Table of Contents


T.J. "Stonewall" Jackson (1824-1863)
Christian Hero

The names of many Presbyterian churches have been forged from the unique American experience of a church becoming distinctively American: Tomahawk Church (W. Va.), Old Meeting House (Va.), Little Joe's Church (N.C.). Old Paint Lick Church (Ky.), Barbecue Church (N.C.), Society Hill Church (S.C.), Sweet Home (Ark.), Cow Creek (Ky.), Golden Rule Church (Texas), and Downtown Church (Tenn.). These were American fibre and bone; their names war cries of the American experience. The Lickinghole Church in Virginia closed in 1838 and it was said the majority of the members had moved west.

West of the Alleghenies, where "Stonewall" Jackson was born, the oldest regularly worshipping Presbyterian Church is "Old Stone." It was organized in 1783, and the church was built in 1796 in western Virginia.

The Old Stone Meeting House is made from native stone. It is a plain and solid rectangle with a cupola or New England lantern centered on the roof.

On the front side of the Meeting House is a green lawn sparkling with marble monuments. Each monument has an antique testimony to the virtue of those who have been laid to rest beneath. In the cupola is a bell that reminded mourners at the graves what sounding empty brass life was to be, as friends and family were laid to rest.

The Rev. John McElhenney of Old Stone had one of the longest pastorates on record, that of sixty-three years, 1808-1871. He baptized thirteen hundred people, married fifteen hundred couples, and preached about 8,000 times. He was an expert equestrian. A friend of his remarked: "As an equestrian he has had few equals. He is a good judge of horses. I never saw him riding a mean one." This was fortunate since his was the only Presbyterian Church within a hundred fifty miles on one side.

Thomas J.Jackson, the pioneer ancestor, staked a tomahawk claim by putting his mark on a tree in 1769 in what is now West Virginia. John had two sons in the American Revolution. Among his descendents was Jonathan who in 1818 married Julia Neale on a nearby farm.

The Neales were a good family, and the second son was named after Julia's father, Thomas Neale Jackson. He was to change his name to Thomas Jonathan Jackson in memory of his father; then his name was to be changed for all time to simply "Stonewall." And Thomas J. Jackson, from a settlement west of the Alleghenies, came to bear a name like "Old Stone," equally native to the American experience, which he earned in the war indigenously American.

When the boy was three, his mother died from one of the fevers common in pioneer settlements. The father died of the same disease two weeks later. The children were taken in by both families. Uncle Alfred Neale took in Tom's brother Warren, and Grandmother Jackson took Tom.

Tom was badly schooled, but he decided he was going to make something of himself. He was able to wrangle an admission to West Point where by a determination very near ruthlessness towards himself he graduated. There he also wrote a note to himself, probably having learned from experience, "You may be whatever you resolve to be."

Second Lieutenant Jackson, fresh out of West Point, was involved at twenty-three in the Mexican War. Fame began for Tom when he refused to obey a bad command. He was ordered to retreat during a battle and he refused. His superior came by to see the difficulty, and Jackson told him in a no uncertain manner that the order was based on an incorrect judgment. Given fifty more men Jackson could hold the line. His superior listened, agreed, and gave him fifty more men. Jackson saved the day. He was commended as gallant, talented, industrious, and devoted. He became Major Jackson.

He liked the scene of his success so well he thought about staying in Mexico. He learned to speak Spanish well enough to get by. He was attracted by the Catholic Church. Jackson was at this time no member of any denomination and was shopping around. It is not certain when Stonewall Jackson heard the trumpet sound within his soul and knew he was of the Presbyterian elect.

He visited great impressive cathedrals. He arranged an audience to discuss Catholicism with priests and spent some time with them in their quarters. He investigated the Roman church several times in appointments with an archbishop. He was definitely attracted, but he rejected it.

