.

What Were The Dunkers Like?

The Battle of Antietam with Dunker Church in background.

The Battle of Antietam with Dunker Church in background.

The Dunkers believed in a literal interpretation of the New Testament. They were similar to the Quakers, the Amish, and the Mennonites in their beliefs and the Dunkers often associated with these other Protestant denominations. The Dunkers did not like any type of indulgence. They were against drinking alcohol, violence, slavery, and gambling.

The Dunker Church was built in 1852 on land given to the Dunkers the previous year by Sharpsburg farmer Samuel Mumma. In its early years, about six local farm families made up the membership of the Dunker Church. The church was a plain whitewashed building without a steeple. The Dunkers felt a steeple was too extravagant. Inside the church, there were no paintings or other artwork, and the wooden benches were hard and plain. The women entered the church from a door oriented to the south and the men entered from a door oriented to the east. There were no musical instruments and singing was done a capella. The Dunkers were modest, simple, and plain in the way they dressed and lived. Although the Dunkers were opposed to slavery, they were pacifists and would not serve in the military, not for the North or for the South. Their beliefs prohibited them from taking up arms.

During Dunker services, the pastor would stand in the front of the church at a table with a Bible. The pastor would give a sermon, and there would be singing. Occasionally, a circuit pastor may instead give the sermon. The church service was long, it would last three to four hours and perhaps run into the afternoon. Religion was central in the lives of the Dunkers and their church services were a way for them to meet regularly in fellowship with friends, neighbors, and relatives. The Dunkers would enjoy peaceful worship in the years before the Civil War.

As the Dunkers worshiped in their whitewashed church on Sunday, September 14, 1862, they knew the Civil War was coming their way. As they looked toward South Mountain, which was only seven miles away to the east, they could clearly see smoke and hear cannon echoing from the Battle of South Mountain. After that Sunday service, the Dunkers went to the nearby farm of Samuel Mumma for dinner. On Tuesday, Confederate infantry and artillery were in position around the Dunker Church, ready for the battle beginning on Wednesday. During the battle, the Dunkers and most citizens had left to find safety away from the battlefield. By the end of the Battle of Antietam, the Dunker Church would be riddled by cannon and small arms fire, the now bloody landscape around it torn and littered with the remains of the great battle. The Samuel Mumma farm was in ashes. The Dunker Church would forever be a part of the Antietam battlefield.

The Dunker Church During The Battle Of Antietam

An Iconic Battlefield Landmark

The location of the Dunker Church on the Antietam battlefield made it an important landmark because it was on high ground and in the center of the Confederate line. The church is next to the Hagerstown Pike and on a natural ridgeline that provided the Confederates a good place to establish a defensive position on their left flank.

Battle of Antietam Overview, September 17, 1862. Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com.

Battle of Antietam Overview,
September 17, 1862.
Map by Hal Jespersen,
www.cwmaps.com.

The Dunker Church was a visual reference point for both the Confederates and the Federals during the Battle of Antietam because its distinctive whitewashed walls stood out well on the battlefield. The morning the battle began on September 17, 1862, was foggy and drizzly, and the smoke of battle made it difficult to pick out landmarks. The whitewashed Dunker Church was clearly visible through the fog, drizzle, and smoke, it became a reference point for both sides. The Yankees knew the Rebels were near that whitewashed building, so that’s where they focused their attention in wave after wave of attack.

Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson

The Dunker Church itself was not chosen by the Confederates to be a defensive position because of its physical structure. Rather, the church just happened to be at the place on the battlefield which gave the Confederates their best defensive position. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson’s men were in camp behind the Dunker Church and along the Confederate line north and south of the church.

 

  • Early on September 16, 1862, the Confederates began to gather and organize at Antietam. Hood’s division along with some brigades of Jone’s Division, took a position which overlooked the Hagerstown Pike and stretched from the Dunker Church and into the West Wood.
  • The battle began at dawn on September 17, with Joseph Hooker’s Union I Corps moving in attack down the Hagerstown Pike, his goal was the high ground around the Dunker Church. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson had a defensive position near the Dunker Church that stretched in a line from the West Woods nearby the church to across the Hagerstown Pike and to the south end of the Miller Cornfield. Stonewall had four brigades held in reserve in the West Woods.
  • The trees around and near the Dunker Church made excellent cover for Confederates. Men of the 48th North Carolina were around Dunker church and the 30th Virginia were nearby on the Hagerstown Pike awaiting more regiments.
  • The Federals used the church as a reference point during the battle, it was a landmark located in the middle of the fight as wave after wave of Federal advances were made toward the Confederate left flank.
  • The smoke of battle made it difficult for men of Federal Brigadier General George Greene’s 2nd Division to see. The prominent whitewashed Dunker Church was only fifty yards away from them, but they had a hard time seeing it through the smoke.
  • The Union 1st and 2nd Corps came from the east and pushed west across the Antietam battlefield, some of them were able to make it as far as the West Woods behind the Dunker Church.
  • The Confederate Texas Brigade came from behind the Dunker church to meet the Union 1st Corp.

