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This biography is from HEROES OF ALBANY, by Rufus W. Clark, D. D.


Colonel William Ayrault Jackson was born in the city of Schenectady, N. Y., on the 29th day of March, 1832. His father, Isaac W. Jackson, was then Professor of Mathematics in Union College, of which he was a graduate, a position he has held uninterruptedly to the present time.

William was the eldest of the family. He fitted for college at home, under the instruction of his father, and entered, at the early age of fifteen, the Freshman class of Union, at the commencement of the academic year in 1847.

During his collegiate career, he displayed marked and brilliant talents in various departments, and by the exhibition of the frank and generous qualities, which were characteristic of him, made among the under-graduates of his time many and warm friends. He then, more particularly, won distinction as a forcibe and extempore speaker and skillful debater. In these accomplishments he was acknowledged to be without a rival among his college cotemporaries, and they were, at a later period, exercised with eflfect on the wider field of political discussion.

He graduated with honor in the summer of 1851, and during the succeeding year remained at home, devoting his attention to the study of general literature, and giving some of his time to the study of the law, that being the profession which he had chosen. Previous, however, to his regular entry upon his legal studies, and during the year 1852, he spent some months with an uncle, Mr. I. C. Chesbrough, a civil engineer, and at that time engaged upon the survey of the Albany and Susquehanna railroad. In December, 1852, he removed to the city of Albany, with some of the most prominent and influential families in-which he was nearly connected, and entered the office of Marcus T. Reynolds, Esq. He also, about the same time, attended a course of lectures at the Albany Law School. He was admitted to the bar on the 10th of April, 1853, and immediately commenced the practice of his profession in Albany, which was his residence until his death.

Soon after the commencement of his legal career, he formed a partnership with his cousin, Frederick Townsend, Esq., an accomplished gentleman, since so favorably known as Adjutant General of the State during the whole of Gov. King's and a part of Gov. Morgan's administration, who, as colonel of the Third regiment of New York volunteers, distinguished himself by his brilliant gallantry at the battle of Big Bethel, and is now a major in the United States infantry. They were associated during the whole of Col. Jackson's connection with the law. For a short period, during the year 1857, Alfred Conkling, formerly United States District Judge of the Northern District of New York, was professionally connected with them, under the firm name of Conkling, Townsend & Jackson. On the 1st of May, 1858, their business association with Judge Conkling having previously terminated, they took as a partner Richard M. Strong Esq., and the firm name was changed to Townsend, Jackson & Strong. This partnership continued until the stirring national events of the spring of 1861 turned the thoughts of all from the peaceful pursuits to arms, when Col. Jackson, who had been at the commencement of that year appointed and now held the office of Inspector General of the State, relinquished the profession to which he had been bred, and engaged in the defence of the government, in the great struggle inaugurated by the attack upon and fall of Fort Sumter.

Before proceeding to the mention of Col. Jackson's brief but honorable military career, we pause to say a few words of the character and talents which he displayed during the time of his practice at the bar. Possessed of a singularly handsome person, with frank and genial manners, having a bold and energetic character, and a quick, penetrating intellect, being an agreeable speaker and a vigorous writer, he fiist made friends and admirers, and soon acquired a prominent and influential position at the Capital of the State. Well grounded in the principles of the law, and prompt in the despatch of business, he obtained a very considerable professional practice. Always taking a deep interest in politics, State and national, and mingling freely and on intimate terms, during almost the whole of this period, with the most distinguished political leaders, he soon became appreciated as a man of ability, and a brilliant and effective speaker. His political views being in accordance with those of the Republican party, he early took that side, and in the campaigns of 1856, 1858 and 1860 rendered valuable services, with his pen and on the stump, to that organization. In 1858, he made quite an extended tour, and addressed numerous large assemblies in the western part of the State. When, therefore, in the spring of 1861 he embraced with characteristic ardor the career of arms, he had acquired a high position in his profession and in society, and was making himself felt and his influence appreciable to a degree, unusual in one so young.

No reasons, then, for so complete a change in the plan and pursuits of his life existed, other than a generous patriotism, and an honorable ambition to win the praise of honest men by his sacrifices for and services to his country.

