The Confederacy was a short-lived state filled with romance and legend. Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson was perhaps the most legendary figure in its history, along with Robert E. Lee. He embodied what it meant to be a virtuous, patriotic, and God-fearing southern man. He lead his troops against the powerful Union army, and despite the size disadvantage he was able to masterfully rout his enemies.
In Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne we are recounted the tale of Jackson’s life. Most notably, his Valley Campaign where he employed tactics masterfully, and helped the Confederacy develop momentum early on. Gwynne’s writing is simply excellent. It is always a treat to read a work of history as if it were a novel. It makes it both accessible and pleasurable.
Jackson lived a humble life. He grew up in the Appalachia portion of West Virginia without much. He was fortunate enough to be able to attend West Point, putting him on the path to becoming a distinguished officer. He taught for a while at the Virginia Military Institute, becoming a professor of ‘Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery.’ Teaching was not a fit for Jackson, and he was often teased by his students.
The battlefield was a better fit. When the war started Jackson was assigned to drill recruits, but after a friend pulled some strings Jackson was given a position up in Harpers Ferry—the rest is history.
Jackson’s Religious Convictions
One of the most defining characteristics of Jackson was his unwavering faith in Christianity. This faith was seen in all aspects of his life, from the classroom to the battlefield to the most ordinary of activities:
I have so fixed the habit in my own mind that in ever raise a glass of water tin y lips without lifting my heart to God in thanks and payer for the water of life. Then, when we take our meals, there is the fair. Whenever I drop a letter in the post-office, I send a letter along to a friend and ask for God’s blessing upon its mission and the person to whom it is sent….
Despite Jackson’s brilliance as a military commander, he took little credit for himself:
Jackson believed that he was merely God’s instrument—a crude tool in God’s hands. All credit for victory belonged to God and to no one else.
Jackson didn’t have an easy life, and was dealt major blows that came unexpectedly as he both lost his wife and daughter; they passed on earlier than they should have:
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. It is his will that my Dearest wife & child should no longer abide with me, and it is His Holy Will…
This is clearly reminiscent of the book of Job—a man who despite experiencing grave suffering, never doubts in God.
It’s also interesting to note how it is possible to reconcile Jackson’s Christian beliefs with war. The fact is that Jackson saw war as a terrible thing, yet when it happened it would be ‘no holds barred’:
“How horrible is war.”
“Horrible, yes” McGuire replied. “But we have been invaded what can we do?”
“Kill them, sir” Jackson said. “Kill every man.”
To some Stonewall Jackson’s Christian beliefs may seem antiquated by the standards of our modern, ‘enlightened’ society. Yet reading about this man it is plain to see that Christianity shaped Jackson to be a man who was humble, kind and caring.
Much of Jackson’s success on the battlefield stems from his strict code of conduct. He drilled soldiers for hours into the dark of the night, in the rain, wind or cold. His soldiers loathed this, but nonetheless looked up to him with such admiration.
His strict discipline and adherence to principles applied to him doling out punishments as well:
For Jackson, straggling and desertion were the ultimate violations of duty.
Jackson hated deserters with a special passion. He had only restrained himself from shooting them before because public opinion wouldn’t have tolerated it.
Despite Jackson’s (seemingly) benevolent nature, he had no qualms about harsh punishment. One reason for this, especially in regards to desertion, was because Jackson saw this behavior as treacherous—one man seeks refuge while the other puts his life on the line to advance the cause of his country.
Addressing “Racism” and Modern-Day SJW’s
As I have written previously, Marxism is alive and well. One of the goals of the modern Left is to eliminate any remnants of the Confederacy in modern America. Following the shooting of nine black people in a South Carolina Church by Dylan Roof, many ramped up the crusade against the Confederate past.
Certainly it can’t be said that the Confederacy was a totally benevolent culture. Slavery was indeed a major part of their society, but it wasn’t the only one. Most people didn’t own slaves, and those that did were not the oppressive, brutal owners as often portrayed.
Stonewall Jackson owned six slaves throughout his life—three of which were gifted to him as a wedding present. Two others asked to be purchased by Jackson, because they preferred to pay their way to freedom under Jackson as opposed to a less grateful owner. The other was a 4 year old with learning disabilities, also gifted to him.
Of course, slavery can’t be exonerated, and I will not attempt to try to do so. Yet to demonize men like Stonewall Jackson without doing due diligence is detestable, and shows a lack of intellectual depth.
Jackson, in fact, did much to advance the African American cause:
Jackson proceeded…the school soon had eighty to one hundred slaves in attendance…The school was entirely his creation: He conceived it, financed it, organized it, promoted it and recruited students as well as a dozen teaching assistants… In the words of his pastor, William White, “He was emphatically the black man’s friend.”
Doesn’t sound like much of an evil bigot to me…
The American Civil War is a more complex event than American students are taught in school. They are taught it through the dichotomy of North=Good, South=Bad. Debunking this myth can, and has, filled books. Make sure to do your own research before jumping to conclusions.
The death of Stonewall Jackson is indeed a noble one if there is such a thing. As he is commanding his troops he is struck three times on horseback. His aide and troops see to it that Jackson is taken to safety, above all else. Jackson actually recovers from his injuries, but is forced to amputate his arm. His death, in fact, was a result of pneumonia.
As he lies on his death bed, he elicits no fear of the afterlife. It is, after all, God’s plan which Jackson understands is what is best. Additionally, he will be reunited with his first wife and child.
The outpouring of grief following Jackson’s death is profound. The entire confederacy is shocked—the Union as well—and turns to mourning upon hearing such news.
After reading 500+ pages of this biography I was saddened by Jackson’s death. Despite being a work of non-fiction, one gets swept up in Gwynne’s vivid storytelling, and truly regrets to see the loss of a man of Jackson’s caliber.
We’re seeing cities and college campuses across America removing any remnants of Confederate or even relatively “racist” thought. It’s important, however, to shun Marxist, revisionist thought and not erase certain figures from our past.
The problem with doing so is multi-faceted. For one, you can’t simply erase history—it already happened. It is a juvenile approach to simply close ones eyes, vandalize statues, or rip pages out of a history book. It is better to acknowledge what happened, accept it, and learn from the mistakes of the past.
Men like Stonewall Jackson have much to teach us about leadership, relationships, discipline, devotion and more. Why should these lessons be discarded because of his affiliation with a repulsive practice?
Jackson is painted as a man who wasn’t fighting for slavery. He was fighting for Virginia, his home. He was fighting against the tyranny of a powerful, federalist government in Washington, and he wished to defend the rights of his state. He gave his life for this cause.
Click here to get your copy of Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne on Amazon.