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home : opinion : opinion May 20, 2022

1/19/2022 3:12:00 PM
A Conservative Point Of View
Happy Birthday To Lee And Jackson!
Honouring heroes, heritage and home
The great New York-based artist, Mort Künstler, created this painting that depicts generals Jackson and Lee conferring before battle.
The great New York-based artist,
Mort Künstler, created this painting
that depicts generals Jackson and
Lee conferring before battle.

(Top L-R): Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson
(Top L-R): Robert E. Lee and
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

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From The Desk Of
Thomas Lark

As I write this (Jan. 19), it is the 215th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Lee.

The 198th anniversary of the birth of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson follows this Friday, Jan. 21. For generations, up until quite recently, Lee-Jackson Day was a statewide holiday in Virginia. The few places that still mark the occasion evidently did so last week. But I wanted to honour these men on their actual birthdays, remembering their immortal deeds during the War Between the States and their lasting legacies.

Sir Winston Churchill rightly called Lee “the noblest man America ever produced.” The South’s greatest leader was a man of unimpeachable Christian morality. Spurred on by the negative example of his drunken wastrel father, “Light-horse Harry” Lee, General Lee never drank, smoked, gambled or cursed. The Bible was his favourite book. Throughout his life, he maintained a rigid self-discipline that accustomed him to personal sacrifices, both great and small.

A woman once asked Lee how she could mould her young son into a great man. The general replied:

“Teach him to deny himself.”

At the top of his class at West Point, Lee was graduated without a single demerit. This perfect record at the academy was only ever equalled by one other singularly remarkable man: Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Ever the altruistic humanitarian, at once the living embodiment of a glorious chivalric past yet ahead of his time, Lee freed his slaves a generation before it became hip to do so. Like Jefferson Davis, Pierre Beauregard, James Longstreet, Jackson himself and many other Southern leaders, Lee rightly despised the South’s “peculiar institution.” He favoured its abolition and thought it was inevitable.

By late 1860, the North was spoiling for war. To ensure its economic hegemony and control of the South, Northern Big Business sought a way of sucker-punching Dixie into a conflict. When the crisis came in the spring of ’61, Lincoln offered Lee command of all Northern armies. The great man wrestled with his conscience as he weighed his choice, pacing throughout the night, his sad, heavy footsteps heard by his entire household. With the dawn came Lee’s Wagnerian decision:

“I could not draw my sword against my own country,” he said, meaning Virginia.

Not for nothing was he called the Marble Man. Lee was ever firm and resolute, and his tactics kept the mightiest nation on earth at bay for more than two years. Unlike his father, he kept his temper in check, and very unlike the mentally ill and genocidal Sherman or the drunken and racist Grant, Lee would not shout profanely at his subordinates. Just a flash of his noble eyes and a wordless, angry look was enough to put the fear of God into Lee’s men.

Lee led by shining example, and he inspired through his own personal greatness. His daughters idolised him and viewed him as perfect––so much so in fact that they never married, as “no man compared to Papa.”

His feats became the stuff of legend, and he was soon known throughout the English-speaking world. So faultless was Lee that even Northern soldiers admired him. After one among so many horrific battles, a wounded Union private lay by the roadside, awaiting a Confederate ambulance. Seeing Lee approaching on Traveller, his noble steed, the Union man, known for his anger, raised a defiant fist and yelled out:

“Down with the Rebels! Huzzah for the Union!”

But to the surprise of all who beheld the sight, Lee, ever magnanimous, suddenly dismounted and removed his right riding glove. He knelt and with his bare hand, he gently touched the cheek of the wounded enemy soldier.

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“My son,” he said, “I pray you will soon be well.”

And thereafter, it is said, the man converted. He forsook his prior anger, survived the war and went on to live an exemplary life, often telling others of his encounter with the merciful Marble Man.

Though a wealthy Southern aristocrat before the start of that unnecessary war, Lee was impoverished afterward. He accepted a position as president of Washington College––now Washington and Lee University. A devout Episcopalian, he was often found alone, praying in the college chapel. On one such occasion, a colleague came upon him kneeling in a pew, hands clasped fervently and tears streaming down his sad and noble face.

“Oh!” Lee exclaimed to his friend. “If only I could know that all our young men here were truly Christian.”

And that was how the great man lived his life. Were one to sum up Robert Edward Lee in one word, it would be: “Christian.”

Like a stone wall
Like Lee, Jackson, too, hailed from Virginia. Both men were veterans of the Mexican War. Jackson became an instructor at the Virginia Military Institute. It was a dull job, dry as dust, and he admittedly wasn’t very good at it. His students indeed all thought him quite the soporific bore.

Jackson’s first wife died young, leaving him crushed and despairing. But he eventually met Lincoln County native Anna Morrison, daughter of Dr. Robert Morrison, the first president of Davidson College. The Morrison family later lived at Cottage Home in the eastern Lincoln County village of Machpelah, just off the Old Plank Road (and yes, it really was made of planks). The Presbyterian church, some 200 years old, where Dr. Morrison preached, still stands, and its small cemetery features many Confederate graves.

Jackson married Anna at her home in 1857. Alas, Cottage Home was struck by lightning and burned to the ground, some 60 years ago. To-day, nature has reclaimed the land, and an impenetrable reticulation of close-growing pines clusters all round the site. The land is now owned by Duke Power. An historical marker on the Old Plank Road commemorates the Jacksons’ marriage. As is often true in such cases, the Morrison home’s chimney, as I am informed, still stands somewhere, hidden in the thick mass of trees.

At VMI, Jackson was an indifferent teacher, and he wasn’t too keen on it himself. He mumbled and was hard to follow. But whilst he may have been a poor instructor, he became one of history’s greatest generals. Indeed, as a tactician, he is often regarded as better than Lee himself. And Gen. George Patton, himself a man of Virginia roots and the grandson of a Confederate general, was compared favourably with Jackson.

At the Battle of First Manassas in 1861, Confederate Gen. Barnard Bee, seeing Jackson’s unwavering steadfastness in the face of a Union onslaught, famously yelled:

“There stands Jackson like a stone wall!”

The sobriquet stuck. He was thenceforth known as “Stonewall.”

For two years, Jackson went from one victory to another. He possessed an uncanny ability of understanding Lee’s orders implicitly, always attaining the older man’s end goals. Jackson perfected the art of “hitting the enemy where he ain’t,” a strategy of attacking Union troops where their positions were weakest, “a method by which a smaller, inferior force may actually defeat a larger, superior force.” His orders were explicit and never to be questioned. His men both loved and feared him. He was celebrated throughout the South.

A devout Presbyterian, he continued to support a black Sunday School class even during his wartime campaigns, managing to send money back home to sustain it. Like Lee, he didn’t drink, smoke, curse or gamble, and he was a devoted husband and family man. He was fond of his wife’s lemonade, though he sometimes kiddingly told Anna, “It’s too tart!”

But on May 2, 1863, Jackson’s luck finally ran out. Returning from a night-time reconnaissance of nearby Northern positions, not far from Guinea Station, Va., he and several others in his party were inadvertently shot by their own men––sentries of the 18th North Carolina Infantry––who in the darkness and confusion mistook them for advancing Yankee soldiers. Jackson himself had warned the men that the Yankees might stoop to such an unchivalrous, stealthy manoeuvre under the cover of darkness, and he told them to be prepared.

Alas, the general ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wounded thrice, necessitating the amputation of his left arm, he died of pneumonia eight days later. Anna was at his bedside as he breathed his last. Jackson was very pleased when she told him that it was Sunday, as he’d always wanted to die on the Sabbath.

His last words are often found carved in stone:

“Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Stonewall Jackson was just 39 years old.

After the war, Anna became known as the Widow of the Confederacy. She attended many reunions of Confederate veterans, and she wrote two books about her late, legendary husband. She lived in Charlotte, and her Trade Street home was often visited by many distinguished guests, including President Theodore Roosevelt. TR was proud of his own Confederate connexions, which included two maternal uncles from Savannah, who served as blockade-runners and stayed in Liverpool after the war.  

Mary Anna Morrison Jackson died in 1915. She was 83.

To-day, we remember Lee and Jackson for their remarkable friendship, deep patriotism and military partnership. Theirs is a shining combined example of Southern manhood at its very best, and they deserve to be remembered fondly throughout the land for so nobly defending hearth and home against an aggressive invader. Had Jackson lived, and thus the South had won the War Between the States, securing the independent Dixieland that Almighty God Himself intended, we’d be living in a dramatically different and far better world, with all the Christian presuppositions that entails.

Sadly, these days, in our tragically fallen modern world, not everyone––whether through historical illiteracy or even downright wickedness––remembers our Southern heroes as they should. But at least “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” who know the truth can continue to guard it.

And as we also know: Deo vindice.

---The views and opinions expressed in “A Conservative Point of View” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Lincoln Herald.

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