Biographer says Stonewall stood tall

July 26, 1997


Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - The author of what is considered to be one of the best and most extensively researched books about Civil War legend Stonewall Jackson was at Antietam National Battlefield on Saturday to sign copies of his book.

James I. Robertson Jr., who is helping to film a television documentary today about Antietam, scoured the country for five years digging up memiors, diaries and letters relating to Jackson's life.

Some Civil War authors say "Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend," is a masterful work which will become one of the authoritive sources of Jackson's life. The publisher of the 950-page book has already sold the rights to the biography for use as a Hollywood movie, acccording to Robertson.


"We literally blanketed the country searching for Jackson material," he said.

Gen. Thomas J. Jackson was regarded as one of the best fighters who often succeeded despite overwhelming odds. In 1862, Jackson defeated 60,000 Union troops with 17,000 men in a series of brilliant battles in the Shenandoah Valley.

Robertson, an Alumni Distinguished Professor in History at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., said he was able to obtain rare documents about Jackson's life that had never been used before to help tell the story of the famous Confederate general.

One was the memoir of the doctor who delievered Jackson, said Robertson. The memoir, which Robertson found at West Virginia University, proved that Jackson was born in Clarksburg, W.Va., not Parkersburg, W.Va., as some believe, said Robertson.

At the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., Robertson was able to gain access to Jackson's academic books, which revealed demerit points for tardiness and unkempt uniforms. But none of the demerit points were for behavior. Robertson said the information shows "the poor kid stayed up all night studying."

Jackson was orphaned at a young age, and he received sketchy schooling. Because of his sparse education, he had to work much harder than most cadets to absorb lessons.

Robertson said Jackson was neglected as a child, which made him shy and uneasy around large groups of people.

But that changed when Jackson found God, said Robertson. Jackson became extremely devoted to the Presbyterian faith, and often led prayers in his Confederate camps. Jackson saw the Civil War as a curse from God, and he believed that the side that displayed the most faith would win, said Robertson.

Jackson saw the Yankees as "infidel," which made him such a fierce fighter, said Robertson.

Jared Strum, one of many Civil War buffs who showed up at Antietam to have copies of Robertson's books signed, said he has always been intrigued by Jackson's eccentric behavior.

"He had a mission, and that's what I like about him. You don't see that much today," said Strum of Amissville, Va.

"He's an American legend," said Dennis O'Brien of St. Paul, Minn., who was visiting Civil War attractions in the area.

Saturday night Robertson, who has made appearances on the History Channel and other television shows, gave a lecture on Jackson.

Although the Greystone movie corporation in Hollywood has purchased the rights to turn his book into a movie, Robertson said he is concerned how the movie industry will interpret it.

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