The story of how Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson received his famous nickname atop Henry Hill on July 21, 1861, is well-known to Civil War enthusiasts today. For Southerners, they knew it too, and quickly after the Battle of First Manassas ended. The story first appeared in the Charleston Mercury on July 25, 1861, and soon appeared in other newspapers across the South. “Stonewall” Jackson’s legend grew.
By 1862, Jackson’s legend was growing in more places than the Confederacy. The origin story of the war’s most famous nickname was not as widely known in the United States, leaving Northerners and Union soldiers to speculate. On November 7, 1862, while encamped near Rectortown, Virginia, in Fauquier County, Pvt. George Washington Beidelman of the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry thought he found an answer to the origin of Jackson’s nickname.
In the cold, Beidelman and his Army of the Potomac comrades burned fence rails to stay warm, “but they are getting scarce too in some places, for the fences in this part of the country are nearly all stone walls,” he discovered. “These, no doubt, have given to rebel General Jackson the sobriquet which he at present enjoys; for they afford a splendid protection to infantry especially in a fight; and the cunning general no doubt avails himself of all their advantages whenever he gets a chance.” Beidelman took Jackson’s nickname literally. He was misguided in this assumption, and “Stonewall” Jackson continued to beguile Beidelman and his comrades until May 1863.