Still unbaptized, Jackson left Mexico. His interest in religion continued. At Fort Hamilton, Long Island, he was baptized by an Episcopalian chaplain. Still not a member of any denomination, he was transferred to Florida. There, still concerned about religion, he wrote, "My opinion is that everyone should honestly and carefully investigate the Bible, and...if he can...follow its teachings."

In Virginia, D. H. Hill, who taught at Washington College, (later Washington & Lee), recommended Jackson for a professorship at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. Jackson accepted the appointment and left Florida.

In Lexington, Jackson's religious concerns continued. He began discussions of Christian logic with Dr. W.S. White, a minister. Jackson joined the Presbyterian Church in November, 1851.

In the Gospels, Jesus met the Roman centurion whose acceptance of faith amazed Him. There was not so great a faith in all of Israel. Jackson entered faith the same way. Major Jackson gave to God the inner determination learned at West Point. "No earthly calamity can shake my hope in the future as long as God is my friend," he wrote his sister, and again, "I have felt an unusual religious joy."

Since faith without works was dead, he set up a large Sunday School for Negroes. The Sunday School was part of a new wave of interest in the salvation of the blacks in the South. Jackson kept the Sunday School up for years and sent money for it faithfully, even when he was away at the battle front.

Jackson took seriously what other men did not. Pray without ceasing, for example. Jackson wrote, "When I take a draught of water, I always pause...to lift up my heart...in thanks and prayer...I send a petition along (with a letter) for God's blessing upon its mission...When I break the seal upon a letter, I pray that He might prepare me for its contents...When I go to the classroom and wait for the arrangement of the cadets in their places, that is my time...with God for them..."

Jackson was to be a deacon in First Church of Lexington. The building was a Greek revival temple with a spire. On top of the spire was a copper ball made from a whiskey still. This caused jokes about a social church, but Jackson was very moderate in drinking and often retiring socially.

He married the daughters of college presidents. Washington College was headed by a Presbyterian clergyman, Dr. George Junkin. Jackson married his daughter, Eleanor. It seems to have been a happy marriage, but she died within two years, before they could really grow together.

He later married one of the "fabulous Morrison girls." Their minister father founded Presbyterian Davidson College in North Carolina. Three of his daughters married Confederate generals. Equally remarkable was Belle Boyd of West Virginia, the Confederate spy, a Presbyterian and regular worshipper at the Rev. A. C. Hopkins' Church--a remarkable Confederate chaplain held responsible for the conversion of General Paxton.

Jackson said to Mary Anna in a letter, "When in prayer for you last Sabbath, the tears came to my eyes and I realized an unusual degree of tenderness."

He gave her a gold watch, a necklace of seed pearls, married her, and took her on a honeymoon to Lake Saratoga in New York; There in a very stereotyped manner he rowed her through water lilies as she sat hoop-skirted in the bow. Everyone admired them in this pose and Mary Anna enjoyed this exceedingly.

It was, no doubt, unusual even in that day to be married to one who did not say he loved her but admitted to a "degree of tenderness." Both of them seemed to be very happy. The future general warmed up exceedingly, and was eventually fond of hiding behind doors in wait for his wife, jumping out, and startling her with a "caress." Other times the future general was on a military schedule.

Mary Anna thrived. Soon she had the situation in firm feminine hands. She was one of three sisters who had a taste for commanding men and knew how to handle them. "Fabulous," was said of these girls.

The couple enjoyed a few bright years. He planted a garden. He liked this and bought a farm. He worked with a black man beside him in the fields. Mary Anna sat beneath a tree and read.

The romance of another Confederate General of church overtones was that of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the illiterate military genius who advised the way to win a battle was to get there "fustest" and "with the mostest." A sturdy yeoman, he started poor and became a millionaire. He married Mary Ann Montgomery of the plantation set. He met Mary Ann when he pulled her carriage from a mud hole. She was impressed by his strength. When he became serious about Miss Montgomery he was told, "Why you curse and gamble and Mary Ann is a church girl." They were married anyway. He attended and finally joined her Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee.