Successful in raising a regiment whose superior in material was not to be found in the State, he originally intended to take the position of Lieutenant Colonel, devolving its command upon an army officer of experience. His plans failed in that respect, and after much hesitation and doubt from a consciousness of his inexperience, he was finally prevailed upon to accept the Colonelcy. On the 18th of June, 1861, he received his commission as Colonel of this, the Eighteenth Regiment of New York Volunteers, with the rank from May l3th, 1861. From the breakingout of the war, in April, to the time he received his commission, he had been arduously engaged as Inspector General of the State in aiding the Governor in the organization of its forces, and hence by close application had acquired military knowledge which was of value to him in his new position.

From the day, however, that he took command of the Eighteenth, he was constant and unwearied in his devotion to and care for his men. Not unwilling to learn, nor unwisely self-confident, as were some of the new officers of volunteers at that period, by the industrious application of his quick, vigorous mind to the acquisition of a knowledge of the details of his duty, he very soon mastered them.

His regiment left Albany in June, and proceeding directly to Washington, encamped near the city. Here began his first trial of camp life. The officers under his command were, with but very few exceptions, without experience or practical military knowledge; and the men, like almost all the volunteers at that time, owing to the busy brief period that had elapsed since their enlistment, were a mere unformed mass, without drill or discipline, rather than a regiment of soldiers.

To change all this was the determination of the Colonel. He resolved to make it a regiment in truth, and one which should be inferior to none in the field. With this object in view, he was devoted, constant and unwearied, sparing neither body nor mind, but straining every faculty from the time he arrived at Washington until the disastrous battle of Manassas, and indeed until his death, in his efforts to perfect himself as an officer, and to bring to a high state of discipline the men under his command. In how short a time he, with the earnest and praiseworthy cooperation of his officers, succeeded in doing this, and how well he did succeed, was soon to be shown.

On the 12th of July, in accordance with the general plan of a forward movement into Virginia, his regiment was ordered across the Potomac and encamped near Alexandria. About the same time it was brigaded with the Sixteenth, Thirty-first and Thirty-second New York Volunteers, forming, together, the Second Brigade, under the command of Col. Davies, of the Sixteenth Regiment.

On the 16th of July commenced the memorable advance of the army of the Potomac. Col. Jackson's regiment moved from Alexandria in the afternoon of that day, and, together with the other regiments, forming the Second Brigade, took part in the battle, or rather prolonged skirmish, of the 18th of July. In this, his conduct was gallant and meritorious, and his men behaved with the steadiness of veterans. In the battle of Manassas, on the 21st of July, which resulted so disastrously to our arms, the Second Brigade were upon the left and constituted the reserve, not taking part in the main battle, but fighting principally by the right and centre.

Without attempting any general description of the events of that terrible and humiliating day, it is sufficient to say that the Eighteenth Regiment, the whole Second Brigade, and indeed the whole Division, of which it formed a part, behaved with marked gallantry and steadiness. The Second Brigade, covering Capts. Green and Hunt's batteries during the early part of the day, and with them effectually defeating a formidable attempt of the enemy's right to flank the left of our line, when later our troops fled in such panic and confusion from the field, was ordered to Centreville to protect the retreat. As to what followed, and the conduct of Col. Jackson at this crisis, appears in an extract from the report of Capt. Green, in command of a battery: "I chose a position," he says, "on the crest of a hill, which, from its shape, gave command of the ground to our left, and also of the road along which our division was retiring. From this position I could perfectly sweep with my fire one hundred and eighty degrees front, right and left, down a gentle slope. Four regiments were placed as my support, and the force at this point could have stopped double its number.

"At this point an unauthorized person gave orders to retreat; I refused the order, but all my supporting regiments but one (Col. Jackson's Eighteenth N. Y. V.), moved off to the rear. Col. Jackson most gallantly offered his regiment as a support, saying that it should remain by me as long as there should be any fighting to be done there. The above mentioned person again made his appearance at this time, and again ordered me to retreat, and ordered Col. Jackson to form column of division on my right and retreat with me, as all was lost. The order was of course disregarded, and in about two minutes the head of a column of the enemy's cavalry came up at a run, opening out of the woods in beautiful order. I was prepared for it, and the column had not gone more than a hundred yards out of the woods before shells were burst at their head, and directly in their midst. They broke in every direction, and no more cavalry came out of the woods."