  • There was action and battle swirling around the Dunker Church. A brigade led by Colonel Henry Stainrook of Brigadier General George Greene’s 2nd Division extended the Federal line southwest of the Dunker Church. Only fifty yards to the west of the Dunker Church, six twelve-pounder Napoleon cannons of Battery D, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery were ordered by Captain J. Albert Monroe to fire on Confederates on an exposed field south of the Dunker Church.
  • Confederate General Jeb Stuart had Colonel Stephen D. Lee with his four batteries of artillery in position across from the Hagerstown Pike on a piece of high ground near the Dunker Church. They were under strong fire from Union artillery located on a ridge behind the North Woods, and other artillery two miles east of Antietam Creek. This artillery duel between the Confederates and the Federals was described by Colonel Lee as “artillery hell.”
  • The epicenter of the Battle of Antietam is a triangular piece of land bordered roughly by the West Woods, the Cornfield, and the Mumma Farmstead, it is where a significant portion of the Battle of Antietam took place. The closeness of the Dunker Church to the epicenter made it a battlefield landmark. Concentrated fighting took place near and on the property of the Dunker Church because of its location on the left flank of the Confederate line, and because of its closeness to the West Woods.
  • The Union and Confederate commanders made mention of the Dunker Church in their battle reports. Both Confederate Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson and Union General “Fighting Joe” Hooker spoke of the Dunker Church in their battle reports.
  • The Dunker Church was scarred after the Battle of Antietam. Bullet holes riddled its whitewashed walls, and artillery had damaged the church’s roof and walls. The Dunkers repaired their small church and in 1864, worship services were held again.

Immediately after the battle, the Dunker Church served another role as a makeshift hospital for the wounded. It was not used as a proper hospital because it was too small, and the church had no supply of water or food. The Dunker Church was used instead as a place where the wounded could be brought and evaluated, like modern-day triage. Perhaps the wounded received some immediate treatment at the Dunker Church and then were moved on to other places where they could be better cared for. Usually, one of the nearby family farms made a much better, though not perfect, hospital than the Dunker Church did. It is possible the Dunker Church was also used as an embalming station.

The Dunker Church continued to be a point of reference after the battle. It was a common and easy-to-find location to meet and gather for army commanders, the soldiers, and for the local people whose help was now greatly needed. There is a sketch made by Civil War artist Alfred Waud that depicts a truce being made near the Dunker Church between Confederates and Federals in order to exchange wounded and to bury dead.

The Dunker Church After The Battle Of Antietam

A Big Whirlwind

After the Battle of Antietam, the Dunkers and the local citizens worked hard at putting their lives and property back together. They wanted to get their lives back to normal, which was an impossibility after the bloodshed of war.

The Dunkers (They had officially changed their name to the Church of the Brethren.) moved to a new church on Main Street in Sharpsburg in 1899. After the move, their old church on the Antietam battlefield was mostly ignored, it was seldom used and fell into neglect and disrepair. As time went on, the old Dunker Church continued its physical decline. Tourists to the Antietam battlefield sometimes took bricks from the church walls as souvenirs. The damage from the Battle of Antietam to the church building continued to worsen. A strong windstorm flattened the church into a pile of rubble on April 24, 1921. The Dunker Church congregation did not have the financial ability to repair the old church.

The Dunkers deeded the old church to the Samuel Mumma family, who had originally donated the church’s property to the Dunkers. The Mummas then sold the Dunker Church property at auction to a Sharpsburg grocer named Elmer Boyer. Boyer salvaged what was left of the Dunker Church building and stored the material in a shed. He then sold the Dunker Church property to Charles Turner.

