USS Stonewall Jackson SSBN 634 – Unwavering Courage


Today is July 2nd. In 1863, a great battle in and around a small town called Gettysburg was in its second day. This is not meant to be a story about the battle but the second day was a day when Robert E. Lee surely could have used the talents of Stonewall Jackson. After two days of bloody fighting, Lee found himself in a position that would surely mean success or failure in the prosecution of the war. The strategy of the battle is still being discussed and argued about over a hundred and fifty years after the war ended. But many feel that Lee was hampered without his most influential subordinate who had died just a few months earlier.

There had been two brutal days of fighting at Gettysburg. Lee and his subordinates had several times come very close to breaking the Union lines. Fortunately for the Union he failed. Casualties were very high on both sides, each losing roughly 10,000 men each. On the evening of the 2nd, a shaken General Meade called a meeting to gain a consensus with his corps commanders as to whether they should remain at Gettysburg and fight, or if they should withdraw. It was a unanimous decision. They would stay and fight. That decision would change the course of history on the following day.

USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN-634), a James Madison-class fleet ballistic missile submarine, was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named for Confederate States Army General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson (1824–1863).It is a remarkable thing that the General elicited such strong support from both North and South long after the war was over. His character and heroism were noteworthy.

From Admiral Rickover’s book, “Eminent Americans”:


NAMED FOR Thomas Jonathan Jackson, known to history as “Stonewall” Jackson, Confederate general and strategist and one of the South’s most illustrious heroes.

Third of four children, he was born at Clarksburg, in what is now West Virginia, January 21, 1824. When Thomas was 2, his father died leaving the family penniless. Called early to help support his mother, he had few opportunities for education. His mother died 5 years later and he was then raised by a succession of relatives, ending up as a ward of his uncle. While still a teen ager, he worked as a schoolmaster and constable. In 1842, at the age of 18, he was appointed to the US. Military Academy.

A poor boy from a rural town, Jackson found himself at a disadvantage in competing against his classmates, many of whom had prepared for the Academy at better schools. Through sheer effort and hard study, he rose from 51st in his class at the end of his first year to 17th at graduation.

When Jackson and his classmates received their commissions in June 1846, the United States was at war with Mexico, and the young lieutenant of artillery was immediately sent to join the front. He participated in the campaign against Mexico City and distinguished himself at the Battle of Chapultepec. After brief tours of duty at garrisons in the East and in Florida, he resigned from the army to become Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Artillery Tactics at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. At VMI, Jackson was an indifferent teacher and his marked eccentricities made him the butt of many student jokes. Shy and with few close friends, he found comfort in religion which became something of an obsession during his years at Lexington. A devoted and hardworking member of the Presbyterian Church, he regularly donated a 10th of his income to the church, and established at his own expense a free Sunday school for the children of Negro slaves and freedmen in which he served as the principal teacher.

Lincoln’s election and the subsequent secession crises presented Jackson with a cruel dilemma. Like his fellow Virginian, Robert E. Lee, he opposed secession and believed that, “It is better for the South to fight for her rights in the Union than out of it.” After Fort Sumter, he felt he had no choice but to remain loyal to his native State.

At the outbreak of the war, Jackson was appointed a colonel of Virginia Volunteers. His first assignment was command of the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, the northern outpost of the Shenandoah Valley, later to be the scene of his famous exploits. At the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, Jackson, now a brigadier general, commanded the 1st Brigade of General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah. At the height of the battle, as the Confederates were beginning to buckle under the weight of the Union attack, a neighboring brigadier general, Bee, rode up to Jackson with the cry, “They are beating us back!” “Then, sir,” came the quick reply, “we will give them the bayonet!” Encouraged by this answer, Bee rallied his own retreating troops and cried, “Look, there is Jackson standing like a stone wall!” The Union attack was repulsed and Jackson had acquired his famous nickname “Stonewall.”…

In April 1863, a new Federal invading army of more than 120,000 under General Joseph Hooker advanced against the Confederate positions on the Rappahannock near Chancellorsville, Va. Hooker planned to use his superior force, which outnumbered Lee by almost two to one, to envelop the Confederate left flank. Jackson and Lee conferred on a strategy. They determined, in one of the boldest gambles of the war, to send the bulk of the Confederate Army under Jackson on a wide swing around the Union right flank while Lee, with only 14,000 men, would hold the front.

In the predawn darkness, Jackson’s men moved out on still another of the legendary forced marches. Twelve hours later, at sunset, they were in position at right angles to, and preparing to attack the Union line which was still unaware of their presence.

The attack was devastating. The entire right wing Of the Union Army was demoralized and routed. In the gathering darkness Jackson was severely wounded by the fire of his own men. He died a week later.

His body lay in state in the House of Representatives at Richmond not far from the spot where, 2 years earlier, a puzzled legislator had asked “Who is this Major Jackson?” when his name had been put forward for a commission in the Virginia Volunteers. He was buried in the simple cemetery near Lexington, Va., where he had spent his happiest years.

