General Thomas Jackson is one of those historical figures who’s probably best known by his iconic nickname: “Stonewall” Jackson. But do you know how he got his nickname?
It was 21 July 1861, at the First Battle of Bull Run, also called First Manassas. There is some contention about what exactly was said and how it was intended, because the person who inadvertently gave Jackson the name—General Bernard Bee—died in the battle and thus couldn’t clear up the matter. But apparently, during the battle, Bee’s troops began to give way to the Federals, while Jackson’s men stood in reserve to provide reinforcements. In an attempt get his soldiers to reform the line, Bee yelled, “Look, men! There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer!” (Other common versions include “Look at Jackson’s brigade standing like a stone wall! Rally on the Virginians!” and “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”)
It is unclear to history whether Bee meant the comparison to a stone wall as a compliment or critique. Was he telling his men to stand strong in the face of battle just like Jackson and his men? Or was he criticizing Jackson for not rushing to his aid? Either way, the analogy stuck, and the story immediately began circulating in newspapers, and Jackson became known by it even within his own short lifespan (he would die 2 years later at the Battle of Chancellorsville).