As we wrap up the 160th anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, I want to share with you an observation made by Richard Taylor. Taylor’s Louisianans played a key role in several battles during the Valley Campaign and then traveled with Jackson’s army to Richmond to participate in events during the Seven Days.
Taylor’s service led Jackson to recommend him for promotion to major general. With the promotion came Taylor’s transfer to the Trans-Mississippi, which allowed Taylor to escape any potential future conflict with Jackson, which so many of Jackson’s subordinates seemed to struggle with over time. That allowed him to watch the rest of Jackson’s wartime performance from a safe distance.
In 1879, Taylor published his wartime reminiscences, Destruction and Reconstruction. In the book, Taylor offered his assessment of Jackson, formed in the crucible of battle and cured over seven years and a thousand miles of distance. “Observing him closely, I caught a glimpse of the man’s inner nature,” Taylor claimed. “It was but a glimpse.” What he saw, he said, was “an ambition boundless as Cromwell’s, and as merciless.”
I have written that he was ambitious; and his ambition was vast, all-absorbing. Like the unhappy wretch from whose shoulders sprang the foul serpent, he loathed it, perhaps feared it: but he could not escape it—it was himself —nor rend it — it was his own flesh. He fought it with prayer, constant and earnest — Apollyon and Christian in ceaseless combat. What limit to set to his ability I know not, for he was ever superior to occasion. Under ordinary circumstances it was difficult to estimate him because of his peculiarities—peculiarities that would have made a lesser man absurd, but that served to enhance his martial fame, as those of Samuel Johnson did his literary eminence. He once observed, in reply to an allusion to his severe marching, that it was better to lose one man in marching than five in fighting; and acting on this, he invariably surprised the enemy—Milroy at M’Dowell, Banks and Fremont in the Valley, M’Clellan’s right at Cold Harbour, Pope at Second Manassas.
Fortunate in his death, he fell at the summit of glory, before the sun of the Confederacy had set, ere defeat and suffering and selfishness could turn their fangs upon him. As one man, the South wept for him; foreign nations shared the grief; even Federals praised him.
Taylor seemed to regard Jackson with a tense mix of admiration and skepticism, as though maybe he didn’t quite like him but felt compelled to respect him (my interpretation).
Taylor, it’s worth adding, provides one of the very few accounts of Jackson eating a lemon—a popular part of the modern Jackson myth. “Where Jackson got his lemons ‘no fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one,” Taylor wrote.
 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (New York: Appleton & Co., 1879), 79.
 Taylor, 80.
 Taylor, 50.