Get Your Cold Beer Here

Charles Turner used the Dunker Church foundation to build a new frame structure. Being an entrepreneur, Turner used his building during the 1930s and 1940s as a lunch counter and to sell souvenirs. Tourists of the Antietam Battlefield could quench their hunger and thirst by treating themselves to refreshments and food at Turner’s lunch counter. Turner’s efforts were not appreciated. His lunch counter and souvenir stand were considered an eyesore and his building was much different in appearance from the original Dunker Church. Turner even sold beer at his lunch counter, a great contrast to the strict beliefs of the Dunkers who abstained from drinking alcohol. Attempts were made for years to buy the Dunker Church property back and restore it to its condition as during the Battle of Antietam.

The Revival Of The Dunker Church Building.

The Dunker Church at Antietam

The Dunker Church at Antietam

In 1951, things began to change favorably for the Dunker Church property when there were plans to widen the nearby Hagerstown Pike. The Dunker Church is so close to the Hagerstown Pike that the original church property would be encroached upon, and the historical preservation of the Dunker Church site lost, with the widening of the road. The Washington County Historical Society came to the rescue by raising enough money to purchase the Dunker Church property, and to raze Turner’s frame building with the lunch counter and souvenir stand. The Washington County Historical Society then donated the Dunker Church property to the Federal government. The Federal government was unable to do anything with the Dunker Church property for a decade because the Korean War was being fought and money was not available. All tourists saw of the Dunker Church during this time was its remaining foundation.

During the Civil War Centennial national attention focused on the history and importance of the Civil War. Many events were held during the Civil War Centennial to commemorate the Civil War and to educate people about it. Maryland Governor Millard Tawes allocated money for the rebuilding of the Dunker Church and restoration plans were made by historians and architects. Amazingly, Elmer Boyer still had original Dunker Church materials stowed away in his shed. Work began in the fall of 1961 to rebuild the Dunker Church. By the following summer in 1962, the Dunker Church was back with its historical appearance and place on the Antietam battlefield.

Re-dedication of the Dunker Church, September 2, 1962

Maryland Governor Millard Tawes

“On a field shrouded with smoke, the church alone was the only visible landmark. And so, this Dunker Church stood out as a beacon by which commanders took their direction and men found their way through the smoky chaos of battle. May it stand in peace as it did in war, as a beacon to guide those searching their way through the darkness. May it stand throughout all ages as a symbol of mercy, peace, and understanding.”

If you visit the Antietam battlefield today, you will find the Dunker Church much as it was in 1862. You can go inside and see the wooden benches where the Dunkers sat during their long services, you can hear your voice and other’s echo through the simple and barren building. A trip to visit the Antietam National Battlefield is worthwhile if you want to learn about the history of the Civil War.

Quotes By And About Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson At West Point

The Mystique Of Stonewall Jackson

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson is a fascinating character of the Civil War. His battlefield successes, Robert E. Lee calling him his right-hand man, his nickname of Stonewall, his legendary 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign, his personal eccentricities, his strong faith in God, and his death from friendly fire, have all made him larger than life and created a mystique about him. Note that Jackson would not gain his nickname of “Stonewall” until the First Battle of Bull Run.

Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson

Thomas Jackson’s early life was a sad and difficult one. He was born on January 21, 1824, and when he was two-years-old the month of March 1826, would bring tragedy to his family. On March 6, 1826, his sister Elizabeth died of typhoid fever. On March 26, only the day after mother Julia gave birth to Thomas’ sister Laura Ann, his father Jonathan also died of typhoid fever. Julia Jackson was now a widow at age twenty-eight, deeply in debt, and with a young family to support. She refused to accept charity. To pay off the debt, Julia sold family belongings, moved her family into a small rented house, sewed, and she taught school. Julia married again in 1830 and died the following year giving birth to Thomas Jackson’s half-brother. Her health had been poor for some time prior to her death. Julia’s declining health caused Thomas and his younger sister Laura Ann to leave their home and live with their half-uncle Cummins Jackson at Jackson’s Mill, Virginia (now West Virginia). Cummins Jackson owned a farm and a grist mill at Jackson’s Mill.

Young Thomas Jackson worked at his Uncle Cummins farm at Jackson’s Mill. He had a sheepdog to help him herd sheep, he drove teams of oxen, and there were crops such as corn and wheat to be harvested. Jackson’s education was not full. He attended school classes sporadically, it was now and then, but never enough.

