Achieving the rank of major general in the Georgia militia during the Civil War (1861-65), Henry Rootes Jackson is best known for organizing and commanding state troops during the Atlanta campaign. He was born on June 24, 1820, in Athens to Martha J. Rootes and Henry Jackson. Tutored by his father, a professor at the University of Georgia, Jackson entered Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and graduated with honors in 1839. Jackson then returned to Georgia and studied law. He passed the bar in Columbus in 1840, moved to Savannah to practice law, and was appointed a U.S. district attorney of Georgia before his twenty-fourth birthday. In January 1843 he married Cornelia Augusta Davenport, and they had four children before Cornelia died in 1853. In 1850 Jackson published a volume of his poetry, Tallulah and Other Poems. The editor and literary critic Evert A. Duyckinck described the poetry as “spirited and manly” and “of a patriotic interest.”
At the outbreak of the Mexican War (1846-48), Jackson was made colonel of the First Georgia Regiment, a post he held until the end of the war. He returned to Savannah and briefly served as the editor of the Savannah Georgian, and in 1849 he accepted an appointment to the bench as a state superior court judge. He resigned this position in 1853 to become charge d’affaires and then resident minister in Vienna, Austria, until 1859.
Upon his return to Georgia, Jackson turned down the chancellorship of the University of Georgia and participated in the federal government’s failed attempt to prosecute the captain and owners of the slave ship Wanderer, which had attempted entrance into Savannah to sell African captives. Jackson was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1860, but he withdrew along with other southern delegates over the plank on slavery. He participated in the Georgia Secession Convention of 1861.
When the Confederacy first organized, Jackson accepted a judgeship but then resigned to accept a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate army. He fought at Cheat Mountain, Virginia, but afterward his unit was disbanded. He returned to Georgia with a promotion to major general in the state army in December 1861, and he served as aide to General W.H.T. Walker. During the Atlanta campaign of 1864 he organized and commanded a brigade of the First (Georgia) Confederate Regiment against General William T. Sherman until the city finally fell on September 1. Once again appointed brigadier general, this time in the Confederate army, he followed General John B. Hood from the Battles of Franklin and Jonesboro, Tennessee, to Nashville, where he was captured. He was held at a prison camp on Sandusky Bay of Lake Erie and then at Fort Warren, in Boston, until his release in July 1865.
After the war Jackson once more returned to Savannah to practice law, and in December 1866 he married Florence Barclay King of St. Simons Island. In 1885 U.S. president Grover Cleveland appointed him minister to Mexico, but he resigned over a disagreement regarding U.S. government policy. He was director of the Central Rail Road and Banking Company from 1893 to 1898. He was fervent about preserving Georgia history and culture and served as president of the Georgia Historical Society (1875-98). Jackson was also a trustee of the Peabody Education Fund, and he played an active part in state politics, without seeking office himself. He died in Savannah on May 23, 1898, and is buried in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery.