A Presbyterian Leader

I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.
The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.

  • Psalm 18:1-6
  • “Never take counsel of your fears.”
  • “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. … That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”
  • “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” (his final words)
  • Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, various quotes

Yesterday, I wrote about the faith of George Washington.  While it was on my mind, I thought of another historical general who put his faith into action.  Growing up in the South, less than 100 years after the war, Stonewall Jackson was a leader of legend, almost mythical.  If you cannot imagine a leader in the Confederacy who was a faithful child of God, you might have missed the part in Romans about all of us being sinners in need of Grace.  Besides, much of the present history books tell nothing of the variety of reasons that caused the war.  I write this unapologetically.

My first research paper in elementary school was supposed to be about a hero that I held in high regard.  I wrote the paper on Stonewall Jackson.  Oddly enough, my last formal history report (and presentation) on the First Battle of Fredericksburg featured Stonewall Jackson, almost comically.  And throughout those years, I never knew he was Presbyterian, a deacon in fact.

That fact came to me when I visited the battlefield where he was mortally wounded about a year and a half after doing my military history report, having been assigned the First Battle of Fredericksburg.  While there, I visited a few battlefields.  There are too many in that area of Virginia.  Too many lives lost on both sides.

For those who are unfamiliar with Stonewall Jackson, the war hero from the Mexican War joined Lee’s army and obtained his nickname at the First Battle of Bull Run, where his soldiers held against the enemy attack.  Embarrassed that his men retreated while Jackson’s men held the line, General Barnard Bee said of Jackson, “Look at Jackson standing there like a stone wall.  The nickname stuck.

The ‘comedy’ of the First Battle of Fredericksburg started with a tragedy.  On the western side, the Union soldiers were stymied by snipers from Mississippi in the upper floors of the houses of the town that made it impossible to cross the river.  The eastern side of the battlefield, outside of the town was wide open with farmer’s fields between the Rappahannock River and the Confederate Troops to the South, beyond the tree line.  At one point, the Yankee forces were being held back, unable to use their pontoon boats to get across the river.  Little did they know that the Confederate artillery had retreated.  One cannon was rendered immobile, and the young officer kept firing, holding off an entire army with one cannon.  But once the Union forces got past him, their commander got a bright idea, (okay, a stinking, horrible idea with a total lack of honor, but it worked).  Instead of fighting toward the Confederate lines after getting past the river, his men ran past the Confederate lines, pretending to be other Confederate soldiers in retreat.  They yelled things like, “Watch out!  The Yankees are right behind us!”  Once they were past the soldiers who were well protected from the enemy to the North, the Yankee soldiers stopped running, turned around and fired, nearly killing an entire corps of soldiers (I think over 80%), most shot in the back.

If Stonewall Jackson had not been the corps commander of the reinforcements, the Union soldiers may have won the war that day.  But being fast in movement, he repelled the Union soldiers, driving them all the way across the river.  Jackson would have continued the fight across the river, but Lee called off the counterattack.  It was about this time that Robert E. Lee, standing on the bluff high above the battlefield said, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.

That night, Lee held a meeting with his generals.  Stonewall Jackson was outraged.  At that time, the Confederate army either wore the same uniforms as the north or no uniforms at all.  He proposed two things to Lee in his moment of rage.  First, strip the men down to their long-handle underwear so that the two sides could tell one army from the other.  And second, attack at night.

Lee dismissed both suggestions.  The battle had been fought from 11-15 December.  He was afraid that removing a layer of clothing would result in too many dying of disease instead of battle.  And it was simply not proper to attack at night.  Besides, if the soldiers did not call off the battle soon, they would be unable to return to their homes and prepare a crop for the next year’s harvest.  Yes, after the battle, both armies went home until the next spring, another thing that they don’t teach in school.

But at the Chancellorsville battlefield, Jackson left Lee’s side during the Second Battle of Fredericksburg.  Lee did not think it possible to move Jackson’s troops that fast for that distance, but Jackson accomplished the feat, cutting off a flanking maneuver to the west of Fredericksburg.  While inspecting the quickly created defenses, some jittery lieutenants called for their men to open fire, not knowing they were firing upon their commander, and mortally wounding him, leading to the final Jackson quote above.

At the battlefield site today, they have a pavilion where they described a typical day in Stonewall Jackson’s army.  He drove his men hard.  This may account for his students at Virginia Military Institute not liking him.  Between the Mexican War and the one that followed, Jackson taught at VMI.  He was a West Point graduate who lived with meager means, only owning one house, and then only through marriage.  Nathan Bedford Forrest may have said “git thar fustest with the mostest,” but he was slow in comparison to Jackson.

But even so, Jackson knew his men needed a rest.  He would have morning and afternoon breaks, but he could not bear to have his men wasting their time, even while resting.  He led his men in prayer and Bible study during those times.  He said that he’d much rather have good Presbyterians fighting for him than good soldiers, a testament to the first two Jackson quotes above.  He was very strict in his observation of the Sabbath, not even allowing secular discussion.  The entire day was devoted to worshipping God.

I guess my point for writing this post was that we must not judge people based on what side they take in one issue or another. We should judge by what each person confesses with their lips and proves in their actions, showing their love for God in what they do.

Stonewall Jackson, in life and in death, was a man who was a strong leader and a man of faith, a faith that he placed into action.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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