Thomas Jackson wanted to make something of himself by attending West Point. It was hard for him to pass West Point’s entrance examinations, but in 1842 he became a cadet at The United States Military Academy. Jackson was not prepared for the difficult West Point academics as his prior education was lacking, especially when compared to other cadets with more fortunate backgrounds. Academically, he was near the bottom of his class. Thomas Jackson was not lacking in determination and he set himself on a course of working and studying very hard to keep up with West Point’s demanding academics. Over his years at West Point Thomas Jackson steadily increased his class standing. He eventually worked his way up to finish with a respectable class ranking of 17th of 59 cadets in the 1846 West Point class.

West Point, Circa 1855

West Point, Circa 1855.
Photo Courtesy West Point Museum Collections, United States Military Academy

These quotes are by and about Thomas Jackson during his time at West Point. They give us understanding into Jackson’s character, his personality, his experiences, and the challenges he faced as a young man during his development as a cadet at The United States Military Academy.

***

“Knowing that he had no influential friends to urge his appointment, and that even if he secured it, he was poorly prepared to pass the preliminary examination, I at first discouraged him in his purpose. Seeing that his mind was made up, I did all I could to advance his interests.”

The words of William E. Arnold. In 1842, Thomas Jackson was hoping to obtain an appointment to West Point after an earlier attempt had failed. Jackson’s fortune would change. A young man who had received an appointment to West Point instead of Jackson had found life at West Point too unsuitable and he returned home. Jackson now had another chance at West Point but he needed to gain support from his community to obtain the appointment. Thomas sought out William E. Arnold, whom he’d known all his life, for his advice and for an endorsement. Despite having reservations about Jackson, Arnold saw that Thomas Jackson was determined to attend West Point and provided him an endorsement.

***

“I know that I shall have the application necessary to succeed. I hope that I have the capacity. At least I am determined to try, and I wish you to help me to do this.”

… Jonathan M. Bennett was an attorney with influence. Thomas Jackson wanted Bennett to write him a letter of introduction to Congressman Hays in Washington, of whom Jackson hoped to obtain his West Point appointment. Jackson showed up at Bennett’s law office on a rainy afternoon, wet and dripping water on Bennett’s office floor. Bennett was leery of Jackson’s chances of success at West Point and questioned his ability to survive in such a competitive academic environment. This was Thomas Jackson’s reply to Jonathan M. Bennett. Bennett did write Jackson the letter of introduction.

***

“a meritorious young man… quite a smart youth in every respect for his age and opportunity… a youth… with many noble facultys of soul and great moral worth… a fit and proper person… a young man of industry and perseverance”

… When Thomas Jackson arrived at Congressman Hays’ office in Washington, he brought with him a collection of recommendations which he presented to Congressman Hays. These are a few excerpts from the recommendations.

***

“An orphan in early age, he has inspired by his conduct, confidence in his rectitude, and won the acclaim of the community. Descended from a family which has discovered much of the country, and with nothing but his individual exertions to advance him in life, we consider him as having a claim upon the country as great as that of any other young man.”

… Friends of “Thomas J. Jackson” from Lewis County, Virginia wrote this glowing recommendation for Jackson as he attempted to obtain an appointment to West Point. Note that these friends added the middle initial of “J” to Jackson’s name for this recommendation.

***

“Personally and intimately acquainted ”
“Fine athletic form… manly appearance… good moral character… improvable mind”

… Congressman Hays’ appointment for Thomas Jackson to West Point to Secretary of War John C. Spencer included these words.

***

“Thomas J. Jackson”

… When Secretary of War John C. Spencer gave Thomas Jackson his appointment to West Point, Jackson signed his name on the acceptance certificate in this way. It is significant because from now on the middle initial of “J” for Jonathan would be included in his name. Later in the Civil War, Thomas Jonathan Jackson would gain a nickname that immortalizes him in history.

***

“That fellow looks as if he has come to stay.”

… On June 19, 1842, Thomas J. Jackson arrived at West Point. A fellow Cadet named Dabney M. Maury made this observation of Jackson to other classmates.

***

Young Thomas J. Jackson

Young Thomas J. Jackson

“to show my interest in a fellow country-man by being humorous and feigning an air of authority.”

… On Thomas J. Jackson’s first day at West Point, he is assigned along with other new Cadets to a policing detail to rid any trash or litter from the campus. These are the words of Virginian Cadet Dabney M. Maury who was included in this policing detail. Maury attempted to get to know Jackson by playfully speaking to him in the manner he describes here. Jackson’s response was to give Maury a blank stare.