The Eighteenth, in compliance with orders from the commanding General, retreated, covering Geeen's battery; and halted for a short time at Fairfax. Col. Jackson, ascertaining that the General, despairing of bringing the defeated army to a halt, had himself gone to Washington, it again resumed the retreat, and at midday on the 22d took possession of its old camp at Alexandria. This retreat was effected in perfect good order throughout; and on the way back the Colonel was enabled to afford aid to his fellow townsman, Lieut. Hill, of the United States artillery, in bringing off two of the guns of his battery.

All the officers who were present, bear testimony to the gallantry of Col. Jackson, and the admirable behavior of his regiment, throughout that memorable advance towards, and retreat from Manassas.

During the whole time he was almost constantly mounted, and he bore up with astonishing endurance under the most exhausting fatigue. He says himself, in a letter written to a friend on the 23d of July: "From half past two Sunday morning until Monday at midday, we neither slept nor rested. I was in my saddle nearly all the time."

After this battle the regiment, not sharing in the general demoralization of the troops, remained near Alexandria, shifting its camp occasionally, taking its turn at guard and picket duty, and for a time engaged in building Fort Ward, one of the numerous fortifications erected to protect Washington.

When Gen. McClellan, taking command, commenced the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, the Eighteenth Regiment was placed in Gen. Newton's Brigade, and Gen. Franklin's Division.

The devotion and enthusiasm of Col. Jackson, in raising to the highest standard the discipline and morale of his men, did not flag. Until attacked by his last illness, he was hardly ever absent from the camp, and it was an extremely rare thing for him to sleep out of it; and he took eagerly upon his shoulders, the thousand constant cares and labors, consequent upon a scrupulously conscientious discharge of his duties. In a word, his whole time and energies were employed. In all this, and indeed during the whole of his connection with the regiment, it is but justice to record, that his efibrts were much aided, and the character of the regiment for discipline and efficiency raised, by the steady support and uniformly gallant conduct of his Lieut. Col. (now Colonel) Young, a townsman, and the officer who succeeded him in command.

These wearing anxieties of his responsible position, and the unaccustomed privations and exposures of life in the field, in an unhealthy climate, were unfortunately laying in the constitution of Jackson the foundations of fatal disease. His health, which had been, through life, up to this period, almost perfect, now showed signs of giving way; and during a hurried visit home in August, his friends were alarmed at the inroads made by fatigue and anxiety upon it. Although, for some time after his return to the regiment, he seemed better, he was, towards the end of October, seized with an illness, which, assuming the form of bilious remittent fever, proved fatal. Prostrated for some days in his tent, his brother officers were unable to induce him to "give up" and seek relief from his official duties, and it was not until his illness assumed a most serious form, that he consented to apply to be removed to Washington. This was done on the 30th of October, and Dr. Stone, one of the most eminent physicians of the city, was then immediately called to his bedside, but it was too late. For a few days, no critical symptoms appeared, and his condition was not considered as imminently dangerous until the 7th of November. Hemorrhage of the bowels, and afterwards of the brain, then set in, destroying all hope. On Monday, the 11th of November, a little before six o'clock in the evening, his spirit passed away. His last words were these, uttered just before the power of articulation departed, in a strong, deliberate voice, but evidently with great effort: "I do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; I trust in him."

The remains of Col. Jackson were taken home for interment. They were escorted to the cars at Washington by his regiment, every member of which expressed a desire to testify his respect for his beloved Colonel. At Albany, they were received by the military of the city, and lay in state.

He was buried at Schenectady on the 14th of November, 1861.

Borne to his last resting place by the friends of his youth whom he loved so well, amid the scenes of his boyhood he sleeps, requiemed by the sighing pines which wave over his grave.

