Articles by Bryan S. Bush
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ARTICLES ◣ Union General James S. Jackson: Fateful Day at Perryville
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On the night of October 7, 1862, Union Generals James S. Jackson, William Terrill, and Union Col. George
Webster met on the field at Perryville and discussed their chances of being struck in battle by enemy
fire. “Their opinion was that men would never be frightened if they considered the doctrine of
probabilities and how slight the chance was on any particular person being killed.” On October 8, 1862, the
law of probabilities caught up with all three men. The subject of this article will trace the career and
fate of one of those Generals: James S. Jackson.
General James S. Jackson
Born in a 1823, Kentucky native James Streshly Jackson attended Centre College, but left the college to
transfer to Jefferson College in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania. In 1843, he graduated from Jefferson
College. After graduating from college, Jackson became an attorney, practicing in Hopkinsville,
Kentucky. During the Mexican War, Jackson enlisted and became a Third Lieutenant in a U.S. volunteer
regiment. He resigned his commission when he faced a court martial for participating in a duel with a
fellow officer. On October 11, 1862, The New York Times described Jackson as “brusque and
overbearing. . . . a party to numerous quarrels, which sometimes resulted in duels.” The Times also accused
Jackson of killing a man in a street fight in Hopkinsville. A quite different impression of Jackson is
given on the Kentucky battlefield maker at Perryville which described him as “impressive in person, graceful
in manner, kindly, chivalrous, he was the highest type of Kentucky gentleman.”
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““Well, I'll be damned if this is not getting rather particular.”
General Jackson's Uniform
In the 1860 election, James S. Jackson became a Kentucky Unionist congressman, but when the Civil War broke
out in 1861, Jackson left Congress, enlisted in the Union army and became a Colonel of the 3rd Kentucky
Cavalry on December 13, 1861. After the 3rd Kentucky cavalry readied themselves for service, Col. Jackson
moved out into Tennessee and led his regiment at Shiloh, although his regiment never saw action during the
battle. During the advance and siege of Corinth, Mississippi, Jackson took command of all the Union cavalry
in the Army of Ohio. Promoted to Brigadier General in August 1862, Jackson left for Louisville, Kentucky to
help organize the Union forces gathered to oppose Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi,
which had invaded the state of Kentucky. In September of 1862, Jackson became commander of an entire
division, comprised of the 33rd Brigade, under Brig. General William Terrill, and the 34th Brigade under
Col. George Webster. On October 1, 1862, Union General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio marched out of
Louisville and headed for Bragg’s army. Both armies met at Perryville looking for water. On October 6, the
Confederates forces under Confederate General William Hardee arrived at Perryville first, along with
Confederate General Simon Buckner’s division. By October 7, Confederate General Patton Anderson and Patrick
Cleburne’s divisions arrived at Perryville. On October 7, three Union Corps under Alexander McCook, Thomas
Crittenden and Charles Gilbert headed for Perryville.
General Jackson's Sword
On October 7, General James S. Jackson waited for Union General John Starkweather’s brigade to advance,
while he marched his division behind Lovell Rousseau’s division, with Starkweather’s brigade coming online
in the rear. Jackson’s division ended up on the Union left. On October 8, 1862, Confederate General
Benjamin Cheatham’s division advanced on Jackson’s position. Confederate General Daniel Donelson’s brigade
advanced, followed by Confederate General Alexander Stewart’s command. As Donelson’s men approached Col.
Terrill’s brigade, he came upon the eleven guns of Col. Charles Parson’s battery. General Stewart’s brigade
also came under the fire of Parson’s battery. Cheatham ordered the brigade of General George Maney to take
Union Colonel Parson’s battery and encircle the Union left. Sheltered from view by the wooded hills,
Maney’s men emerged into view of Jackson’s men. Union General James Jackson was with Col. Parson’s battery,
when Maney’s brigade approached to within three hundred yards of his men. Jackson ordered the battery to
redirect their fire to face the new threat. Eight cannons fired canister shot into Maney’s ranks. The
123rd Illinois, of General Terrill’s brigade, opened fire on Maney’s men. Maney’s men cleared a picket
fence and charged onto Jackson’s men. A hail of bullets from Maney’s soldiers rained down on Jackson’s men,
intensifying as Maney’s men got closer to Jackson’s position. Jackson remarked, “Well, I’ll be damned if
this is not getting rather particular.” As soon as Jackson spoke, a Confederate bullet immediately struck
Jackson in the chest. Union Captain Samuel Starling stated that the bullet killed Jackson instantly, but
Union Captain Percival Oldershaw witnessed Jackson fall to the ground and said that he found Jackson “on his
back, struggling to speak, but unable to do so. He died in a few moments.” Oldershaw stated that two
bullets entered Jackson’s chest.
“Little did James S. Jackson, William Terrill, and George Webster know that on a
bloody, hot, fall day in 1862, the law of averages caught up with all three men and all of them sacrificed
their lives for the Union, but the losses of these three officers were not in vain.
General Jackson's Cane
After Jackson was killed, the 123rd Illinois panicked and fell back. Maney continued his assault and
overwhelmed the Union line under Jackson. Parson’s battery lost half their men and officers and the battery
fell into Confederate hands, except for one gun. The Union line fell back to the Benton road on the next
hill to the rear. The Confederates moved toward Starkweather’s hill, where Bush’s and Stone’s battery faced
the oncoming Confederates. During the battle, General Terrill was killed by an artillery shell. The
Federal line held at Starkweather’s hill. General Cheatham’s line fell back beyond the ridge from where
they originally driven the Union line. The battle for the Union left was over. Union General James
Jackson, William Terrill, and Col. George Webster all became fatalities.
After the battle, Union General James Jackson was buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, but
later re-interred in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The state of Kentucky erected a marker to James Jackson, which
stands at the site of his death at Perryville, Kentucky.
Little did James S. Jackson, William Terrill, and George Webster know that on a bloody, hot, fall day in
1862, the law of averages caught up with all three men and all of them sacrificed their lives for the Union,
but the losses of these three officers were not in vain. Although the Union army, under General Don Carlos
Buell suffered heavy losses and lost the battle on October 8, 1862, Confederate General Braxton Bragg did
not renew the battle the next day. He had pulled his army out of Perryville and headed for Tennessee,
leaving Kentucky in Union hands for the rest of the war.■
Bush, Bryan, The Civil War Battles of the Western Theater, Paducah: Turner Publishing, Inc.
1998, reprint 2000.
McDonough, James Lee, War in Kentucky: From Shiloh to Perryville, Knoxville: The University of
Tennessee Press, 1994.
Sifakis, Stewart, Who Was Who in the Union, Vol. 1, New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1988.
www.Centre.edu. Centre College, Kentucky biographies.
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Next Keynote Article: “The Washington Artillery, 5th Company, at the Battle of Perryville”