On January 19 and 21, many of us will remember the birthdays of Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jonathon "Stonewall" Jackson respectively. In honor of their memory, I'll raise atop my flagpole an infantry-sized (4ft. X 4ft.) Army of Northern Virginia Battleflag as tribute to two great sons of the South. Why remember these two men? They were the epitome of leadership by example by which many of us patterned our lives. This includes Presidents and Pastors, along with folks in various walks of life both here and abroad. Their life and career left a legacy of selfless devotion to duty, honor, and people unmatched in the history of western civilization. Their mark was not just military heroism, but also a moral heroism. Their brilliant accomplishments on the battlefield were outshone in victory and defeat by the nobility of their moral wisdom and stainless integrity. Their devotion to God, family, soldiers, and the Southern Cause became legendary.
Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, whose military tactics have been studied worldwide, were American soldiers, educators, Christian gentlemen, husbands and fathers. And even though they are primarily thought of as Confederate Generals, they both would only want to be remembered as humble servants of God. They accepted no credit for victory or defeat, noting it was God's will and all glory given him.
At war's beginning, Lee held a 32-year commission in the United States Army. He resigned that commission after being offered command of the Union Army and chose instead to defend his beloved country of Virginia, of which this Union Army was being rallied to illegally invade the South. This is a great sacrifice made by Lee on which I will challenge upon in a later communication.
Before the War for Southern Independence, Thomas Jackson was an ex-soldier, artillery specialist, and an obscure professor at Virginia Military Institute. He also served as a board member of a local bank. Though he was considered a pillar of the community, he was threatened with prosecution for conducting a Sunday school class for slave children, which was illegal at the time. Jackson risked his place in society by remarking that all should know the teachings of Christ. No threat was ever made good. Again, I will challenge upon this in a later communication.
Jackson received the immortal nickname "Stonewall" after the first Battle of Manassas in July 1861 when he stood fast - pressing his troops forward to close a gap in the line against a Union attack. Upon observing Jackson, General Bee out of Texas reportedly called out to his men, "Rally behind the Virginians! There stands Jackson like a stonewall!" Some report that Bee didn't agree with Jackson's maneuver and actually said, " "Look at Jackson standing there like a damned stone wall!" We'll never know what Bee meant because moments shortly after his rallying cry, he was shot and died the next day. Whatever his actual words, General Bee was credited for giving rise to General Thomas J. Jackson being forever after referred to as "Stonewall Jackson."
Following this victory, "Stonewall" wrote a letter to the Pastor who was carrying on the colored Sunday school class: "In my tent last night, after a fatiguing day's service, I remembered that I failed to send a contribution for our colored Sunday school. Enclosed you will find a check for that object."
"Stonewall" Jackson is considered by military historians as one of the most gifted tactical commanders in US history. He was General Robert E. Lee’s right hand during many battles. Unfortunately, Jackson was accidentally shot by Confederate pickets at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863. General Jackson survived with the loss of his left arm, but died of complications from pneumonia eight days later.
After the passing of "Stonewall", General Robert E. Lee stated, "Jackson has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right."
Sir Winston Churchill once remarked, "Lee was the noblest American who had ever lived and one of the greatest commanders known to the annals of war."
The late Franklin D. Roosevelt, America's 32nd President, spoke at the unveiling of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Statue in Dallas, Texas on June 12th, 1936 and said, "I am very happy to take part in this unveiling of the statue of General Robert E. Lee.
All over the United States we recognize him as a great leader of men, as a great general. But, also, all over the United States I believe that we recognize him as something much more important than that. We recognize Robert E. Lee as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen."
On August 9th, 1960, former General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in response to an inquiry as to why he had a picture of Robert E. Lee in the Oval Office remarked:
Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States the issue of Secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.
General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.
From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee's caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the nation's wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.
Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.
And finally on Aug. 5th, 1975, 110 years after Lee's application, President Gerald Ford signed Joint Resolution 23, restoring the long overdue full rights of citizenship to Robert E. Lee.
At that signing, President Ford said, in part: "General Lee's character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride."
So I ask each of you to take time and remember these two men. When you attend church services tomorrow, ask your Pastor if the congregation can sing "How Firm a Foundation" in memory of Lee. It was his favorite hymn.
Semper Fi - Semper Southern - Semper Saviour,