Jackson, as the shadow of the war loomed, did not believe it would really happen. He did not think men to be so mad. Major and Mrs. Jackson's life went on as usual. His faith enabled him to be curiously above malice in difficult times. The couple went on vacation to New Hampshire at the height of the abolitionist controversy. Jackson became firm friends with the abolitionist minister of a Baptist Church in New England. Soon Jackson was to be ordered to be part of the military forces detailed to witness the John Brown affair.

He witnessed Brown's hanging. It was part of his duty as one of the soldiers. He prayed for Brown's soul as they hanged him. Then he wrote his wife that night, "John Brown was hung today about half past eleven a.m.... With the fall, his arms, below the elbows, flew up...and gradually fell, but by spasmodic motions...soon the wind blew his lifeless body to and fro."

As the war approached, he called for and took part in a movement for a national day of prayer to avert war. Jackson told his minister, "It is painful with what unconcern they talk war...I have seen enough to know it as the sum of all evils." The sum of all evils came.

Before going to the war, he called Mary Anna and seated by her read the Fifth Chapter of II Corinthians, containing, "if our earthly house...were dissolved, we have a building, a house not made with hands...in the heavens. Old things are passed away; all things...become new. And all things are of God."

He was something to see on a battlefield. His eyes lit up at a struggle. He drove his horse from hill to hill, trying to place genius at every transcending view. He gave directions. He waved the men about at Manassas with a hand wrapped in a hand- kerchief from a shrapnel hit, his blood running down his arm. He watched. He prayed. His lips moved. He stood firmly as bullets flew. What would be, would be.

"Look," General Bee of South Carolina, shouted, to rally all at the battle of Manassas, and pointing with his sword, "there is Jackson standing like a stone wall."

He was to take a place beside Cromwell, by the "swords of the Lord" at Kings Mountain in 1780, and with Andrew Jackson who said of the oncoming British at New Orleans, "By the Eternal, they shall not sleep on our soil."

Tom Jackson saw himself as fighting in a second War for American Independence. He never saw slavery as an issue any more than George Washington in the struggle against the British in 1776 considered slavery odd in a struggle for "freedom."

Jackson's chief of staff, Major R. L. Dabney, was a man of Renaissance proportions: architect, professor, clergyman, (Presbyterian, of course, this was Stonewall's staff), author and soldier. He had turned down a call to the pastorate of Fifth Avenue Church in New York in 1860. He was a man to whom Stonewall could talk theology and fine arts and not feel his mind brutalized by war. Jackson, like Lee, knew what war was, "the sum of all evils."

Jackson became a hero to the Confederacy. They enjoyed talking of him, his brilliance, his discipline, his rapidity. Old Jack had his ways. He sucked lemons nearly all the time, and always tried "to keep his organs aligned in a stiff posture." He did these possibly because of terrible and constant dyspepsia, possibly because he simply enjoyed it. It is to be remembered this was an age before psychological vulgarization and the terror of being thought abnormal. It was a free age in which to live and breathe and to develop eccentricities.

The secrets of Jackson's success seem to have been the speed with which he marched his army, a power of logical analysis, (to practice he simply stared at the wall and thought, a habit his wife had some difficulty becoming accustomed to), and determination.

He became Lee's right hand, the hope of the South. The praise never affected his character. When he was successful he gave the praises to God or to his men, "my admiration of your conduct...on the plains of Manassas...you gained the ...reputation of having decided the battle." On leave in Richmond, they found him sitting alone in a pew of the sanctuary of Second Church.

On another occasion Jackson was found in a battle area where cannon and guns had hushed, reading his Bible silently.

The standard apparel of the Presbyterian clergy in those days was an elegant high beaver hat, a long frock coat and black kid "preaching" gloves. It was customary in many churches for the ministers to wear these gloves to preach. On the streets of cities many clergymen carried umbrellas.

