Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Remembering Two Great Americans, Two Men of God

(Written Jan. 19, 2006)

You probably won't find anything special printed on your calendar for the 19th and 21st of January. In case you are wondering, those are the respective birthdays of Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

As a nation we have already honored Martin Luther King, Jr. and will commemorate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln next month, but Lee and Jackson are especially dear to my heart. They were great men who embodied the inspiring courage, uncompromising honesty, principled conviction, and moral fortitude we no longer see in our leaders today.

Both Lee and Jackson were men of action who fought valiantly to defend their homes and families. Jackson made it clear that if it were up to him, the South would "raise the black flag" and show no quarter to the enemy invading their homeland. They realized that while war was sometimes necessary, it should never be entered into lightly. As Lee put it, "It is good that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it."

Lee and Jackson were Southern gents through and through. Consider Lee's Definition of a Gentleman:
    The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

    The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly -- the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.

    The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past.

    A true man of Honor feels humble himself when he cannot help humbling others.
Jackson's wife, Mary Anna, wrote of her husband that he "was a great advocate for marriage, appreciating the gentler sex so highly that whenever he met one of the 'unappropriated blessings' under the type of truest womanhood, he would wish that one of his bachelor friends could be fortunate to win her."

Both Lee and Jackson believed in principle over pragmatism. Lee once said, "I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity." Jackson summed it up this way: "Duty is ours; consequences are God's."

Jackson never lived to see the fall of his beloved South, but Lee was gracious even in defeat. When approached by those who wished to remain bitter after surrendering he said, "Abandon your animosities and make your sons Americans." It was his position that "we must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them."

Above all, Lee and Jackson were men of God. Lee loved to pray. He would be sure to let people know that he was praying for them, and he felt encouraged when he was remembered in their prayers. Once, upon hearing that others had been praying for him, he remarked, "I sincerely thank you for that, and I can only say that I am a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone, and that I need all the prayers you can offer for me."

Jackson was the epitome of a life devoted to prayer. No matter was too insignificant that it did not warrant communion with the Father: "I have so fixed the habit in my mind that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without asking God's blessing, never seal a letter without putting a word of prayer under the seal, never take a letter from the post without a brief sending of my thoughts heavenward. I never change my classes in the lecture room without a minute's petition for the cadets who go out and for those who come in."

Jackson had an intimate knowledge of the sovereignty of God and rested in the promises of his Heavenly Father. Following the loss of his first wife, Ellie, who died almost immediately after giving birth to a stillborn son, he wrote to his sister-in-law, "I have been called to pass through the deep waters of affliction, but all has been satisfied. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. ... I can willingly submit to anything if God strengthens me." It was this unshakable faith that taught him "to feel as safe in battle as in bed."

The more I see what passes for leadership today in our government, in our churches, and in our homes, the more I am convinced that we need men like Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson. I guess it's time for me to watch Gods and Generals again.


The Blainemonster said...

If I may, I'd like to add a couple tidbits about Jackson: a quote regarding his bravery and the last words he spoke on earth.

"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. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave."

"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.'"

I, too, have grown to respect these men very highly. IMO, too few people are aware of the strong faith they shared.

The Navy Christian said...

This is difficult for me. I was raised in Kansas by a family that still felt disdain for the South. On one hand, I do respect these two men, certainly far more than I respected US Grant, Sherman, etc. It is difficult, however, to accept that these men were blind to what they were defending. Sure, a secessionist state (the Confederacy), which was the primary motivation, but the question of slavery baffles me. It is my upbringing, I know, but it is troubling at best.

Having said this, I know that they were believers (as far as one man can know another) and I know they are resting well now.

Chip said...

Testing what you've always been taught is a tough thing for anyone. It is a common teaching in the U.S. that the South "fought to defend slavery." But the fact of the matter is this: They no more fought to defend slavery than did the men who fought in the Revolutionary War. It's a little known fact that Britain offered freedom to the American slaves in the event of Britain's victory over the colonies. All of the colonies at that time were "slave states." Yet no one claims Washington, Jefferson, and Adams were fighting to "defend slavery" because it just wasn't true. They were fighting for their independence from a government to which they no longer consented. It is exactly the same reason the South fought — for independence.

Just some bullet facts that drive the point home a bit:

-- Lee inherited slaves from his father-in-law and immediately freed them all (with no compensation).

-- Grant owned slaves and once said that if the war were over the issue of slavery he would resign from the Union Army and offer his sword to the other side.

-- Stonewall Jackson defied the laws of Virginia that forbade teaching slaves to read. He taught full classes of slave children to read by using the Bible.

-- While waging a war against the South, supposedly for the purpose of "ending slavery," the government of the United States was building the Capitol Building in D.C. using slave labor almost exclusively.

-- Several states that officially remained in the Union and supplied troops to Lincoln's armies were also slave states: New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri.

I don't outline all of this to convince you one way or the other concerning the legitimacy of either side's cause during that war, I only with to point out that history is always far more complex than the text book accounts.

In my estimation, Lee and Jackson are two of the finest men who have ever lived. Not because of their success on the battlefield, but because of their steadfast devotion to God and His Kingdom.

This was an excellent post. Thank you so much for publishing it.

Rev. said...

GREAT post!

Dan - if you study your history, you'll find that slavery was *not* the issue driving the War Between the States. You should read what Lincoln and Grant had to say about the matter, in particular. I think your Jayhawk sensibilities will be shocked.

Rev. said...

Chip - thanks for pointing out those very important facts.

Jimmy Skiddoo said...

I think that Generals Rommel and Yamamoto were great men of principle as well. They were men of integrity and pretty much shared the same qualities as these two men, except perhaps their religious faith. But it is good they did not succeed, nor did the causes and countries they loved and fought for succeed in their aims, being that the results would have been disastrous. I think any accolades directed at Lee and Jackson need to be viewed in the context of the causes they were a part of. Any well-written book on Rommel and Yamamoto does this. I think this is better than an article that is 100% praise for Lee and Jackson, which is unreal because it leaves so much out of the picture.

Lee Shelton said...

Forgive me, Jimmy, for not endeavoring to write an entire biography of these two gentlemen, highlighting all of their faults as well as their strengths. But there has already been so much written on Lee and Jackson.

Regarding the "cause" for which they fought, you may want to brush up on your history. These men were abundantly clear as to why they were fighting. I continually find it strange that defending one's home against an aggressive, unjust invasion actually needs explanation.

Jimmy Skiddoo said...

Ah, Lee, that wasn't the point.

Being clear on why you fight, so was Rommel. As far as an unjust invasion, please provide the history or documentation on that.

Hey, I always liked that Charlie Daniels Band song "The South's Gonna Do It Again."

I do appreciate the you allow and leave comments on your blog from people who are not in 100% agreement with all the material you post. I have been enjoying reading the material here.

Lee Shelton said...

Secession wasn't (and isn't) forbidden by the Constitution, therefore an armed invasion to prevent something the people of a particular state have every right to do renders that invasion illegal and unjust.

And yes, I, unlike Abraham Lincoln, welcome dissenting opinions. :)

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