***

“Mr. Jackson, I find that I made a mistake just now in speaking to you in a playful manner—not justified by our slight acquaintance. I regret that I did so.”

… West Point Cadet Dabney M. Maury trying to make amends with Thomas J. Jackson. Maury had teased Jackson in an attempt to draw him out and meet him while the two were busy picking up litter and trash from the campus grounds during a policing detail.

***

“That is perfectly satisfactory, sir.”

… Thomas J. Jackson’s reply to Cadet Dabney M. Maury accompanied with another blank stare, after their above-described exchange of words.

***

“Cadet Jackson, from Virginia is a jackass!”

… Cadet Dabney M. Maury’s judgment of Thomas J. Jackson after their initial bad exchange while working a litter and trash policing detail at West Point. Maury spoke this to Birkett D. Fry, A. P. Hill, and George E. Pickett, all of whom were fellow members of Jackson’s West Point class. Jackson, Maury, Birkett, Hill, and Picket would all become generals for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

***

“His whole soul was bent on passing. When he went to the blackboard the perspiration was streaming from his face, and during the whole examination his anxiety was painful to witness.”

… Thomas J. Jackson had to pass his admission examination at West Point, this was the observation of another cadet as Jackson went to the blackboard to work his exam’s math problem. Jackson successfully solved the math exam problem.

***

“Tho. J. Jackson”

… Thomas J. Jackson’s name appeared in this way on the list of those West Point cadets who passed their admission exam. Jackson’s name was last on the list and he confessed that he had passed only “by the skin of his teeth.”

***

“[…] ready extensive contact with the world foiled the boys in their fun. Among the more advanced cadets he soon made warm friends.”

… When Thomas J. Jackson began at West Point, he was older than most of his fellow classmates, but all of them were subject to the usual hazing and harassment eagerly offered by the upper cadets. However, in Jackson’s case, his older age and experience in the world shielded him somewhat from the hazing and harassment.

***

“The fare of the mess hall is miserable… it would be quite a luxury to miss a meal.”

… An opinion by cadet John Buford of the food at West Point. John Buford would later play a significant role and gain fame at the Battle of Gettysburg. Thomas J. Jackson apparently was so wrapped up in his studies that he paid not much attention at all to the food offered to the cadets. Jackson’s attention was focused elsewhere.

***

“Our course of studies is a difficult one to accomplish and requires great industry under the many restrictions and deprivations of military discipline—not at all agreeable to a young man not fond of study for its own sake.”

… These are the words of one of the faculty regarding the academic standards of West Point. Thomas J. Jackson found this quote to be true. Jackson began as one of West Point’s “Immortals,” which was what those of the poorest academic standing were called. However, Jackson worked very hard and with great determination. By the time he graduated from West Point in the Class of 1846, Jackson’s class standing was seventeenth.

***

“under great disadvantage—others were trained at the start but his mind was still the unbroken colt, shying here, tottering there, and blundering where his companions already knew the difficulties of the ground.”

… William Edmondson “Grumble” Jones was a classmate of Thomas J. Jackson. Jones realized that Jackson was not as well prepared for West Point as most others in regards to academics and social skills. In the Civil War, Brigadier General “Grumble” Jones was a Confederate cavalry officer known for complaining. Jones was killed at the Battle of Piedmont on June 5, 1864.

***

“He seemed to me, far from quick of apprehension, & acquisition of knowledge was a labor. I was much attracted by his determination to get through, his application, & his modesty.”

…West Point Cadet W. H. Chase Whiting was the leader of the third class at West Point and he had the highest academic ranking. Thomas J. Jackson was struggling with his studies and he asked the older and better student Whiting for help. Whiting was gracious to Jackson and often tutored him.

***

“Efforts at the blackboard were some times painful to watch. No matter what proposition was assigned to recite on, he would hang to it like a bull dog and in his mental efforts to overcome the difficulty great drops of perspiration would fall from his face, even in the coldest weather, so that it soon became a proverb with us that whenever ‘Old Jack’ … got a difficult proposition at the blackboard, he was certain to flood the entire room.”

…Cadet John Gibbon’s humorous observation of Thomas J. Jackson. Union Brigadier General John Gibbon was a Pennsylvanian who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, there is a monument at Gettysburg National Military Park to honor him. Ironically, Gibbon had three brothers who fought in the Confederate army.

