From reading various books concerning the War Between the States, I’ve seen both sides concur that Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was one of the best generals during the war and one of the best generals from these United States. He was not only an exemplary general and soldier during the War Between the States, but also an outstanding officer during the Mexican War. He was an eminent leader, a man of courage, discipline, and knowledge, an example of calmness and patience under fire, and a firm believer in duty. In addition to his military career, he was a professor for years at the Virginia Military Institute and an elder and Sunday school teacher in the Presbyterian Church. Although there is much to respect when his achievements are considered, more impressive is the character of the man.
Possibly the quotation best known about Jackson, and no doubt the best summary of his character, is, “Duty is ours; consequences are God’s.” In all aspects of his life, Jackson tried to do his duty as a Christian, but never forgot that God is in control and that everything occurs according to His plan – and that these consequences always resulted in good. He lived by Romans 8:28: “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” Just before the start of the war a guest stayed with Jackson. In the morning the guest awoke melancholy at the prospect of the great conflict that was about to occur. He was surprised, though, to find Jackson cheerful in the morning. When asked about his good attitude Jackson replied, “Why should the peace of a true Christian be disturbed by anything which man can do unto him? Has not God promised to make all things work together for good to them that love him?” In writing to his wife the morning after a battle, he said, “I trust you and all I have in the hands of an ever kind Providence, knowing that all things work together for the good of His people. So live that your sufferings may be sanctified to you; remembering that our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
From the above we understand that he trusted in the Lord but also believed in his duty, and held that every act of a man’s life should be a religious act. He believed, as he told his pastor, that the Christian should carry his religion into everything. “Christianity makes man better in any lawful calling; whether commander, shoemaker, or mechanic.” According to Dabney’s biography, Jackson told a kinsman of his that “qualification must be, with him, in every case, the first requisite; and inasmuch as the prosperity of the service, and even the fate of a battle, might depend on the fitness of a staff-officer for his post, he could not gratify personal partialities. . . . The habits into which he made most anxious inquiry, were early rising and industry.” His attention to duty was so important to Jackson that one biographer tells us, “That devotion of duty which he exacted of others, he practiced with most exemplary fidelity himself . . . consecrating every hour and every energy to his country, with an utter disdain of ease and self. From the day he left his home in 1861 . . . he never had a furlough; was never off duty for a day, whether sick or well; never visited his family; and never even slept one night outside the lines of his own command.”
As has well been detailed in many biographies, he was an officer who understood his role, took care of his men, and did everything possible to achieve military success. Despite his exemplary efforts to carry out his duties as a soldier and officer, he still understood his primary calling. And that calling was to the Lord: to do the Lord’s work and to trust in the Lord. One of his aides tells us, “More than once, as one of his favorite brigades was passing into action, he had been noticed sitting motionless upon his horse, with his right hand uplifted. . . . At length those who looked more narrowly were convinced by his closed eyes and moving lips, that he was wrestling in silent prayer for them.” Like his common soldiers, he slept in a tent amongst his troops. At bedtime he was often observed, through the casting light of a candle inside the tent, kneeling in prayer. A fellow officer said, the morning after they were discussing plans for the following day’s attack, “Do you know why General Jackson would not decide upon our suggestion at once? It was because he has to pray over it, before he makes up his mind.” One of his African servants said of Jackson, “Oh, yes, Sir, the General is a great man for praying; night and mornings – all times.” In addition to his constant prayer, he was diligent in attending Sabbath day services with his men whenever their duties allowed, while he was exemplary in the Confederate service for promoting the use of chaplains and interdenominational harmony in missionary works amongst the troops. As a side note, one of his kinsmen tells us that despite his great concern for his men, Jackson nonetheless would never introduce or discuss party politics or military science with ladies.
It is true that Jackson knew that Virginia and the South were right, doing his utmost to ensure the success of the Confederacy. Yet he still preferred peace. He once wrote to his wife, “O that all our people would manifest such a regard for His holy day! If we would all strictly observe all His holy laws, what would not our country be?” In a letter to his pastor he said, “I am afraid that our people are looking to the wrong source for help, and ascribing our successes to those to whom they are not due. If we fail to trust in God, and to give him all the glory, our cause is ruined.” In another letter he states, concerning the federal government’s threat of war towards the Confederacy, “Should the step be taken which is now threatened, we shall have no other alternative; we must fight. But do you not think that all the Christian people of the land could be induced to unite in a concert of prayer, to avert so great an evil? It seems to me, that if they would unite thus in prayer, war might be prevented, and peace preserved.” And in another letter, “I hope to have the privilege of joining in prayer for peace . . . and hope that all our Christian people will.” Although he desired peace, he continued, “Peace should not be the chief object of prayer in our country. It should aim more specifically at imploring God’s forgiveness of our sins, and praying that He will make our people a holy people.”
Jackson’s faith and trust in God was firm even as he approached death, after being accidentally shot by one of his own soldiers during confusion after battle. Just before his death he said to his wife who had come to attend him, “You see me severely wounded, but not depressed; not unhappy. I believe that it has been done according to God’s holy will, and I acquiesce entirely in it. . . . The child of God, can, in the midst of severest sufferings, fix the thoughts upon God and heavenly things, and derive great comfort and peace; but, that one who had never made his peace with God would be unable to control his mind, under such sufferings, so as to understand properly the way of salvation, and repent and believe on Christ.” When told by his wife, just before his death, that very soon he would be in Heaven, he replied, “I prefer it.”
It is my hope that you, dear reader, will join me in prayer. In prayer for leaders in our county, in our State, and in these United States who would be like Stonewall Jackson. That is, men who will do their duty, without consideration of their own ease and advancement. Men who truly know and love Christ. Men who go to the Lord in prayer in all situations and who understand that, whatever the results, they are to be at peace, for they know the Lord ensures all is done for His Glory. Men who primarily care about advancing the Kingdom of God and not personal, business, or governmental objectives. Please give us, O Lord, men who do their duty in confidence that, whatever the consequences, You are in control.