Beautiful and joyous was his youth; bold and vigorous his manhood; his death honorable, nay, glorious; for, although he fell not by the sword nor amid the maddening whirl and din of battle, yet by his self-consuming labors for his country's weal, were sown the seeds of that fell disease which was his destroyer.

The high estimation in which Col. Jackson was held, appears from the numerous letters of consolation received by his father from distinguished gentlemen in various parts of the country, and from the complimentary resolutions passed by the bar of the city of Albany, the Governor of the State and his staff, the Eighteenth Regiment, and the Albany Zouave Cadets. Also, at the meeting of the Albany bar, most eloquent eulogies were pronounced upon our departed hero by the Hon. Clark B. Cochrane, S. O. Shepard, Esq., his honor, Recorder Austin, Hon. John V. L. Pruyn, and J. M. Klmball, Esq. Our limits will only allow us to give the tribute of the Hon. Mr. Cochrane, which, in common with the others, presents, in just and beautiful language, the worth and the achievements of our lamented patriot martyr.

He spoke as follows:

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Bar:

The news of the event which has called together the bar of Albany on the present occasion, has fallen with mournful weight upon the hearts of millions of our countrymen. The removal by death of William A. Jackson, from the newly chosen field of his activities, in the midst of his growing usefulness and rising fame, and in view of what he was and what he promised to become, produced, as it was calculated to produce, a profound sensation in the public mind. The deep and universal solicitude, the expressions of private hopes and public anxiety with reference to the chances of his recovery, from the time his dangerous illness became known, until the announcement of its fatal termination, the imposing demonstrations of respect tendered to his memory and services, and the multiplied evidences of sincere and general sorrow which have followed that announcement, admonish us that our professional brother, whose loss we mourn and whose recollection we cherish, was no ordinary personage. It rarely happens, even in our own glorious country, where all legal and adventitious hindrances are removed from before the march of merit, where the race is usually to the swift, and the battle to the strong, that one comes to occupy, at so early an age, so large a measure in the public eye, or possess so firm a hold of the popular heart. Though yet in the early dawn and dew of manhood. Col. Jackson has inscribed his name upon the imperishable records of his country, and left his footprints deeply traced on the sands of time. A nation, for whose life and whose honor he drew his sword, witnessed, with emotions of sorrow, his passage from the theatre of life; and the great, the gifted and the brave, followed his bier and mingled as mourners in his funeral train. Thus, let a grateful people ever hallow the memory of the brave defenders of the land and flag of our fathers. Our departed friend has left a blameless life, a bright and brave example for the imitation of all, especially for our youth. At a period when success, with young men of brightest promise, is yet the subject of conjecture, he had accomplished ends and achieved a position which exempt life from the possibilities of failure, and enabled him to say, as he turned his youthful eyes for the last time to the light of Heaven, I have not "lived in vain nor spent my strength for naught."

A gentleman by instinct and education, possessed of a fine person and fascinating manners, a large heart and a true and genial nature, endowed with a rare intellect, enriched by varied and manly cultivation, he became the idol of every circle in which he mingled, a cherished companion among his associates, the trusted depositary of the most sacred treasures of a well chosen friendship, the pride of his ftimily and kindred, and a favorite with the public. As a public speaker, Col. Jackson was eloquent and forcible, and to rare conversational powers he added the pen of a ready and elegant writer. As a member of this bar, at which he had secured no indifferent reputation, we remember him as a brother without reproach. His warm hand, his beaming and manly face, will greet us no more. We shall miss him at the bar, in the halls of justice, from our social gatherings, in the public and private walks of life; but in the innermost shrines of our hearts, and so long as life lasts, we will cherish his memory, fragrant with every manly virtue, and free from every suspicion of dishonor. We will think of him for his noble qualities of head and heart, for the example hee has left behind him, for th expectations he had realized, and the hopes he had inspired.

In all the relations of private life, and in all the varied and responsible positions with which he was trusted, he preserved to the last "the whiteness of his soul, and men weep for him."

