“Officers and men of the First Brigade, I am not here to make a speech but simply to say farewell. I first met you at Harper’s Ferry in the commencement of the war, and I cannot take leave of you without giving expression to my admiration of your conduct from that day to this, whether on the march, in the bivouac, the tented field, or on the bloody plains of Manassas, where you gained the well-deserved reputation of having decided the fate of the battle.
Throughout the broad extent of country over which you have marched, by your respect for the rights and property of citizens, you have shown that you were soldiers not only to defend, but able and willing both to defend and protect. You have already gained a brilliant and deservedly high reputation, throughout the army and the whole Confederacy, and I trust in the future by your own deeds on the field, and by the assistance of the same Kind Providence who has heretofore favored our cause that you will gain more victories, and add additional lustre to the reputation you now enjoy. You have already gained a proud position in the history of this our second War of Independence. I shall look with great anxiety to your future movements, and I turst whenever I shall hear of the First Brigade on the field of battle it will be of still nobler deeds achieved and higher reputation won.
In the army of the Shenandoah, you were the First Brigade; in the army of the Potomac, you were the First Brigade; in the second corps of this army, you are the First Brigade; you are the First Brigade in the affections of your General; and I hope by your future deeds and bearing you will be handed down to posterity as the First Brigade in our second War of Independence. Farewell!”
General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, Address to the “Stonewall” Brigade, November 8, 1861
It’s not easy to say good-byes, especially among military comrades. Even if it’s promotion or better opportunities, it’s not easy.
In the late autumn of 1861, General Thomas J. Jackson (nicknamed “Stonewall”) was transferred from command of the First Virginia Brigade to command of the Shenandoah Valley District with headquarters in the lovely town of Winchester, Virginia. It was definitely a good “promotion” for the general, but he was forced to leave behind his original command.
The First Brigade was Jackson’s. He had trained them from undisciplined volunteers into a fighting unit that had helped win the Battle of First Manassas. He had continued their “school of the soldier” in the late summer and autumn. They shared the sobriquet “Stonewall.”
Jackson wasn’t known for making speeches, but when he left to go to the Valley, he made a brief farewell address to his brigade. It was transcribed by Henry Kyd Douglas and preserved. Now, Mr. Douglas was sometimes prone to exaggeration, but we can hope he recorded the speech correctly, and historians thank him for the effort.
After the address, the Confederate brigade cheered wildly and Jackson rode along the reviewing lines. The general later commented that the cheering was like “the sweetest music.”
The First Virginia Brigade
Multiple regiments are formed together to make a brigade in Civil War armies. The First Virginia Brigade (AKA the Stonewall Brigade) was comprised of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia Infantry regiments. The Rockbridge Artillery Battery was also attached to the unit.
Organized early in 1861 from regiments formed of local militia in the Shenandoah Valley, the brigade was drilled and trained at Harpers Ferry. They fought at the Battle of First Manassas in July 1861. (Find more brigade information in this blog post: “Thus Always To Tyrants” – 1st Virginia Brigade Flag, 1861)
General Jackson was able to transfer the brigade to his Valley District before 1862, and they would fight under his command in most of the coming battles.
Second War of Independence? What’s up with that phraseology?
It’s a Southern thing during the Civil War. Feeling they had a “righteous rebellion” – which in their view was similar to the colonies rebellion against England – they crafted the phrase to give a level of pride and justification to their cause. The phrasing hints at the 1770’s fight with Britain and at the ideals that came out of the that war; namely, in the Southern view: States Rights.
Yes, it sounds a bit strange to the modern ear, but it was a Confederate name for the war. So keep it in mind as you’re reading old speeches and documents.
P.S. Did you that Jackson’s beloved brigade would march approximately 646 miles in 48 days? They would get a new nickname in 1862: foot cavalry. Don’t mess with the First Virginia Brigade; they had a fierce battle record.
2 thoughts on “1861: “You Are The First Brigade””
Sorry i am just now reading this. I just wanted to comment on how sad it is to think it is strange for the South to consider the where as the 2nd war of independence. The south was invaded and made every attemp to preserve the freedoms won in the first war of independence. The country has since been slipping away. Now we are justs steps away from socialism. How sad.
Hey James, thanks for sharing your opinion. It’s a phrase that some readers aren’t familiar with so it might sound different to them. Best, Sarah