When Jackson's new Adjutant, the Rev. Dabney, showed up so dressed and carrying an umbrella, the rural farm boys of the Confederacy gaped. Jackson knew immediately what he must do. He gathered up the minister as he was dressed, took him on a harsh ride over wood and stream to dirty the minister's clothes and show the men he could take it. Soon Dabney began to appear in camp in a slouchy army hat and used uniform.

General Jackson had a tendency to doze off during preaching. When they attended church together, Mrs. Jackson had to keep punching to keep him awake or wake him up. The Presbyterian poet and musician, Sidney Lanier, observed General Lee sleeping through one of the Rev. Pendleton's sermons during the Confederate War. He knew Lee was asleep, because a fly crawled on his brow. Lanier remarked on this at a memorial service for R. E. Lee at Macon, Georgia.

Some objected to Jackson's religion, which is odd. He never forced it. The rhetoric he used to express it was sometimes threadbare, if genuine. Nor was he violently sectarian. He wanted "to see no questions asked in the army as to what denomination a chaplain belongs..." He saw very clearly that the army did not have time for the fine point and counterpoint of denominationalism. Men were dying. Others were about to die. Some knew no Gospel at all and had received no religious training.

Jackson had had time as a college man and a scholar to make finely discriminating decisions as to his denomination, but the situation in the army left no such time. Only "preach the Gospel," he said. "Take care of these men." It was then ironic he was shot by his own men. He appreciated the bitter irony, muttering, "My own men," as they carried him away on a stretcher. He was fatally shot after the Southern victory of Chancellorsville, not by the Yankees, but by Confederate sentries who made a mistake on a dark night.

It was not evident from the beginning that he was going to die, only that his arm would have to be amputated. This they did, and he seemed to be in good condition for four days. Then pneumonia was diagnosed.

Mary Anna came from Richmond with Mrs. Moses Hoge, the wife of the minister of Second Church, in whose home she had been staying. It was the feeling Mary Anna should not come alone. They also brought the baby, Julia, Jackson's only child. Perhaps the baby would help raise Jackson's morale.

Death was evident when Mary Anna saw him. The physicians confirmed, and in the custom of the times and in accord with his nature, she told him. It was Sunday. After Mary Anna left the room crying, he said to one of the aides, "I always wanted to die on Sunday."

In the afternoon he spoke in his last delirium of General A. P. Hill. Lee, dying, would too. He was giving orders. "Pass the infantry to the front." He paused as if caught up as the prophet, Ezekiel, seeing the vision of the river. "And by the river upon the bank thereof...and on that side, shall grow all the trees...and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine." (Ezekiel 47:7-12) Jackson paused and smiled. "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."

They flooded the casket with spring flowers, then buried him in Lexington. A suitable monument was erected in the cemetery there. The first contribution to his monument was from the black Baptist church whose preacher had gone to his Sunday School. Later in the black Presbyterian church in Roanoke, Virginia, where they remembered him as one concerned, there was a memorial window to Stonewall Jackson.

Yet, this also remained: that his sense of the nearness of God was startling to those about him. He was aware as a soldier who settled confusion with military force that the most important battles are interior. War is a sign of spiritual and moral chaos. Therefore, it is as a moral hero, not a military one, that he stands out. The general said, "While we attach so much importance to being free from temporal bondage...attach far more to being free from the bondage of sin."

But sometimes his theological outlook was on the level of a Chinese peasant. He had a very literal mind. He did not grasp the theological mind of paradox that finds correct belief as a tension of opposites such as Jesus is God and man, service and freedom. Jackson saw God as the author of evil sometimes, and had a tendency to put down whatever was happening as "the will of God."

This tendency to see the will of God in the immediate happenings rather than in the ultimate judgment is the mistake Jesus cautioned against, in assuming, "lo, here is the Kingdom, or there is the Kingdom."

If Jackson lacked theological sophistication, it was little matter. He was a sincere and deep man. His religious inclination was genuine and he enjoyed it fully. Faith served him well, giving him, a soldier, a beautiful interior life with wells and rivers of inner resources that gave living water.




Table of Contents