When Barnard Bee was a misbehaving cadet at West Point, notorious for spitting tobacco and accumulating demerits, military glory was likely high on his list, but becoming known primarily for giving a nickname to another, more famous soldier surely was not.
After graduating in 1845 ranked 33rd in a class of 45, which included Civil War generals Kirby Smith, Fitz-John Porter, and Gordon Granger of Chickamauga fame, Bee went off to the Mexican War. After being wounded at Cerro Gordo, he further distinguished himself by leading a charge against Chapultepec Castle, earning two promotions in less than a year of service. But when the Civil War erupted in 1861, his highest rank attained in the Union Army was brevet lieutenant colonel.
Elected at once as a lieutenant colonel in the South Carolina Regulars, within a few months he was a Brigadier General serving under Joseph Johnston in the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah. Johnston’s forces were ordered to reinforce General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, who found himself outnumbered at the First Battle of Bull Run. At Henry Hill, the Shenandoah brigades of Barnard Bee and Francis S. Bartow arrived first on July 21, 1861, to help turn back at strong Federal attack. Then came another brigade commanded by Thomas Jackson, who had been a cadet with Bee at West Point, graduating in 1846.
Bartow and Bee were struggling to hold their ground and many Confederate troops were withdrawing when Jackson and his brigade came up. In the midst of a fierce battle, Bee is reported by some to have said: “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” At the time, and generally to this day, the remark has been taken as a tribute to Jackson for standing firm in the face of superior Federal forces, a courageous example and rallying point for Bee, Bartow, and their men.
Tragically for Bee and Bartow, both were soon killed. Bartow took a bullet in the heart after having one horse shot from under him and receiving a minor wound; Bee was mortally wounded, dying a short time after he was shot. Bartow and Bee became the second and third Confederate generals to be killed in the war, the first having been Gen. Robert S. Garnett at the battle of Corrick’s Ford on July 13, in what is now West Virginia. (In all, 73 Confederate generals were killed in the war; the Union lost 69 generals.)
No one knows for sure who circulated the version of Bee’s words that from that day forward marked General Thomas Jackson as “Stonewall” Jackson. But we do know that Maj. Burnett Rhett, chief of staff to Gen. Johnston, reported that what Bee actually said was: “Look at Jackson, standing there like a stone wall!” Rhett claimed that Bee was angry with Jackson for coming up to the action too slowly and for not being more aggressive–just “standing there” like a stone wall.
However Bee may have intended the remark, Gen. Jackson’s subsequent actions actually determined the meaning of the nickname. A man who considered himself entirely in the hands of God was not likely to be dilatory or timid when facing the enemy. And Jackson had, after all, been promoted to Brigadier General in the first place because of his aggressive fighting in the Shenandoah Valley in the months preceding First Bull Run.
Could it have been that Bee was both irritated at Jackson for not arriving as quickly as he and Bartow had done–and genuinely admiring of Jackson’s courage once he did arrive? Maj. Rhett may have witnessed Bee’s initial anger and then taken the famous remark as pejorative when in fact it was not. At least this admittedly speculative view allows Maj. Rhett his veracity and Stonewall Jackson his demonstrable aggressive spirit.
Although Bee’s family moved to Texas from South Carolina, he spent relatively little time in the state before his death at Bull Run. Not well known, perhaps, is that the brother of a truly famous Texas hero was also at Bull Run that day, and also commanding a Confederate brigade. That general, Milledge Bonham, was the younger brother of James Butler Bonham, killed at the Alamo. In 1836, when his famous brother was killed, Milledge was fighting the Seminole Indians in Florida. Milledge Bonham was not only a general but, previously, a member of the U.S. Congress and subsequently a member of the Confederate Congress.
The battle of First Bull Run was a shock to some of the citizens of Washington, DC, who had driven out in their carriages to witness what they assumed would be a brief and victorious spectacle. Even the Federal troops had paused to pick berries on their march to the battlefield. But First Bull Run resulted in 3,000 Union casualties and another 1,750 Confederate casualties, light when compared to later major battles but nevertheless a jolt, especially to the North.
And there was another sign that not only gallant soldiers would suffer losses in the war. During the battle, an 85-year-old widow, Judith Carter Henry, was unable to leave her bedroom during the battle raging around Henry House. An artillery shell came through the bedroom wall and blasted off one of the widow’s feet. She died later from that and other wounds caused by the shell.