A few weeks ago, the concept of “religious conviction” and the “power of faith” came up during our Sunday evening Bible study. Our Pastor recalled several instances in both the Old and New Testaments in which individuals were able to overcome extreme circumstances due to their unwavering belief in the Word of God. We also discussed some of the challenges met by those attempting to spread the Gospel and how they petitioned non-believers to not only learn and live by the Word, but to teach it to others as well. I found the idea of sharing faith to be very enlightening and was working on a related study of someone who personified this wonderful concept of “student/teacher”. That individual is General Thomas Jackson whose “spiritual strength” and devotion has inspired generations of Christians since the days of the Civil War.
Regarded as one of the more “godly heroes” in American military history, Thomas Jackson is still considered to be one of the most inspirational and eccentric of all the Confederacy’s leaders. Raised an Episcopalian, he joined the Presbyterian Church in the early 1850s and later became a deacon who generously donated one tenth of his earnings to the church. Eager to share his renewed faith with all people, Jackson started a Sunday school in Lexington for African Americans and proudly practiced civil disobedience while teaching black children the ways of salvation. Although he could not alter the social status of slaves, he committed himself to Christian decency and pledged to “assist the souls of those held in bondage.”
Despite his patriotic devotion as a career military man, Jackson maintained that his first duty was always that of a soldier in what he referred to as “The Army of the Lord”. After graduating 17th (out of 59) in his class at West Point, he served in the Mexican War before accepting a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute. Specializing in “Natural Physics” Jackson established the reputation as a brilliant artillery commander and was personally selected by General Robert E. Lee to command a company of VMI cadets. Distraught over the North’s impending invasion of the South, he swore his allegiance to the Army of Northern Virginia and vowed to fight for God and country to the bitter end. Duty however, did not stifle his religious convictions and many members of his fearless brigade were quickly indoctrinated with their commander’s infectious faith.
Perhaps best known as “Stonewall”, Jackson earned his nickname at the First Battle of Manassas, after refusing to withdraw his troops in the face of total carnage. After Brigadier General Barnard Bee informed him that his forces were being beaten back, Jackson replied, "Sir, we will give them the bayonet." Inspired by the bravery of his subordinate, General Bee immediately rallied the remnants of his brigade while shouting "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer." A devout believer in predestination, Jackson insisted that God had already determined his time on earth and that no spot on the battlefield was safer than the other. It was this unwavering conviction that enabled him to lead his troops into battle without the fear of death and inspire countless others to rally behind him.
Courage however, could not hide his obvious distaste for war and regardless of victory; Jackson remained committed to ending the conflict as soon as possible. Preaching a harsh philosophy of swift and total destruction, Jackson believed that the sooner an enemy force was destroyed - the less lives would ultimately be lost. He referred to this action as “the black flag” and reminded his officers that regardless of their orders, duty was theirs – the consequences were God’s.
During the Shenandoah Campaign of 1862, Jackson repeatedly proved himself to be a brilliant strategist, but still found time to hold Bible study and hymnal sessions with the senior officers of his brigade. Despite being an “academic”, he resisted the urge to glorify war and routinely quoted “battle accounts” taken from the Bible in place of his own reports. Always eager to share his relationship with the Father, Jackson wrote letter after letter urging his countrymen (and women) to actively seek repentance. One letter, written to his sister, summarized his faith:
You wish to know how to come to God; so as to have your sins forgiven, and to receive "the inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." Now my dear sister the way is plain: the savior says in Mark XVI chapter, 16th verse "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." But you may ask what is it to believe. To explain this I will quote from an able theologian, and devoted servant of God. To believe in the sense in which the word is used here, "is feeling and acting as if there were a God, a Heaven, a Hell; as if we were sinners and must die; as if we deserve eternal death, and were in danger of it. And in view of all, casting our eternal interests on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. To do this is to be a Christian."
Always a teacher, Jackson dedicated almost every waking moment (that did not require his military service) to educating the uneducated, uplifting the downtrodden and introducing those around him to the glory of God. His popularity with the troops also enabled him to reach them in ways that other men could not and he was often found praying with the wounded at their bedside. After a series of tremendous victories, the Confederacy appeared to be well on its way to declaring independence. However, the fortunes of war would quickly turn in the Union’s favor after the sudden and accidental death of the general they called “Stonewall.”
On May 2, 1863, during the battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson’s own men accidentally fired upon him resulting in three wounds and an amputated arm. Initially, he looked to make a full recovery, but he later developed an incurable case of pneumonia. After a few days, it was a foregone conclusion that death was drawing near. Upon hearing his prognosis, Jackson replied that he had always wanted to die on a Sunday and that, "It will be infinite gain to be translated to Heaven." He then asked his wife to pray for him but to always use the petition of “Thy Will Be Done.” In the end, he clearly accepted his fate as part of God’s divine plan and resolved to spend his last hours before delirium set in, reading from the Bible.
A few moments before he died, he cried out, “Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action!” Then a smile spread over his face, and he quietly whispered his last words saying, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” Finally, without the slightest sign of pain or discomfort, his spirit passed with open arms back to God, who was most certainly awaiting his arrival. He was 39 years old.
(Writers Note: I would like to thank both Director Ron Maxwell and Stephen Lang for their brilliant portrayal of Thomas Jackson in the cinematic masterpiece “Gods and Generals”. This film not only provided my inspiration for this piece, but also a renewed commitment for sharing my own faith.)
If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be! TRUST JESUS NOW
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This is a beautiful story, I can clearly see your life has a permenant imprint left by the struggles and triumphs of this "Chrisitian Soldier" I enjoyed you piece and must add that if we all remember "thy will be done" in each of our prayers how easier our lives will become. Thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit to use you to speak to us, I look forward to reading more of your work. God Bless you and yours. Thank you.