Stonewall Jackson

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Now, here’s a thing. Stonewall Jackson (1824-1863) was an American civil war general, fighting on the Confederate side. Jackson spent his whole adult life involved with the military in some form or another.  Before the start of the civil war he was a lecturer at the Virginia Military Institute, where he was sometimes seen as a figure of fun, whose lectures were so boring that students fell asleep in them!

However, when the war started he joined the Confederate Army, perhaps mainly because his state Virginia was part of the confederacy (which supported black slavery – the cause of the war). On the issue of slavery itself his views are slightly obscure. One person who knew him wrote that before the war he taught a Sunday School class for black people and:

“In their religious instruction he succeeded wonderfully. His discipline was systematic and firm, but very kind. … His servants reverenced and loved him, as they would have done a brother or father. … He was emphatically the black man’s friend.” 

At the same time his family did have black slaves and he seems to have neither have particularly supported or opposed it, but accepted it as part of the order of things. His view has been described as believing that:

“The good Christian slaveholder was one who treated his servants fairly and humanely at all times”

Jackson was probably the most effective and  successful battlefield commander on either side in the whole war – contrary to his nickname he was famed for the manoeuvrability and mobility of his troops.  He died from his injuries suffered at the battle of Chancellorsville, ironically, shot accidentally by his own troops at  the time of his greatest triumph.

So why are we considering Jackson here, today? Because, whilst both a great soldier and very eccentric (for example he was a ‘champion sleeper’  who liked to suck lemons!) he was undoubtedly a man of great Christian faith, who loved nothing more than discussing the things of God, and holding strictly to his (Presbyterian) understanding of the Scriptures.  He often surprised (and disconcerted) army chaplains by attending their services and nodding vigorously at points he agreed with in the sermon! He was also a supporter of the Revival that swept through the Confederate army in 1863.  Most of all, it seems that Jackson was totally reliant upon God. Absolutely fearless in battle, he believed that God alone would determine the time and nature of his death. He told a subordinate My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.”

From this point in time, much will strike us as odd about Stonewall Jackson as a Christian, apart from his eccentricities.  He was a fierce and ruthless soldier and fought in the civil war on what most people would see as the ‘wrong’ side. But there can be no doubt that he was a devoted and godly man who trusted in God’s will and Christ’s salvation.  His last words as he lay dying were:

‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.’