Wednesday, June 22, 2011

By Bob Hurst

When I was young I truly enjoyed hot weather. It was easier to get loose for sports and I just enjoyed the sensation of heat on my skin. As I approached 40, however, things began changing for me. I was still playing competitive tennis but it was getting harder. My knees, back and shoulder (for some reason) didn’t seem the same as they had for so many years. The hardest thing for me to handle, though, was the heat. My solution was to stop playing ( I could never play for fun, I loved the competition too much) so for the last twenty plus years I have spent little time in outdoor endeavors and much time indoors praising John Gorrie and other pioneers in the field of indoor climate control.

So, what does this have to do with anything Confederate? I’m getting to that.

These last few weeks here in upper Florida have just not been my cup of tea. With daily temperatures in the high 90’s and low 100’s the desire to be outside has been nil and even less. Unfortunately, I had some limbs come down one night recently and had to go out the next day to gather up and haul off. During this process I was sweating profusely and began mumbling to myself some unpleasantries. Then, without even thinking, out of my mouth came a shout of, "Oh, shut up, Grumble Jones", and just like that I was thinking things Confederate.

You see, "Grumble" was the nickname of a Confederate general named William Edmondson Jones. In fact, it has been one of my favorite sobriquets since I first read about Brigadier General "Grumble"Jones. Although he was a highly competent officer, he is best remembered for his irritable disposition and, hence, his nickname.

As I finished up outside I was thinking of other Confederate generals with interesting, colorful or curious nicknames and quite a few were coming to mind. I decided to do some research and see how many established nicknames I could find for that select group. (Note: It takes very little to give me an excuse to do some reading about Confederate generals.) Nicknames have been a part of our culture for decades and, in addition to being interesting, can also give us a glimpse into the personal side of an individual.

What I have found, so far, will be the topic of this article.

The array of nicknames for Confederate generals runs the gamut. Some are very well-known, some are somewhat well-known (especially regionally), some are descriptive, some are sarcastic and there are even some generals who have actual names that sound like sobriquets. I will begin with my two favorite nicknames of our Confederate generals – "Stovepipe" and "Stonewall".

Brigadier General Adam Rankin Johnson accomplished one of the most remarkable feats of the War and, in so doing, earned a memorable nickname and a place in history. General Johnson and a small band of twelve men captured the town of Newburgh, Indiana. Did you get that – 12 men. This was the first Northern town to fall to Confederate forces. (Note: As I hope you know, the South fought a defensive war against the North seeking only independence and separation from "those people" and not conquest so excursions into Yankeeland by Confederate forces were very rare.) Newburgh actually had a large contingent of militia on site but General Johnson and his men found an abandoned wagon and mounted two pieces of stovepipe onto the running gear so that it appeared to be a cannon. Worked beautifically – Yankees surrendered – General Johnson known forever as "Stovepipe", how I love this story!

You’re all familiar, I’m sure, with General Thomas J. Jackson being given the nickname "Stonewall" at the Battle of First Manassas when the South Carolinian, General Barnard Bee, sought to inspire his troops to fight on by pointing to Jackson and shouting, "See, there is Jackson standing like a stone wall" and Tom Jackson marched into immortality as "Stonewall". By the way, General Jackson did not like the term "Stonewall" applied to him personally but did like the moniker applied to his brigade. Gen. Jackson was also called "Old Jack" and "Old Blue Light" (for the strange blue color his eyes turned during battle) by his men.

Two very appropriate nicknames were tagged to Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk and Major Gen. Joseph Wheeler. Polk was known as "The Fighting Bishop" since, in addition to being a Confederate general, he was also Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. Wheeler was a general who led from the front and had sixteen horses shot from under him during the War. That, by the way, was second to only the 29 horses that were shot out from under the magnificent Nathan Bedford Forrest so General Wheeler well deserved his nickname of "Fighting Joe".

Concerning nicknames that were descriptive, one of my favorites was the sobriquet given to General Jerome B. Robertson by his troops. He was very popular with the soldiers and always showed great concern for the welfare and well-being of his men so they referred to him as "Aunt Polly". A similar situation involved General Sterling Price who was orderd by Missouri governorClaiborne Fox Jackson to reorganize the state militia and since Price was white-haired and the troops were mostly quite young they christened him "Old Pap".

Two generals, George Anderson and William c. Cabell, had the same nickname, "Tige" (short for "Tiger"), because of their tenacious fighting spirit. General Elisha Paxton was dubbed "Bull" because he was heavily built and had tremendous body strength. By contrast, the great lieutenant general Ambrose Powell (A.P.) Hill was called "Little Powell" because of his frailty and small physique.