***

“was the most honest human being I ever knew—painfully conscientious, very slow in acquiring information, but a hard, incessant student.”

… These words about Thomas J. Jackson are supposedly from Ulysses S. Grant, West Point class of 1843.

***

“No one I have ever known could so perfectly withdraw his mind from surrounding objects or influences.”

… Parmenas Turnley. Turnley was Thomas J. Jackson’s first roommate at West Point.

***

Maxims of Thomas J. Jackson:

“Through life let your personal object be the discharge of duty.”

“Sacrifice your life rather than your word.”

“Let your conduct toward men have some uniformity.”

“Temperance: Eat not to fullness, drink not to elevation.”

“Silence: Speak but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”

“It is not desirable to have a large number of intimate friends.”

“Never weary your company by talking too long or too frequently.”

“Never try to appear more wise and learned than the rest of the company.”

“You can be whatever you resolve to be.”

… Thomas J. Jackson began keeping a five-by-eight-inch book of maxims while at West Point. His entries covered many facets of life. All were meant as goals or advice to himself in order to improve his character. His maxim: “You can be whatever you resolve to be.” has become the most famous of all.

***

“[…]henceforth his was a gaining race. Everytime he left scores behind—increased labor seeming only to increase his speed.”

… Although Thomas J. Jackson began West Point behind his classmates in academic ability, his steady hard work improved his standing. Cadet William Jones had this observation of Jackson’s scholastic improvement.

***

“His military deportment & his general conduct were exemplary.”

… Praise for Thomas J. Jackson from upperclassman Chase Whiting, who helped Jackson with his studies.

***

“After a year of endurance the plebe becomes a third classman and changes from the persecuted to the persecutor. It is probably the proudest moment of his whole life. He enters on his new career with all the zest of disimprisoned youth, and all the skill of a doctor just out of disease. The enjoyment is exquisite and in proportion to the perplexities inflicted.”

… Cadet William Jones speaking of the joy experienced when West Point cadets advance to a new year of study. They now had the class standing to harass and haze younger cadets. Thomas J. Jackson was an exception to this. Jackson did not spend his time causing grief for the younger cadets, he kept his nose to the grindstone so as to improve his studies and himself. He did not participate in any recreational activities, except for an occasional brisk walk.

***

“Yes. I remember one overt act, but it was the only one in which I consciously did what I knew to be wrong. I stepped behind a tree to conceal myself from an officer, because I was beyond bounds without a permit.”

… Thomas J. Jackson’s reply when asked if he had ever purposely broken the rules at West Point.

***

Thomas J. Jackson

Thomas J. Jackson

“My health is far better than it was when I parted with you, and indeed more flattering than it has been for the last two years. …The examinations closed a few days since, and rather to my advantage, as I rose considerably in mathematics, and a few files in the French language, though in the same time I fell a few files in ethics and drawing. There was only one Virginian found deficient in my class. …I am also homesick, and expect to continue so until I can have a view of my native mountains, and receive the greetings of my friends and relatives. …It is the anticipation of one day realizing them that fills my heart with joy, and causes me to urge forward and grasp that prize which will qualify me for spending time with them in peace and honor. I feel very confident that unless fortune frowns on me more than it has yet, I shall graduate in the upper half of my class, and high enough to enter the Dragoons. Be that as it may, I intend to remain in the army no longer than I can get rid of it with honor, and means to commence some professional business at home.”

… Thomas J. Jackson and his sister Laura corresponded for seventeen years, beginning with this letter that Jackson wrote to her from West Point in January 1844. The Dragoons used a horse to get to and move around the battlefield, but they would dismount to fight. Civil War cavalry fought while mounted. It is interesting how in this letter Jackson indicates he has no plans for continued military service and preferred to use his schooling to work in business. Thomas J. Jackson was like many of us, he could become homesick.

***

“Oh, I tell you I had to work hard.”

… Thomas J. Jackson regarding his challenging his studies at West Point.

***

“During my furlough I was made an officer, consequently my duties are lighter than usual.”

… From West Point in August 1844, Thomas J. Jackson wrote to his sister Laura the good news that he’d been appointed as a sergeant.

***

“These were such quiet neighbors I scarcely knew they were there.”

