Following the devastation of his family’s plantation fortunes at the end of the Civil War, South Carolinian James Reeve Stuart took up residence in St. Louis, Missouri, where, from 1867 to 1872, he was a well regarded portrait artist. Considering the depth of Confederate sympathy in Missouri, it is not surprising that St. Louis, the “gateway to the west,” was a popular destination for Southerners seeking to rebuild their lives and capital. It is reasonable to surmise, then, that Stuart executed this portrait on commission for a Southern loyalist or on speculation with hopes for its sale in a popular St. Louis gallery. The portrait’s subject, Thomas Jonathan Jackson (January 21, 1824-May 10, 1863), was a figure of romantic adulation, the martyr of the Battle of Chancellorsville whose stalwart defiance at the First Battle of Manassas earned him the sobriquet “Stonewall.”
There are no known life portraits of Jackson. A profile photograph of him, taken two weeks before his death, was used as a frontispiece for John Esten Cooke’s 1864 biography of the general. That profile image is the most likely source for Stuart’s portrait. Jackson is posed in a full-length grand manner stance, his profile flattened against the planar field even as his body is just slightly contrapposto, his commanding presence accentuated by the slight suggestion of wind rippling his cape. It is believed that the figure in the background, “mounted and holding the reins of Jackson’s horse ‘Little Sorrel,’ is the general’s aide-de-camp and brother-in-law, Lieutenant Joseph Graham Morrison. In the left background, the artist chose to depict a cannon (probably the standard 12-pounder Napoleon) and gun crew.” Both Morrison and Little Sorrel survived the war. Morrison retired to his family farm in North Carolina where Little Sorrel briefly boarded. Then, until his death in 1886, the general’s steed pranced upon the parade ground at VMI, adored by the cadets, and was often prominently featured at veterans’ reunions and in Confederate memorials.
Jackson was not as fortunate. On May 1 and 2, 1863, he and General Robert E. Lee met at Chancellorsville to discuss the strategy that secured the South’s last great victory. It was decided that Jackson, with a force of thirty thousand men, would circumvent Union troops and surprise them on their right flank. Leading his men by stealth through the rough countryside did indeed rout the enemy, who fell back before the forces of Generals Lee and Jubal Early. However, while out riding with a small group of officers on the night of May 2, Stonewall was struck in his arm by three bullets from friendly fire. Though the arm was amputated, Jackson succumbed to pneumonia on May 10, having uttered his famous prayer for peace: “Let us pass over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”
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