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.
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.