Jackson’s death was a fatal blow to the Confederacy. The Army of Northern Virginia was never again the same pliant instrument it had been when he was alive; never again did Lee have a subordinate who at once grasped what was in his mind and brilliantly executed his plan.

Jackson was the ideal lieutenant, never called upon to command a large force independently. A tactician and leader of the first order, his Valley campaign remains a classic of what a small force can accomplish when led by a resolute officer who

Lee wrote to Jackson after learning of his injuries, stating: “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.” Jackson died of complications from pneumonia on May 10, 1863, eight days after he was shot. On his deathbed, though he became weaker, he remained spiritually strong, saying towards the end: “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”

The boat:

Class and type: James Madison-class submarine

Displacement: 7,300 long tons (7,417 t) surfaced

8,250 long tons (8,382 t) submerged

Length: 425 ft (130 m)

Beam: 33 ft (10 m)

Draft: 32 ft (9.8 m)

Installed power: S5W reactor

Propulsion: 2 × geared steam turbines, one shaft 15,000 shp (11,185 kW)

Speed: Over 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)

Test depth: 1,300 feet (400 m)

Complement: Two crews (Blue and Gold) of 13 officers and 130 enlisted men each

Armament: 16 × ballistic missile tubes

4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes forward

Stonewall Jackson (SSBN-634) was laid down on Independence Day 1962 at Vallejo, Calif., by the Mare Island Naval Shipyard; launched on 30 November 1963; sponsored by Miss Julia Christian McAfee; and commissioned on 26 August 1964, Comdr. J. H. Nicholson and Comdr. R. A. Frost commanding the Blue and Gold crews, respectively.

Stonewall Jackson got underway from Vallejo on 3 September for her shakedown cruise to Cape Kennedy, Fla. The Blue crew completed training with a successful missile firing on 2 December and was relieved by the Gold crew. Following the Gold crew’s successful missile launch on 16 December, Stonewall Jackson returned to the Pacific Ocean to complete shakedown operations. The fleet ballistic missile submarine (FBM) entered post-shakedown availability on 13 February 1965, then made final preparations at Bangor, Wash., for overseas movement. In April, she began her first strategic deterrent patrol.

In June 1965, the Gold crew relieved the Blue crew at Apra Harbor, Guam, and for the next five years, the submarine conducted deterrent patrols from that port. In the spring of 1970, Stonewall Jackson was reassigned to the Atlantic Fleet. On 23 April, she got underway from Pearl Harbor to conduct a special operation, before continuing on to the Panama Canal.

She transited the canal on 7 May and changed operational control from Submarine Flotilla (SubPlot) 5 to SubPlot 6, officially joining the Atlantic Fleet. Eight days later, she put into New London, Conn.

She spent the second half of May in upkeep at New London; then headed south on 1 June. The submarine stopped at the Naval Academy from 7 to 10 June for midshipman indoctrination tours; then put to sea for special operations. Stonewall Jackson entered Charleston to off-load missiles during the first week in July; then shaped a course for New London, arriving on the 10th. On 15 July, she entered the shipyard of General Dynamics Electric Boat Division at Groton, Conn., for conversion to the Poseidon (C-3) missile system. The installation of the new missile system was completed by 29 October 1971 when the Blue crew began preparations to put to sea. Between October 1971 and March 1972, both Blue and Gold crews conducted their shakedown cruises off the southeastern coast of the United States. She returned to Groton on 4 March and, on 8 March, commenced post-shakedown availability at the General Dynamics shipyard.

On 7 April, she got underway for Charleston for a missile load-out in preparation for her first post-conversion and first Atlantic deterrent cruise. Since that time, she has operated out of the advanced base at Holy Loch, Scotland, alternating Blue and Gold crews on deterrent patrols.

Stonewall Jackson was based at Holy Loch, Scotland, for patrol duties until mid-1978. She returned to the United States for an extensive overhaul at Portsmouth, New Hampshire Shipyard and was fitted with the Trident C-4 missile system at Pier side Port Canaveral, Florida in late 1988. 1988-1990 in Charleston, SC is where she deployed for patrols. She then operated out of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, until her final patrol in 1994.

Decommissioning and disposal

Stonewall Jackson was decommissioned on 9 February 1995 and simultaneously stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. Her scrapping via the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, Washington, was completed on 13 October 1995.

For thirty years, Stonewall Jackson stood like a Stone Wall against the threats that were representative of the Cold War. Like many of her contemporaries, it is hard to imagine ever seeing another ship with that proud name. But like the man who she was named for, she did her duty unflinchingly and with great honor.

Mister Mac



3 thoughts on “USS Stonewall Jackson SSBN 634 – Unwavering Courage

  1. Thank you, Mister Mac. Was always proud of my service aboard The Stonewall Jackson. Never knew the history of Stonewall but the name was worn with pride by all the crew while I was aboard.

  2. Great job on this. Always good to know the history behind the 41 for Freedom boats. One minor thing. C-4 completion at the cape was completed in the early 80’s. I was onboard ’81 – ’85 and we did our non-firing DASO in Dec. ’82 and carried C4’s after that.

    Keep up the great work!

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