Since most generals were a bit more seasoned than the troops they led, many nicknames began with the descriptive term "Old". There was "Old Reliable", Lt. Gen. William Hardee, since he could always be depended upon to perform admirably. General Henry Benning was "Old Rock" because of his soldierly qualities. Then there was "Old Straight", General Alexander P. Stewart, who was a professional educator and known for his clean-living habits and demeanor. General Edward Johnson was known as both "Old Allegheny", because of his Kentucky mountain home, and "Old Clubby" , because of his penchant for leading his troops into battle while carrying a large walking stick rather than a sword. We certainly cannot forget "Old Blizzards", General William W. Loring, whose battle cry upon approaching the enemy was, "Give them blizzards, Boys". I have not a clue what that meant. Then there was General Roger Hanson, "Old Flintlock" to his troops, who had almost an obsession for military discipline. Finally, at least for the "Olds", a rather cruel nickname of "Old One Wing" was hung on General James Green Martin because he had had an arm amputated. That seems a bit cold to me.

Quite a few nicknames were a bit sarcastic. General John Magruder was known as "Prince John" because of his flamboyant uniforms and flamboyant personality. General Nathan Evans was called "Shanks" because of his long, skinny legs. General Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac was called "Polecat" by his troops who, generally , could neither pronounce or remember his name. The fine lieutenant general, Richard Ewell, was called either "Baldy Dick" or Old Bald Head" after he lost his hair and his egg-shaped head and large eyes became more prominent.

One of the best of the sarcastic nicknames was "Extra Billy" which was applied to General William Smith. The sobriquet originated from pre-war business dealings of Smith. He had been given a contract by President Andrew Jackson’s administration to deliver mail between Washington, D.C. and Milledgeville, Georgia (then the capital of the state) along routes he had established for mail and passenger coaches. He extended the routes by adding many spur lines thus generating extra fees. When later investigated by the Post Office agents, these extra fees became public knowledge and Smith gained the nickname "Extra Billy" which stuck with him. Didn’t hurt him much, though. He was later elected governor of Virginia.

Nature always supplies a balance and perhaps that is why General David Jones was nicknamed "Neighbor" because of his pleasant personality and demeanor which balanced that of another Jones that we have already met, "Grumble".

Past events also played a role in the nicknames applied to various generals. General John Stuart Williams was referred to as "Cerro Gordo" for the exceptional gallantry he displayed at that battle in the Mexican-American War a few years earlier. General George Hume Steuart’s nickname was "Maryland" which referred to his affection for his home state.

General Robert E. Lee laid a nickname on General James Longstreet without intending to. After the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam in the North), General Lee was looking around for Longstreet and when he finally found him he exclaimed, "Ah! Here is Longstreet; here’s my old war horse!" After that, Longstreet became "Lee’s Old War Horse". Sort of has a ring, doesn’t it?

Oh, by the way, "Jeb", the nickname of General James Ewell Brown Stuart, was simply derived from the first letters of his three names. "Jeb" was certainly easier and quicker.

There were two generals whose given names sounded provocative enough to be nicknames. States Rights Gist is a name that I have always appreciated. His father was such a strong supporter of the doctrine that he chose it for his son’s name. That’s taking your politics seriously. General Gist was a fine commander who, sadly, was one of the six that we lost at Franklin. General Bushrod Rust Johnson has a name that could represent two family names but it certainly sounds like a nickname to me.

I have no clue how the outstanding Texan, William P. Hardeman, got the nickname "Gotch"; or the Mississippian, Winfield Scott Featherston, obtained the nickname of "Old Swet; or why Robert E. Lee’s first cousin, Richard Lucian Page, was nicknamed "Ramrod". None of my references helped either.

Finally, I am concluding this article on nicknames with a mystery. The nickname "Mudwall" has been linked with three different Confederate generals with the last name "Jackson". Obviously it was a play on the name "Stonewall" and was meant to indicate that none of the generals reached the level of the immortal "Stonewall" – but, then, how many generals could? The sobriquet "Mudwall" has been used at various times to refer to William Lowther Jackson, John King Jackson and Alfred Eugene Jackson – all generals who saddled up for the Confederacy. The question is, "Who is the real Mudwall ?" To which general was the term initially applied?

Perhaps some of you reading this article have an idea or some information as to the identity of the real "Mudwall". If so, my contact information is at the end of the article. I will eventually do a follow-up piece on this question but, for now, it will just remain a mystery.

While this article is a bit different than the usual CONFEDERATE JOURNAL offering, I hope you have found it interesting reading about this aspect of our generals in gray. Nicknames or not, they were a splendid group.


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