It is, after all, as a patriot and soldier, and not as a lawyer, we meet to do him honor. True, the ranks of our profession have been invaded, and another link has been stricken from the bright fraternal chain which binds us together; a choice spirit has dropt from our circle, and passed forever away, and we confess our loss; but it is our country, and not our class, that is smitten by this bereavement. Brave of heart and strong of hand, loving his country and revering her insulted flag, he was among the first to respond to the call of the Nation, in the hour of her sudden and greatest peril. Though uneducated to the profession of arms, he brought to the duties of his high command, unwearied industry and all the acknowledged vigor of his mind, and at the time of his death had already become an accomplished and efficient officer; enjoyed the confidence of the Government and of his superiors in command; was rapidly rising in the opinions of the army, and had secured to the fullest extent the respect and love of his gallant regiment, which, under his discipline, had become, by common consent, one of the best and most efficient in the service.

Tried upon the field of battle, and found wanting in none of the stern requisites of a soldier, he had before him the promise of a brilliant and glorious future. In the inscrutable providence of God, the hand of death has overtaken him, and he is removed from the tumult of arms and the scenes of earth. But he has fallen in the career of duty and the path of fame, with his bow bent, his feet to the field, and his armor on. To the patriot, the memory of such is sweet.
We give, also, the Proceedings at the Executive Chamber:

By direction of his Excellency, Gov. Morgan, the members of his staff, present in Albany, met in the Executive Chamber, on the evening of November 12th, to take such action as might be deemed appropriate in regard to the death of Col. William A. Jackson, commanding the Eighteenth Regiment of New York State Volunteers, and formerly Inspector General of this State, who expired at Washington on the evening of the 11th instant.

The following members of his statf were present: Adjutant General Hillhouse, Inspector General Patrick, Commissary General Welch, Surgeon General Vanderpoel, Quartermaster General Van Vechten, Aide-de-Camp Arden, and Military Secretary Linsley.

On assuming the chair, his Excellency expressed, with great feeling, his deep sense of the sad occasion which had induced him to convene the members of his military family, and suggested that such action should be had as the melancholy event called for. He added, that the death of Col. Jackson came upon us with peculiar force. That he had been an esteemed member of his staff, and was a much-loved citizen of Albany at the time he assumed the command of the regiment, and that it was eminently proper that this especial notice should be taken of his death, by himself and the members of his staff who were now present.

Whereupon, Com. Gen. Welch, with the permission of his Excellency, submitted the following resolutions:

Resolved, That we have heard, with emotions of profound sorrow, of the death of a former associate, Col. Willlam A. Jackson, commanding the Eighteenth Regiment of New York Volunteers, who was among the first to sacrifice honorable public position, professional honors and emoluments, and cherished personal associations, in defence of the flag of the country and the integrity of the Union.

Resolved, That in the death of this young soldier, who was endeared to us by those sterling characteristics of manhood, which he possessed in so eminent a degree, we are overwhelmed with grief, not only because an estimable friend and associate has been taken from us, but because the country, now passing the severest ordeal of its existence, has lost one of its able and zealous champions.

Resolved, That the loss of Col. Jackson, so deeply felt here, in the city of his former residence, and so much to be deplored everywhere, calls for some public manifestation of the widespread sorrow which his early death has evoked.

Resolved, That his Excellency, the Governor, be respectfully requested to forward to the immediate relatives of the deceased, a copy of these resolutions, with an expression of our deep and unaffected sympathy with them in this, their great bereavement.

These resolutions were unanimously adopted.

Head Quarters, Fifth Brigade,
November 15, 1861.

General Order, No. 13. The General commanding the Brigade, on his return, has heard with lively sorrow of the decease of Col. William A. Jackson, commanding the Eighteenth Regiment New York Volunteers.

Deprived, by circumstances over which he had no control, of the melancholy privilege of witnessing his last moments, or of being present at the funeral obsequies, the General commanding wishes at least to testify his profound sense of the loss to the service, experienced by the decease of this accomplished soldier and gentleman.

The high state of discipline and effciency attained by the Eighteenth Regiment, is a testimony to the zeal and intelligence of the deceased, more honorable and complete than the most elaborate eulogium.

By order of Brig. Gen. Newton.
JAS. E. MONTGOMERY, Asst. Adj. Gen.

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