James S. Jackson was born in central Kentucky in 1823 and studied briefly at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky before transferring to Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. He eventually returned to his native state and graduated from the law college at Transylvania University in Lexington. He took up the practice of law.
He served as a private in the Mexican War and was promoted to third lieutenant. He eventually resigned after participating in a duel, choosing to avoid the possibility of being dismissed by court martial.
He was elected to Congress, as a Unionist in 1859 or 1860, but he resigned his office in December 1861 to enter the army. He was chosen as a colonel of Kentucky cavalry and in mid-1862 became a Brigadier General of volunteers. After helping with the organization of forces around Louisville, he assumed command of an entire division of troops, men he would lead in what became the battle of Perryville, the largest Civil War engagement in Kentucky.
According to a link on Centre's website (here) the New York Times described Jackson as "brusque and overbearing. . . a party to numerous quarrels,which sometimes resulted in duels, " which may have been a reference to the incident in Mexico.This paper also accused him of having killed a man in a street fight when he was in Hopkinsville, in western Kentucky.
In early October 1862, Confederate General Braxton Bragg's invasion of Kentucky was in full force, and Union General Don Carlos Buell, barely retaining his command after Union officials tried to remove him, was leading his army combat this invasion.
It was a hot, dry summer, and the search for water was part of each army's daily activities. This search helped lead both to the area around the Chaplin River in Boyle County, and forces from each side soon collided with each other, leading to the battle on the hills of this region, near the town of Perryville.
The fighting was fierce, and both sides suffered many casualties. On October 8, Jackson was with a section of his men on the Open Knob, now knows as Parson's Ridge, on the left of the Union line, when Confederate forces approached. The Union men, defending the battery of Charles Parsons, tried to maintain their position, but Jackson was killed fairly soon, and these troops, now led by Brigadier General William Rufus Terrill retreated. They eventually found support and were able to stall the Confederate advance until nightfall came. (Terrill would also be killed during this action)
At the end of the day, the Confederates had gained ground and inflicted about 4,211 casualties on the Union forces, while suffering approximately 3,396 of their own (numbers taken from the article The Battle of Perryville by Thomas L. Breiner at http://www.battleofperryville.com/). Bragg, however, realized that the Union forces in the area greatly outnumbered his own, so he ordered a retreat, leaving the field in Union hands, so Perryville is generally considered a Union victory since Union forces held the battlefield after the fighting ended.
|Marker on the Open Knob on Perryville Battlefield (author's photo)|
|Path to positions Jackson's men held when he was killed (author's photo)|