… Thomas J. Jackson’s roommate his junior year at West Point was George Stoneman. Stoneman and Jackson were both focused on their studies, they were contemplative and pensive with none of the rowdy behavior as might be expected from young men. George Stoneman was from New York and in the Civil War, he would be a Union cavalry general. This is a quote from John Tidball who roomed near Jackson and Stoneman.

***

“In consequence of a somewhat shambling, awkward gait, and the habit of carrying his head down in a thoughtful attitude, he seemed of less stature than he really was.”

“His voice was thin and feminine—almost squeaky—while his utterances were quick, jerky and sententious, but when once made were there ended; there was… no hypothesis or observation to lead to further discussion.”

“There were occasions, as I observed, when his actions appeared strangely affected; as, for instance, a drenching shower caught sections returning from recitations, or the battalion from the mess-hall, and ranks were broken to allow the cadets to rush for shelter to the barracks, Jackson would continue his march, solemnly, at the usual pace, deviating neither to the right nor to the left.”

… John Tidball wrote of his experiences at West Point which included his recollections of Thomas J. Jackson.

***

“My sincere desire, is that you may both enjoy all the blessings which a bountiful Providence can bestow. I think that if happiness exists in this world, matrimony is one of the principal factors.”

… Jackson’s sister Laura married a man named Jonathan Arnold in October 1844, but Thomas J. Jackson did not learn of the marriage until four months later. Considering the closeness of brother Jonathan and sister Laura, this delay in relaying the news of Laura’s marriage seem odd. Jonathan Arnold was twenty-four years older than Laura and this was his third marriage. This quote is from a letter Jackson wrote to Laura in February 1845.

***

“J”

… Thomas J. Jackson wrote a letter to his sister Laura in February 1845, and he instructed her to use the letter “J” as his middle initial in his name for future correspondence. There was now another cadet at West Point whose name was Thomas K. Jackson and the “J” was needed in order to avoid confusion between the two Jacksons.

***

“I expect to commence taking exercises in riding in a day or two.”

… In his February 1845 letter to sister Laura, Thomas J. Jackson mentions this. The future cavalry officer Jackson is about to begin training in horsemanship. In his case, it was much-needed training. Although as a young man Jackson had been a jockey, he was now rather inept at riding a horse.

***

“[…] awkward and uncomfortable to look at upon a horse…. We used to watch him with anxiety when his turn came… he seemed in imminent danger of falling headlong from his horse.”

… Thomas J. Jackson took exercises in horse riding at West Point, Jackson was not a skilled horseman. This is cadet Dabney Maury remarking on Jackson’s equestrian abilities.

***

“In the riding hall I think his sufferings must have been very great. He had a rough horse and, though accustomed to horseback-riding, was awkward, and when the order came to cross stirrups and trot, ‘Old Jack’ struggled hard to keep his horse.”

… A fellow cadet of Jackson’s describing Jackson’s horse riding ability during their West Point horse riding exercises.

***

“The annual examination will commence in about two weeks. …If fortune should favor me in a degree corresponding to the past, I will have a better standing in my class than I formally had.”

… It was now May 1845, at West Point and Thomas J. Jackson’s important annual examination looms close. He had steadily advanced in class standing as he always improved overall in his studies. Jackson would not be disappointed in his annual examination results. He would improve his class ranking to the top third of his sixty-two cadet West Point class.

***

“It became my duty as artillery instructor to “set him up at the Gun” — a duty which I found at very difficult to perform, because he was saw-boned, still jointed, and totally devoid of all grace of motion.”

“I found it hard to make any kind of an artillery man out of him, much more a graceful one.”

“Again he would be put in position and again the same result. Over and over this was repeated, until at last losing all patience I had learned to practice in drilling awkward cadets, I exclaimed, ‘d- -n it, Mr. Jackson, how often must I show you this simple movement?'”

“Instantly regretting my improper exclamation I cast my eyes from his feet to his face and became filled with remorse. The face revealed a soul touching patience and suffering of the “Ecce-homo.” No anger, no impatience, only sorrow and suffering. It was a hot July day and the sun was blazing down upon us. The perspiration was rolling down his face and dropped from his chin—a mosquito had fastened upon his nose, and yet his hands hung by his sides.”

… These four quotes are from Thomas J. Jackson’s artillery professor, Lieutenant Daniel Marsh Frost. It is seen here in Frost’s words how challenging it was for him to get the clumsy and awkward Jackson to perform the movements of precision necessary in artillery loading. Frost indicates in later words not provided here, that Jackson was able to learn how to load artillery in the correct way.

