“Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”*
Today is the 153rd anniversary of the death of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (age 39) following the Battle of Chancellorsville, when he was shot by friendly fire on the moonlit night of May 2, 1863.
Here he is younger and beardless. Pretty dreamy.
I have always admired Stonewall Jackson as an exemplar of the Scotch-Irish Protestants who came to this country in the eighteenth century, many of them as indentured servants, and worked and fought hard to make a home here. In fact his paternal great-grandparents (John Jackson and Elizabeth Cummins) met on the prison ship from London and fell in love. They married six years later when they gained their freedom.
The family migrated west across the Blue Ridge Mountains to settle near Moorefield, Virginia in 1758. In 1770, they moved farther west to the Tygart Valley. They began to acquire large parcels of virgin farming land near the present-day town of Buckhannon, including 3,000 acres in Elizabeth’s name. John and his two teenage sons fought in the Revolutionary War; John finished the war as a captain. While the men were in the army, Elizabeth converted their home to a haven for refugees from Indian attacks known as “Jackson’s Fort.”
Yes, the Jacksons were awesome.
Furthermore, Stonewall was a profoundly religious man and a deacon in the Presbyterian Church. One of his many nicknames was “Old Blue Lights,” a term applied to a military man whose evangelical zeal burned with the intensity of the blue light used for night-time display. He disliked fighting on Sunday, although that did not stop him from doing so after much personal debate.
Here is a poem by Herman Melville that pretty well sums up my feelings about the great Stonewall:
Mortally Wounded at Chancellorsville
The Man who fiercest charged in fight,
Whose sword and prayer were long –
Even him who stoutly stood for Wrong,
How can we praise? Yet coming days
Shall not forget him with this song.
Dead is the Man whose Cause is dead,
Vainly he died and set his seal –
Earnest in error, as we feel;
True to the thing he deemed was due,
True as John Brown or steel.
Relentlessly he routed us;
But we relent, for he is low –
Justly his fame we outlaw; so
We drop a tear on the bold Virginian’s bier,
Because no wreath we owe.
*Stonewall Jackson’s dying words–beautiful!