James A. Walker seemed born to fight, and indeed, he was a very combative individual. He was born on August 27th, 1832, in Augusta County, Virginia, near Mount Meridian. He attended private schools for his early education, and eventually went to the Virginia Military Institute. He was popular with his classmates, and did well academically. There was one man whom he couldn’t get along with however; professor Thomas J. Jackson. Walker took offense at some remark made to him by Jackson, and repeatedly attempted to brain Jackson with bricks before challenging him to a duel. Walker was court-martialed and dismissed from VMI. He spent some time in the engineer corps before returning to Augusta County. He became interested in law, and after studying at UVA, began practicing it in Pulaski County. He was elected as attorney of the county for the commonwealth in 1860.
Following the John Brown raid, Walker organized a company of militia, called the Pulaski Guards, and was elected captain. He drilled them rigorously, and the company was among the first called into service for the Confederacy by Governor John Letcher of Virginia.
Walker’s men joined the 4th Virginia infantry, part of his old teacher Stonewall Jackson’s command. For conspicuous gallantry during a skirmish at Falling Waters, Walker was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and assigned to the 13th Virginia infantry, commanded at the time by Colonel A.P. Hill. Hill was soon promoted, in early 1862, and Walker was made full colonel of the regiment. Walker’s men were assigned to Ewell’s division, which soon joined Jackson in his Valley Campaign, particularly distinguishing himself at Cross Keys. Jackson noticed the bold and firm leadership of his old quarrelsome student, and apparently put aside his past difficulties with Walker, never hesitating to recommend him for commendation or promotion. Walker served as an acting brigade commander throughout much of 1862, commanding Trimble’s at Second Manassas, and Early’s former brigade at Fredericksburg. At the head of his regiment, he distinguished himself during the Cedar Mountain engagement and the Battle of Fredericksburg particularly, leading a successful counterattack against Federals on Prospect Hill at the latter engagement.
In early 1863, at the request of Stonewall Jackson, Walker was assigned to command of the Stonewall Brigade. Previously, due to his tenacity, rough manners, and size, Walker had been called “Bull Dog Walker” by his men. Now he gained the simpler nickname of “Stonewall Jim”, a mark of respect from his new troops. He commanded this brigade throughout 1863 and into 1864, until suffering a musket shot to the elbow during the Battle of Spotsylvania. He gained the admiration of his troops for his “splendid” front-line leadership. During Spotsylvania, he was heard to exclaim “If this is war, let it be eternal!” He was a man who thrived in the chaos of war, and was also the only man who ever commanded the Stonewall Brigade to survive the war.
After his injury, Walker was assigned to protect Lee’s railroad links to Petersburg, and performed well here. In 1865, he returned to active service, requesting and receiving the brigade which his old regiment, the 13th Virginia, was part of. He led troops during the last actions in the Shenandoah Valley, and later participated in Lee’s retreat and surrender at Appomattox. After the surrender, he returned home and practiced law for a time before getting involved in Virginia politics. He was elected to the house of delegates in 1871, He moved up to lieutenant governor in 1877. He was cast aside by the Democrats when he wanted to run for governor, and he promptly joined the Republicans, winning two terms in Congress in the 1890s. He was crippled in a gunfight following a contested election that he allegedly lost during this period, and died a year later, in 1901.