***

“preferable to any other”

… Thomas J. Jackson’s words. He found the subject of ethics to be his favorite one at West Point.

***

“That Jackson’s mind possessed a certain peculiarity is evidenced by the fact that though he stood low in all his studies during three years, when he entered the first class & commenced the study of logic [ethics], that bug-bear to the root majority of others, he shot like a meteor from near the foot of class to very near its top.”

… Fellow cadet John Gibbon’s observation of how Thomas J. Jackson’s strong aptitude for the study of ethics came through at West Point. Note that John Gibbon would fight for the Union during the Civil War. At the Battle of Gettysburg, Gibbon’s men were at Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, where they had a major role in beating back Pickett’s Charge. Gibbon was wounded during the fight and while recovering he was present at Gettysburg when President Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

***

“[…]while there were many who seemed to surpass [Thomas J. Jackson] in intellect, in geniality, and in good-fellowship, there was no one of our class who more absolutely possessed the respect and confidence of all.”

… Parmenas Turnley about how Thomas J. Jackson was thought of by his fellow cadets. Turnley was once a roommate of Jackson’s at West Point.

***

“It grieves me to think that in a short time I must be separated from amiable and meritorious friends whom an acquaintance of years has endeared to me by many ties.”

… As the end of his time at West Point came near, Jackson knew he would miss his friends.

***

Prayer in Stonewall Jackson's camp.

Prayer in Stonewall Jackson’s camp.

“Scarcely an evening when both of them were off duty but they walked together around the promenade of the Point and every Saturday evening they explored the extreme limits of cadet bounds and some times ventured a little beyond. Their stride was long and quick, more like business than pleasure—passing rapidly all walkers in their way.”

… Thomas J. Jackson and his roommate Parmenas Turnley would take walks together their last year at West Point. This quote is the reminiscence of another cadet. Jackson was always concerned about his health and these walks were his attempt to improve his physical well-being. We should consider that Jackson was ahead of his time with his walking. We know well today how important regular exercise such as walking, is to good health.

***

“My constitution has received a severe shock, but I believe I am gradually recovering.”

… Thomas J. Jackson to his sister Laura regarding his health concerns. Jackson was strange in his thoughts about his health. At the time of these words to Laura, he was believing that he may have consumption (which meant that he was having lung problems with wasting of the body), and dyspepsia (which meant that he was having indigestion problems). He was also suffering from some other non-described health complaints. Jackson also indicated that he hoped that exercise would have; “the desired effect of restoring me to perfect health.” He would take long walks, and at other times Jackson would “pump his arm for many minutes, counting the strokes” as forms of exercise. Jackson’s exercises would be good for us.

***

“[Jackson] complained that one arm and one leg were heavier than the other,” and “[he] would occasionally raise his arm straight up, as he said to let the blood run back into his body, and so relieve the excessive weight.”

…West Point Cadet Dabney Maury describing the oddness of Thomas J. Jackson’s health beliefs and practices.

***

“Rumor appears to indicate a rupture between our government and the Mexican. If such should be the case the probability is that I will be ordered to join the army of occupation immediately […] and the next letter you receive from me may be dated from Texas or Mexico. […] I shall continue to love you with a brother’s love.”

… Thomas J. Jackson writing to his sister Laura in early 1846. Jackson was to graduate from West Point that spring and he began to think of what may afterward be in store for him. Indeed, on May 13, 1846, the United States declared war against Mexico and the West Point class of 1846 knew what was in their immediate future. Thomas J. Jackson would begin his service in the First Artillery Regiment.

***

“He attracted great attention and looked every inch a soldier, many who knew him spoke of the great change made by West Point in his appearance.”

… Thomas J. Jackson returned to Jackson’s Mill, Virginia in July 1846, after he finished at West Point. He went to Weston, Virginia to see and meet with friends he had not seen for a long time. This quote is the impression Jackson made on one individual during his visit to Weston. West Point had created a new Thomas J. Jackson.

***

On July 22, 1846, Thomas J. Jackson received his orders. He was ordered to report to Captain Francis Taylor, the commanding officer of Company K of the First Artillery at Fort Columbus, Governor’s Island, New York. He was twenty-two-years-old and on his way to Mexico to serve his country, The United States of America.