New Biography on Grumble Jones

At long last, Brig. Gen William E. “Grumble” Jones has his badly needed biography. James Ballard of Texas, formerly of Southwest Virginia, has stepped in and filled this historical void. I had an opportunity to interview him this past spring.

Here is the transcript:

What is the most revealing issue about Grumble Jones that you found in your research?

I would have to say that the most revealing issue about Grumble Jones was his unwavering support of the Lost Cause. In contrast to his future revered commander, Robert E. Lee and his future protege’, John Singleton Mosby, who both hoped that Virginia would remain with the Union, Jones assumed a hard-lined secessionist position long before the conflict began. In February of 1861, while Virginia was still with the Union, Jones corresponded to CSA President Davis declaring that in the event that Virginia chose to remain with the Union, he would renounce his allegiance to his home state and serve the new Confederacy. I feel that Jones stood with the Southern extremists who welcomed the Civil War.

Tell us about Jones how earned the nickname “the Stonewall Jackson” of East Tennessee.

According to author & source Scott Cole in his 34th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, Jones received this moniker from the Richmond Whig. Aside from the Chickamauga Campaign and a few other exceptions, the Confederacy enjoyed very little success in the entire state of Tennessee. East Tennessee, in particular, was pro-Union from the beginning of the conflict and provided bases of operations for potential Federal offenses against the mineral reserves in bordering Southwest Virginia (the salt-works at Saltville and the lead mines at Wythville). Jones’s overwhelming victories at Rogersville (TN), Jonesville (VA), and Wyerman’s Mill (VA), although minor engagements, alarmed the Federals into taking a defensive posture and shifting their priorities to defending their presence in Knoxville and the Cumberland Gap. Grumble’s triumphs in late 1863 and early 1864 thus served as a diversion to protect the Southwest Virginia mineral reserves much in the same manner as Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862 thwarted a Federal advance on Richmond. Upper East Tennessee remained under Confederate control until the fall of 1864 after the Jones Brigade of Southwest Virginia permanently withdrew from the region.

With the above said, Longstreet’s Corps occupied East Tennessee during that same period and contributed even more so to the security of Southwest Virginia. However, Longstreet’s failed Knoxville Campaign and the missed opportunity at Bean Station mark his presence with perhaps an unfair stigma of failure.

There seems to have been a tendency to establish the legendary Stonewall Jackson as a standard to be measured up against. In contrast to the Jones’s success in the region, CS Brigadier General Alfred E. Jackson, a kinsman to the legend, received the contra-distinct moniker of “Mudwall Jackson” for his failure in the Battle of Blue Springs that had secured East Tennessee for the Federals before Jones came on to the scene.

Jones’s reputation for parity with Stonewall Jackson was not limited to his operations in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. After the war, a former trooper praised Jones for the execution of his spring of 1863 West Virginia Raid with a parity to Jackson. While that expedition was in progress, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Greg Curtin erroneously reported to President Lincoln that Stonewall Jackson was the Confederate commander conducting the raid with an exaggerated number of troops. In that campaign, Jones acted as a master of diversion. Heavily outnumbered and deep in enemy territory, Jones accomplished most of his objectives by deceiving the Federals and keeping them pinned down on the defensive.

What are your thoughts about the relationship between Jones and Stuart?

There is much irony in the adversarial relationship between Jones and Stuart, as the two Virginians had much in common. Both were raised in upper-middle-class families in the Appalachian Mountian region of rural western Virginia. Although their paths did not cross at either institution, both had academic ties to nearby Emory & Henry College and were members of the same literary society (later evolved into a social fraternity) before going on to West Point where both graduated in the upper portion of their respective classes. In spite of earning the privilege to choose other branches of the Old Army, both selected the mounted service, considered at their times to be the least desirable. The final eighteen months of Grumble’s service in the US Mounted Rifles overlapped the first eighteen months of Stuart’s tour of duty on the Texas frontier. Although they did not serve at the same garrisons, they probably grew familiar with each other while serving on special assignments such as court-martial duty.

Notwithstanding the similarities, there was a significant contrast between the experiences of Jones and Stuart in the Old Army. Jones’s eight years of service were marked with despair, isolation and personal tragedy. Stuart, on the other hand, enjoyed a tenure of glory, adventure, and romance. Married for less than ten weeks, Jones lost his wife to a drowning incident while in route to his new assignment in Texas. Stuart, conversely, married the daughter of his commanding officer and relished in a blissful marriage (in spite of his father-in-law’s loyalty to the Union) that lasted the remaining nine years of his life. Whether or not the contrast in fate contributed to the Jones’s animosity toward Stuart is up for speculation.

Early in the conflict, Jones went on record as resenting having to serve under Stuart who was nine years his junior in age. When Jones was a captain, Stuart was a colonel. With the same directive at promoted Jones to colonel, Stuart received the promotion to brigadier general. By the time Jones earned the rank of brigadier general, Stuart was already a major general.

There was an obvious personality conflict between the two generals. Stuart, the flamboyant extrovert thrived on the pomp and pageantry of martial displays, particularly demonstrated when he ordered the two grand reviews at Brandy Station. As Stuart’s antithesis, the low-profiled Jones was said to be contemptuous of such displays which he considered to be a waste of time and resources. Stuart was vain; Jones was proud.

