May 1, 2013… so begins the Sesqui of the Battle of Chancellorsville.
As such, I’ve been thinking…
What if Stonewall Jackson lived to command beyond Chancellorsville?
Frankly, any forward speculation of his possible performances in battles after Chancellorsville is subject to so many factors that it’s not even funny. As such, forward speculation is a waste of time. Could he have performed better than those who came after… maybe (repeating his “best of” performances… and maybe something even better)… maybe not (I’m thinking of his early performance in the Seven Days, or worse).
What’s more important to consider is the impact he had when he was alive. Known, documented results. It’s that time, during his life, in which I like to consider a range of questions.
I had ancestors with Jackson… more than a fair number. I also had Southern Unionists ancestors in the Valley. Let’s be clear, however, even those who were with Jackson represented a range of sentiments.
Let’s consider those who went into the ranks after the first Confederate conscription act. I can think of a fair number who enlisted before Jackson launched his campaign in the Shenandoah… war on the home-front indeed. Was it at that point (when “they” really were, finally, “down here”) that some men felt more compelled to join than in 1861? Was it a matter of being compelled to enlist to prevent the shame of conscription? I think these and other factors played a role.
Even so, if one was to sit uncertain on how to commit, up to that point, perhaps… as Jackson took the Army of the Valley to a successful conclusion… concerns of participating in war against the old flag became less than concern.
He brought them victories… not only the men of his army, but also, civilians of the Valley.
Perhaps fence-sitters became more confident of the direction in which they should go. Then again, for some, maybe not. I say this also knowing that (having looked at different examples in soldiers in the Army of the Valley) there were men in the ranks of his army, at the time of the Valley Campaign, who deserted and were not returned (and returned under force, mind you) until the winter of 62-63. For those from the central Shenandoah Valley, once immediate threat to their part of the Valley had been dealt with (to a degree), had they felt that they had done enough for the time being?
But, allow me to get to something that is more central to a regular theme in this blog.
Because Jackson gave his men victories… and many of his men hailing from the Shenandoah Valley… did these victories also have an impact on residents of the Shenandoah Valley who had exhibited, up to that point, more Unionist-leaning sentiments? I think back to the quote I took from David Hunter Strother, back in a post in January. Strother was thinking (mostly) about how the presence of the Union armies impacted Virginians who were, before that time, Southern Unionists. He didn’t, however, weigh-in on how many Confederate success in battles may have had a part in the swaying of Unionists.
As readers consider this… remember, we have the “advantage” of looking back and seeing the big picture, but, don’t think under those terms.
Think about the war from the perspective of the individual… from an individual right here in the Shenandoah Valley. Were there die-hard Unionists here? Absolutely. But, think… because Jackson performed, and the people here were beneficiaries (though I feel confident that some of the more die-hard Southern Unionists here, and even “leave-aloners”, would beg to differ) of his performances, did it… could it have impacted some where they felt more confident of ultimate Confederate success? Could they also have felt that, to remain in the land of generations of family members who had preceded them, it was time to chose a side? Did some Unionists… because of Jackson’s success… lean more Confederate (even if only for a short term during the war), just because it seemed the way to go to hold on to what mattered significantly to a largely agrarian people? The land is what they knew… it was the provider, and to be honest… may have mattered more than the “greater causes” (Union, the preservation or destruction of slavery, etc., etc.) of one side or the other.
Because he gave them victories (at home, and away on Virginia fields to the East), what impact did Jackson have on swaying the sentiments of Southern Unionists in the Shenandoah Valley?
While I don’t think answers from those who lived it are so easily available, I think such a question has more merit than those that focus on how Jackson may have impacted the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg.