May 10, 1863: Let Us Pass Over the River and Rest Under the Shade of the Trees

“I have but to show him my design, and I know that if it can be done it will be done.  Straight as the needle to the pole he advances to the execution of my purpose.”

Robert E. Lee on Stonewall Jackson

Of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, nicknamed Stonewall by General Barnard Bee at the battle of Bull Run, it was said he lived by the New Testament and fought by the Old.  Certainly throughout his life he was a convinced Christian.  As a young man he would attend services of various Christian denominations.  In Mexico, during his service in the Mexican War, he attended mass, although sadly he did not convert to Catholicism.  Instead he eventually became a Presbyterian.  His Bible was his constant companion, and he would often speak of God and theological matters in private conversation.

Jackson in his professional life was a soldier.  Just before the Civil War he was a professor of natural and experimental philosophy (science) and artillery instruction at the Virginia Military Institute.  As a teacher he made a good soldier.  His lectures were rather dry.  If his students seemed to fail to grasp a lecture, he would repeat it the next day, word for word.

His home life was a mixture of sorrow and joy.  His first wife died in childbirth along with their still-born son, a tragedy that would have crushed many a man less iron-willed than  Jackson.  His second marriage, like his first, was happy, but heartache also haunted it.  A daughter died shortly after birth in 1858.  A second daughter was born in 1862, Julia, shortly before Jackson’s own death in 1863.  His wife would spend a widowhood of 52 years, dedicated to raising their daughter, cherishing the memory of her husband, and helping destitute Confederate veterans.  For her good works she became known as the Widow of the Confederacy.  Their daughter Julia would marry and have children before her early death of typhoid fever at age 26.  Her two children had several children and there are many living descendants of Jackson.

He and his second wife established and taught a Sunday school for black slaves.  At the time it was against the law in Virginia to teach slaves to read, but apparently that is precisely what Jackson and his wife did.   One of the last letters he ever posted was his regular contribution he mailed off throughout the war for the financial support of the Sunday school for slaves he and his wife had founded.

During the war he rose to fame as Stonewall Jackson.  His Valley Campaign in 1862 in the Shenandoah Valley where he outmarched and outfought numerous Union armies, each larger than the force he led, is still studied in military academies around the world as a classic example of how a weaker force, using mobility and surprise, can defeat vastly superior forces.

His service under Lee established a military partnership that reached its culmination at Chancellorsville where Jackson led his corps around the Union right and into the rear of the Union army, leading to a stunning Confederate victory over an Army of the Potomac that outnumbered the Army of Northern Virginia more than two to one.

Jackson summed up his military philosophy succinctly:  Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed by half their number. The other rule is, never fight against heavy odds, if by any possible maneuvering you can hurl your own force on only a part, and that the weakest part, of your enemy and crush it. Such tactics will win every time, and a small army may thus destroy a large one in detail, and repeated victory will make it invincible.

Completely fearless on the battlefield, Jackson assumed that God would determine his span of life and fear was useless as a result: Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.

At Chancellorsville, Jackson was shot accidentally by his own men.  As a result of his wounding Jackson’s left arm was amputated.  Lee learning of it, said that Jackson had lost his left arm, but that he had lost his right.

For a time it looked as if Jackson would recover, but infection, that great killer after any nineteenth century surgery, prevented that happy outcome.  He met the news of his inevitable death with Christian stoicism, bidding farewell to his tearful wife and infant daughter.  In his delirium towards the end he returned in his mind to the battlefields, shouting out commands.  At the very end, his voice grew calm and his face relaxed.  He then gave the last command he would ever utter in this life: “Let us cross over the  river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

 

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