“Who?” you ask. “Sure, I know ‘Stonewall,’ but who in hell is ‘Mudwall’ Jackson?”
On December 1, 1863, the 1st Tennessee Caverlry was serving under
Gen. Alfred Eugene Jackson.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t place him, for his identity has been confused for over 125 years. Even Jeff Davis wasn’t sure which of the several Jacksons he was, and “Mudwall” has been misidentified in some prominent modern works. So read on as we solve this little mystery of the real “Mudwall”. . . For the record, the one and only “Mudwall” was Confederate Brig. Gen. Alfred Eugene Jackson of Jonesborough in East Tennessee. A prominent businessman, farmer, and slave holder, Jackson had amassed a large fortune by 1861. He cast his lot with the South and joined Brig. Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer’s staff as brigade quartermaster, later serving as paymaster at Knoxville. Probably as a result of political motivation to advance the ever-shaky Confederate cause in East Tennessee, an area of ardent Union sympathies, Jackson was promoted to command a brigade in February 1863. Jackson’s military service was, to put it mildly, mediocre. His “brigade” (rarely numbering over 800) was a hodgepodge of home guards, irregulars, and Thomas’ Cherokee Legion, occasionally reinforced with veteran units such as the 4th Kentucky Cavalry. Jackson’s own troops were reported to be poorly disciplined, in-efficient, and “utterly unreliable.”
That Jackson himself was not much of a leader is demonstrated by the reports of those who served under him. He put his officers on trial for imaginary infractions and constantly reprimanded them in front of privates. The officers of Thomas’ Legion became so irate that they petitioned President Davis to have Jackson removed, citing his “irritable temper intensified by diseased nerves and aggravated by being in a position for which the man is morally and physically unfit.”
Jackson’s command spent most of its time in the ridges and valleys northeast of Knoxville, guarding the vital East Tennessee and Virginia rail link. Here Jackson won his only victory of note, capturing a 300 man detachment of the 100th Ohio Infantry at Limestone on September 8, 1863. Following the loss of Knoxville in December 1863, and the Confederate withdrawal from East Tennessee the following spring, Jackson took command of the forces guarding the important salt works at Saltville in Southwest Virginia. At Saltville Jackson’s command consisted of only a few hundred ineffective irregulars, and he was relieved and ordered to the Army of Tennessee, then fighting for Atlanta; however, there is no evidence that Jackson ever assumed command of the brigade that awaited him, and September 1864 found him again in command at Saltville. This posting was short-lived, as Jackson was found unfit for active field duty in November and was ordered to light duty on Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge’s staff. Here “Mudwall’s” war record ends. After the war he returned to Jonesborough and largely rebuilt his fortunes, dying at his home in 1889 at age 83.
The origin of Alfred E. Jackson’s nickname is not entirely clear. Some have stated it was to contrast him with the more famous Thomas J. Jackson (no relation), and it seems clear that “Stonewall” inspired the form of the Tennessean’s cognomen. While it is probable that his personality had already earned him the derisive sobriquet, the action at Limestone in September 1863 brought the nick name into widespread use. Although outnumbering the Ohio troops by some four to one, Jackson was extremely cautious in approaching them. While he hesitated, his veteran troops chomped at the bit to attack. Finally, unable to stand the delay any longer, Capt. Bart Jenkins rushed up to “Mudwall” and suggested that while the artillery pinned the enemy down in front, the 4th Kentucky Cavalry should ride around their flank and attack them from the rear. In the words of one of Capt. Jenkins’ comrades, Jackson’s “slow, inferior, vacillating mind” finally saw the wisdom of this course.
The Kentuckians beat the handful of Buckeyes in a sharp fight, and finding themselves surrounded, the 300 men of the 100th Ohio surrendered. Jackson, however, decided better of holding onto his gains, and he timidly ordered his command to fall back some 20 miles and await support from Confederates in Southwest Virginia. The story of Jackson’s role in the battle at Limestone spread throughout the district and the nickname “Mudwall” was his for posterity—if only the history books would get the facts straight.
Although infamous to the men who served under him, Jackson was not well-known outside the East Tennessee area. Indeed, Jefferson Davis was somewhat confused over his identity, as shown in a report written by Col. William Preston Johnston in September 1863. Citing Jackson’s nervousness when under pressure, Col. Johnston went into some detail to describe Jackson to Davis, because the President “was not fully satisfied what General Jackson it was.”
To confuse the issue even further, E. Porter Alexander, James Longstreet’s chief of artillery, heard a slightly different version of t he nickname when Longstreet’s corps spent the spring of 1864 in East Tennessee. Noting that Jackson had been called “Mudwall” early in the war, Alexander stated that Jackson had been “promoted” to “Brickwall” Jackson for success in battle. Alexander undoubtedly heard the tale from locals, who were well aware of Jackson’s war record, so his comment was probably facetious.
The confusion did not die with the end of the war; instead, it has gotten worse. The first recorded instance is in an article in Southern Historical Society Papers in 1906, in which the nickname “Mudwall” is mistakenly applied to Brig. Gen. William Lowther Jackson, a cousin of “Stonewall” Jackson. This case of mistaken identity was continued in a series of letters appearing in Confederate Veteran in late 1909, with the record being set straight in this instance by one of N. B. Forrest’s cavalrymen.
The modern mix-up apparently started with a revision of Ezra Warner’s Generals in Gray. The first printing of the first edition (1959) correctly lists Alfred Eugene Jackson as “Mudwall.” The second printing of this same edition, however, switches the sobriquet to William Lowther Jackson. The entry in this edition for Alfred makes no mention of “Mudwall.”
This confusion has continued in other modern studies. Even well-known author and historian James Lee McDonough has fallen prey, hanging the nickname “Mudwall” on yet another Jackson— Brig. Gen. John K. Jackson—in McDonough’s Chattanooga — A Death Grip on the Confederacy. Two recent massive compilations have continued the mix-up, apparently based on the mistake in Warner’s work. Both the Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (1986) and Stewart Sifakis’ Who Was Who in the Civil War (1988) identify William L. Jackson as “Mudwall”; the Historical Times Encyclopedia even goes so far as to say that Alfred Jackson “is sometimes confused with William ‘Mudwall’ Jackson.” In editing E. Porter Alexander’s Fighting for the Confederacy, able historian Gary Gallagher discovered the confusion and in a footnote correctly surmised that “Mudwall” must be Alfred E. Jackson, although he seems reluctant to state this conclusively.
If for no other reason, respect for the memory of the other Jacksons should demand the record be set straight. As for Alfred E. Jackson, his nickname “Mudwall” was apparently well deserved. The publishers of the aforementioned works should take note of this article and correct the confusion in future editions. If they don’t, at least all of us can now pick the real “Mudwall” out of the Jackson line-up. . . .