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Topic: Teachers (07/12/04)
TITLE: Standing Like A Stonewall
By Michael Aubrecht
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These are just some of the words commonly used to describe one of the most revered and religious American icons in military history: General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Considered to be one of the most inspirational and eccentric of all the Confederacy’s leaders, Jackson’s legacy and life lessons have spread well beyond the battlefield - and well beyond his death. His first duty was always that of a soldier in what he referred to as “The Army of The Lord” and his reputation as both a brilliant teacher of strategy and the Word of God are still revered to this day.
A deeply religious man, Jackson had a unique talent for spreading the news of the Gospel while acting as a Deacon in the Presbyterian Church of Virginia. After graduating 17th (out of 59) in his class at West Point, he served in the Mexican War before accepting a teaching job at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), in Lexington. Specializing in “Natural Physics” Jackson was personally selected by General Robert E. Lee to command the infamous “Stonewall Brigade” in the Army of Northern Virginia. Distraught over the North’s impending invasion of the South, he swore his allegiance to God first and then Virginia. Duty however, could not stifle his religious convictions.
Throughout the campaign, Jackson routinely held 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 countryman (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 it’s 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 reading and teaching from the Bible.
A few moments before he died he cried out, "Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action!" Then a smile of sweetness spread over his face, and he quietly spoke his last words saying, "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees”; and then, without pain or the least sign of struggle, his spirit passed from this earth back to the God who gave it.