The combination of personal animosities scalated from the outset. When the spring of 1862 field elections cost Jones command of the 1st VA Cavalry, he went on record accusing Stuart of unfairly influencing the outcome (how much that factored is not certain). Months later, Stuart unsuccessfully tried to dissuade Robert E. Lee from promoting Jones to brigadier general. For the time immediately following Jones’s promotion, Lee had the luxury of keeping the two generals separated, but when circumstances necessitated their rejoining, both resisted. Jones even offered his resignation in order to avoid returning to Stuart’s command.

It was apparent that Jones and Stuart disliked each other but with that said, Stuart praised Jones on several occasions. Sometimes, however, it was unclear whether Stuart intended to direct his praise toward Jones individually or to his troops. Also, whether or not those acclaims were attempts at reconciliation is up for speculation. During campaigns and in the preparation thereof, both seemed to put their personal differences aside.

The Jones- Stuart dispute came to a head at the conclusion of the Gettysburg Campaign when Jones submitted a “disrespectful letter” to Stuart. The content of that letter may never be known, but it led to Jones’s arrest, a court-martial conviction, and banishment from the Army of Northern Virginia, something both parties desired. To me, the content of that letter would be priceless. It placed Stuart in the rather awkward position of wanting to punish Jones for submitting the letter but while keeping the content confidential.

In spite of his personal disdain, Jones respected Stuart’s abilities as a commander. In a posthumous measure of reconciliation, Jones regarded Stuart’s death as detrimental to the Southern cause as the loss of Stonewall Jackson. With Jackson’s revered reputation as the standard, Jones labeled the late Stuart with the highest possible measure of praise. If nothing else, the Jones-Stuart relationship was complicated and could be a detailed study by itself.

Is Jones a forgotten hero at Brandy Station or does history give him full credit for his role?

There is no question that Jones’s decisive actions early in the engagement at Brandy Station ultimately allowed Stuart’s cavalry division to salvage a draw and avoid a complete disaster. With that said, the Battle of Brandy Station was too large of an engagement for one individual to receive a disproportionate share of credit for the successes or blame for the setbacks. Jones’s brigade was responsible for the security at Beverly’s Ford, and he had properly placed his horse artillery further back at St. James Church. Stuart’s report that the Jones Brigade “had the hardest of the fighting” was correct, but the unit happened to be positioned where the intense action occurred. Unlike Beverly Robertson’s brigade at Kelly’s Ford, Jones and his troops did their job and performed up to expectations. Although it may be somewhat of a reach to say that Jones receives “full” credit, I’m inclined to say that history gives him “proper” credit.

The nickname Grumble. I failed to find any wartime account calling him Grumble. The only thing close was an officer saying notwithstanding his grumbling he should be promoted. What did you find in the origins of that name? It seems to be more popular among modern historians than his fellow Confederates.

I agree that it is highly possible that the moniker of “Grumble” may have been designated by modern historians and not by persons of his time, even in their post-war writings. I have not seen any correspondence or reports from members of either side referring to Jones by that nickname. In his diary reflecting on the Battle of Piedmont, Private Charles H. Lynch of the 18th Connecticut Volunteers recalled that Jones’s nickname was “Billy.”

General Robert Ransom’s inspection report of April 24, 1864, remarked, “Jones ought to be promoted; notwithstanding all of his grumbling, he is a fine officer.” It was Jones’s last official evaluation before his death which would occur six weeks later. It is quite possible that the moniker was created and stood based on that report. If the reference to the moniker was something that was only privately spoken at the time, we have no way of knowing.

What do you think he would have accomplished if he had lived? Would he have made a difference in the Valley?

I have wondered about the scenario if Hunter had given up and retreated before Thoburn’s troops finally stormed the unoccupied gap in Jones’s lines. Jones would have survived and directed the brigades of Imboden and Vaughn to spearhead a pursuit. However, against DuPont’s effective artillery, any counter-offensive would have been a stalemate at best and a suicide mission at worst. I feel it is highly unlikely that Jones would have been able to drive Hunter’s forces beyond the North River. Conversely, the Federals would have maintained a formidable presence in the Valley just as they did following New Market. Hunter would then have had the option to march eastward, and that potential outcome is up to even broader speculation. Also, Staunton would have been exposed to Crooks Army of the Kanawha District approaching from the west. A Southern victory at Piedmont would have resulted in other difficulties.

In many ways, Hunter’s victory at Piedmont backfired as his overall Lynchburg Campaign was a failure. Aside from the attrition in the way Confederate losses, it did nothing to bring the war closer to a conclusion. Occupying Staunton was a temporary measure and torching VMI at Lexington served no purpose other than to arouse Southern resolve to retaliate. I’m of the feeling that the initial measures of Early’s Washington Raid, desperate as they were, were among the South’s finest moments of the war. I doubt that Jones’s presence would have extended the momentum beyond what it managed to accomplish before or after Grant appointed Phil Sheridan to launch his Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

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