After the recent elections, I was reading an article that said some Republicans were hoping their victories would lead to President Obama’s “Waterloo.” It reminded me of a country song that crossed over to the Billboard charts in 1959 and was a big hit for a country singer named Stonewall Jackson. That was when I first heard the expression, “meet your Waterloo.”
Now, unless you are as old as me, when you read there was a country singer named Stonewall Jackson, you might think that was his nickname, or he picked the name as a gimmick and you think that right about now, I’m about to tell you his real name. Well, that is his real name! He was named after the Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, whom he claims as an ancestor. It was a nickname for his ancestor, but apparently, Stonewall’s parents just gave him that first name, and Stonewall even has a son named Stonewall, Jr. now.
Stonewall Jackson was born on November 6, 1933 in Tabor City, North Carolina. He already had two older siblings. When Stonewall was two years old, his father passed away and his mother took her children to South Georgia. There the youngster grew up, working on his uncle’s farm. At 17, Jackson enlisted in the Navy and served four years. In 1956, he moved to Nashville, TN to pursue a country music career..
In Nashville, Stonewall Jackson got into the Grand Ole Opry before he even obtained a recording contract. After listening to Jackson’s demo tape, the president of Acuff-Rose Music, Wesley Rose arranged for that then unheard of feat. As a result, Ernest Tubb became Jackson’s mentor and took him along on tour. Jackson got a contract with Columbia Records and debuted with a song called “Don’t Be Angry” in 1958. It wasn’t a hit, but his next release was. “Life to Go” was written by George Jones and went to No. 2 in early 1959.
Stonewall Jackson followed that up with “Waterloo” which was a No. 1 for 5 weeks on the country charts and went to No. 4 on 1959’s Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was also a hit in the UK and earned Stonewall a gold disc. I well remember playing this song on a New Jersey jukebox diner with me and my brother accompanying Stonewall.
The chorus of the song says that “everybody has to pay, everybody has to meet his Waterloo” and the verses describe how the biblical Adam, Napoleon Bonaparte and Tom Dooley all met their Waterloo. Our father told us that Waterloo was a place in Belgium that used to be part of the Netherlands where Napoleon was defeated for the last time. So the phrase “meeting your Waterloo” actually originated from the shellacking Napoleon took from the Duke of Wellington and General Von Blucher, and that was in June of 1815. For Napoleon, Waterloo wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill defeat. It was the definitive end of the line for the French emperor and he would spend the rest of his days in exile on the island of St. Helena. Rest assured, Adam and Eve never heard of Waterloo.
Confederate soldier, Tom C. Dula, who is the real person the Tom Dooley song is about, just might have heard the expression. He met his Waterloo in 1868 when he was executed by hanging in Statesville, NC, for the murder of his fiancee, Laura Foster. The Kingston Trio had a No. 1 hit, “Tom Dooley,” before “Waterloo” came out so everyone knew who he was.
The real mystery to me was why Stonewall Jackson didn’t put his own ancestor in the song. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson met his Waterloo at the Battle of Chancellorsville, when Confederate pickets accidentally shot him. He lost an arm to amputation as a result. Although General Jackson survived the amputation, he did not survive the pneumonia that followed and died 8 days later. I guess the answer to that is Stonewall Jackson didn’t write the song — John D. Loudermilk and Marijohn Wilkin did.
A completely different song also entitled “Waterloo” was a huge hit for the the Swedish rock group, ABBA, in 1974. It was a No. 1 hit in several countries and a No. 6 hit in the USA.
Besides Belgium, there are places all over the world named Waterloo. According to the list of locations with that name on Wikipedia, the USA has the most towns named Waterloo. Austin, the capital of Texas, used to go by the name Waterloo.